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November 19, 2023

I’m Tired of Feeling Fat: Learning to Let Go of Body Shame & Guilt in my 50s.

I am brutal to myself.

I shame myself constantly for not being successful enough, patient enough, thin enough. I am tired of shaming myself. So much so that I’ve adopted a new mantra. Eat when I’m hungry. Stretch. Move. Work hard. Go outside. Read. Clean. Do the hard things, but also the easy ones. And I am good at so much of this except I’m not.

Because at the end of the day, when I look at myself, all I can think is, “I’m tired of feeling fat.”

Even when I’m on the thinner side, I still feel fat. I feel fat when I put my pants on. I feel fat when I look at myself in the mirror. I feel fat when I glance down at myself in the shower. I feel fat when I eat something I know is “bad” for me—like that bagel I love in the morning some days or the Doritos I can’t seem to not eat when someone brings them out. I am 51 years old and I am still worried about how freaking fat I am. That bothers me.

At the same time, I avoid food a lot. Purposefully. I don’t eat for much of the day and tend toward Intermittent Fasting for 90 percent of my eating habits. Until an acutely painful attack of diverticulitis happened to me about a month ago, I ate healthy and well. Lots of veggies, lots of fiber, lots of nutrition and whole grains and lean proteins. Now, I eat pretty much what my body will allow me to digest without causing crippling pain. I’m trying to stick to bone broth, but my “new” diet allows more white, starchy stuff than I’d normally like, and I cave—more often than not. So now, every bite I eat, while not causing me massive pain, causes me massive guilt.

I’m not sure when my body became both my greatest friend and my greatest enemy. I have had some amazing times in this body. In some ways, in spite of it (I think) and often because of it. I have always been strong, fairly athletic, fast, and reasonably coordinated. But I learned young, whether through TV or Seventeen magazine, that girls who were big like me—broad shoulders, bigger hips (“childbearing hips” all of the men in my life called them, father included), kinda tall—were not considered attractive.

We were the girl next door/tomboy types on TV. Always the funny or sarcastic one. Never the hero or the princess. And yeah. I think there were times in my life that I wanted to be the princess. Also a nun. It was obvious early on that I was never going to be the princess. It stung for some reason. Maybe because in the 70s and 80s being the princess was really a thing. Girls in the 80s were told that they could be anything they wanted to be, but all of the classes and “options” for us always seemed to put us on the path to administrative assistant, nurse, or teacher. We were told over and over again that we could be astronauts, but the guidance was really a little less than helpful. It was more like, “Oh, you want to be an astronaut? Oh! OK! Good luck!”

These days, a kid—one of my kids—could put together a reasonable plan that could help them become an astronaut. Google alone could help make it happen. But a girl, in high school in the 1980s, had to go to the library and find the right resource guide and find the right article in the right magazine (if they had the back issues on file—yes, the actual magazine, in a rack, in the back) and then you’d have to piece together the phone numbers by finding a phone book for that region, possibly in your local library or maybe at one of the local colleges, and then they could borrow it out to you at your local library and then you could have your mom drive you and you could go and look at it for an hour but not take it home. This is about how I became a United States Senate Page my junior year of high school (which I thought would help me become an astronaut, and it could have, if I had any guts at all, but I don’t—and didn’t then). But it’s a lot of work for something you could literally Google now in about 3.5 minutes.

So I did not become an astronaut, and I did not ever start to think that I had a body that was anything other than fat—and with that, in my head forever, will likely be ugly. If I was fat, then I was ugly. That’s just the way it worked. In every movie, TV show, magazine article or story, when I was a kid, Fat = Ugly.

I’m not sure I ever thought about how much I actually weighed until I was in seventh grade and had my school sports physical done at the school library with every other girl in grades 7-12. I went to school in a small town in Vermont, and the school was K-12. And yes, the small town old doctor with the cold hands gave us the exam while the first grade teacher and baseball scorekeeper (I’m guessing this is why she was helping with the sports physicals…but who really knows?) weighed us and did our height. I’m not sure I really knew even what I weighed by the time I was 12 years old and 5’7” and already had ample pubescent advancement and hormones to match.

I stepped up on the scale—no shame or worry—and then the first grade teacher slash baseball manager person said this…out loud, “Oh, my Michelle! You weigh 150 pounds? I never would have guessed!” Out loud. To the whole room. Which included every athletic, aka popular, girl in the school up to the 12th grade. Everyone. I don’t think she did it to anyone else. And it burns me still. Because I was innocent until that moment. I ate what I liked and I never thought about it except in terms of the nutritional food groups that we were taught each and every year through elementary school.

But I think about it now. A lot. And I discovered through that experience: not eating. And laxatives. And exercising—a lot. And every diet known to human. And I haven’t stopped. I have been on an almost 40-year quest to make my body better than it is and I have never succeeded. Never has my body looked like I’ve wanted it to. Never. I have never been happy with it. No matter how much weight I’ve lost, I can get down to 145 without looking sickly, or how much I’ve gained. I’ve been on the divorce diet where I think I existed on a piece of toast and red wine for about three months. Lost a ton of weight—an unhealthy amount—and everyone told me how great I looked! Great. I finally found the one diet that works for me and it’s completely unsustainable.

So, bearing in mind that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over…well, you know the deal. If that’s true, then I’m insane about this food/diet/eating thing. It always ends up with me being “overweight” but perfectly comfortable and healthy. I do not have diabetes or any other weight-related illness. I run. I hike. I sleep well. I eat what I can reasonably digest, but honestly, not much anymore. I’m kind of afraid to eat for fear of the pain in my stomach.

I have accepted my place in life as Crone. As I recently wrote, I am accepting my gray hair, my wrinkling skin, and my expanding middle. At least, I am working hard to accept it. This body thing has been so hard for me, over such a long period of time. Even though I am accepting my body more for what it looks like and how it works, I am having trouble not seeing the negative. Will I ever get to a point where I won’t, as Nora Ephron said, “feel bad about my neck?” Or my belly? Or my bum? It gets old, doesn’t it?

I’m tired of caring about it. I’m tired of seeing reverse my menopause, or get skinny after 50, or the 50 other ads I see every day with gray-haired women telling me they weigh less than they have in years.

I used to wonder when I could just let it go and be me. Now. I can now. I’ve decided. I just need to stop looking in the mirror maybe…

~

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