Anitra Smith (anitra) wrote,
Anitra Smith

Musings on body image

This past week, I was reading two journal posts on obesity and body image. It got me thinking about my own struggles with my body image, starting from when I was pretty young.

I think I started being unhappy with my body at an early age, probably 7 or 8 years old. I was a big kid - not just chubby, I was tall, too. Even though I was a year younger than my classmates, I was consistently in the tallest quartile of the girls. Of course, the other tall girls usually looked like they'd just had a growth spurt: tall for their age but skinny/wiry/athletic. Me? I was just tall and a bit chubby.

Of course, I was a sedentary child. I loved to read, and could always be found with some fiction close at hand. My parents encouraged me to try various sports and activities (I remember T-ball, dance class and swim class at various times in my childhood), but I never stuck with the active things (Cathedral Choir School, on the other hand... that I stuck with for 6 years). I couldn't run worth a damn, and I'd always get caught when playing tag with my friends. A few years ago, I realized that I've probably had a very mild form of asthma all my life. I have absolutely NO endurance in aerobic activities like running. I start wheezing after climbing a flight of stairs, and if I climb several flights too quickly, I'll be gasping for air. All the repetition I do doesn't seem to help. I climbed four flights of outdoor stairs to get to classes (at least twice a day) for 3 years in college; I never saw a measurable improvement in my breathing.

I realize now that I should have been encouraged to do more low-impact exercise; I loved to swim and bike, as long as I wasn't trying to race (which is what swimming always was in classes and in Phys Ed). I could bike comfortably or swim sidestroke for hours, really. And I did really enjoy weight-training in Phys Ed, the few times I got to do that.

Although I was very self-concious about my weight as a child and teenager, I didn't try to do anything about it. There's a whole tapestry of reasons behind this, because I don't think any one of these by itself would have stopped me from doing something stupid:

  1. My parents reassured me that I was normal and well-proportioned. I still trusted my parents more than I trusted my classmates. My mom, especially, often commented on how skinny my best friend was, "like a bunch of twigs", and talked about metabolism. It made a lot of sense - as a child, my best friend couldn't sit still. Overall, my parents showed me that people come in all different sizes and shapes, and that's OK (God bless my parents for this!)
  2. I knew that crash diets were stupid - my mom had told me plenty about her experiences with dieting (she was hypoglycemic, and is now also diabetic)... it was obvious it hadn't worked out for her. I don't remember her ever telling me so, but I knew that "kids shouldn't diet", and that she would be upset with me if I did something like that while I was still growing. (Especially because kid-dieting can easily get out of control - see next point)
  3. I knew that anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders were dangerous and scary. I couldn't really figure out why someone would torture themselves that way, just to get thinner.
  4. I was scared to change anything about myself. Why? I have no idea, really. I was very timid, and mostly just wanted to hide (same reason why I wore oversized T-shirts, flannels, etc.) Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that if I miraculously became "attractive", I'd start getting attention from guys who didn't just want to tease me.
  5. I was lazy. I didn't LIKE aerobic activity (see breathing problems, above), and I wanted to keep eating yummy foods.

I first went on a diet when I was about 17; my mom and I enrolled in a Christian weight-loss group together. I lost a bunch of weight by planning out my meal portions better, and only eating when I was hungry (and stopping as soon as I didn't feel hungry anymore). I dropped 15 or 20 pounds, putting me back into a "normal" weight range for my age. Then when spring came, I couldn't ride my bike up even the shallowest hill. I had NO energy. I slowly began eating more again, and I didn't conciously diet again until I was 21.

I wonder sometimes if the root of my problem was similar to what my mom went through, 40 years earlier: "Oh, you're so BIG!" I've seen pictures of my mom as a teenager. She was tall (5'10"), and wide across her hips, but she was very skinny front-to-back. I remember trying to wear some of her old dresses when I was 12, and I couldn't get them around my hips!

Growing up, I never remember fitting into age-appropriate clothing. To this day, I remember many trips to Sears in elementary school, because they carried girls' sizes all the way up to size 16. (Most stores stopped at 10 or 12.) I was probably one of the first in my class to start changing shape due to puberty (and remember, I was a year younger than my peers). I hated having breasts, and I wished I would grow taller, because that would make me skinny.

Except for when I've been dieting, my BMI hovers between 27 and 29. When I diet, I can just barely get down to a BMI of 25 - the upper end of the "normal" weight range - and I can't keep myself there. In the 10 years since I was 14, my weight has put me below 27 BMI twice, and above 29.5 BMI once (as far as I know). I have slowly learned (and am still learning) to love my body the way it is, and think about my health instead of being "fat" or "thin"... I know I'm at risk for diabetes and heart disease, and that's a pretty good motivator. I've learned how to dress myself attractively (if I can find affordable clothes that actually fit), and with my height, no one suspects that I'm 30 pounds "overweight" (except a few close family members). My husband thinks I'm beautiful (but also wants me to be healthy), which helps a lot, too.

Tags: fitness, history

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