It's a weird feeling to go back 10 years and read correspondence from that time.
Today, I pulled out one of the many scrapbooks from my 2003-2005 Weight Watch newspaper series. And I read the emails and other letters that were sent to me after my very first column ran -- the one where I opened up about being morbidly obese and tired of being trapped in my body, the one where I announced I'd be devoting myself to 15 weeks of Weight Watchers and writing about my experience. As I read the letters of support, I was reminded of how lucky I was to have had that network of people cheering me on. I was also reminded of the variety of people who wrote -- some who had never had a weight problem but sympathized because they knew what it was like to struggle, some who were just like me and wanted to come along on my journey, a Catholic woman who sent my name to Carmelite nuns for prayers, the Italian American Society in Wilmington, the list goes on.
Reading their words today, I felt like those same people were helping me again, one decade later.
I wanted to reach out to some of them and thank them, see how they're doing. Others became so special to me, I am still in touch with them.
I credit them all with my weight-loss success. Without them, I don't believe I would have continued or fought as hard as I fought.
I also am embarrassed and ashamed that I failed them.
So I'm trying to re-read their words and remember what it felt like 10 years ago to be faced with this daunting task. I'm trying to remember how I did it and why I did it and what made me succeed. I'm trying to take their words to heart and pretend they're speaking to me in 2013.
Like I did in 2003, I have a long road ahead of me. And I have goals, although they have changed a bit. While I want to wear those fabulous (and perhaps outdated now) clothes from 2005, I also want to resume my running passion. That was something I couldn't have even dreamed of a decade ago.
And I'd like this blog to return to its original purpose -- training for the Marine Corps Marathon and writing about running.
Destination: Finish Line.
People laugh when I tell them this, but I was prettiest at age 3. Look at my family photos from 1974 on and you’ll agree. I was a cute thing – curly brown hair, big brown eyes, small frame. Pretty.
You start seeing the “baby fat” in the kindergarten photos. And the third grade class photo – that’s where it becomes clear. I was a fat kid.
And I suffered the repercussions of being a fat kid. I was teased relentlessly on the school bus. I was teased in the lunchroom. I was teased in my neighborhood and in my own house.
I don’t remember all the names. But I remember the pain. It’s still inside me.
Clearest “fat joke” – and one that has stayed with me all these years – was when I was around 12. My parents were putting a second addition on our home in Pittsburgh, and the neighborhood kids were dying to see the inside of it. There wasn’t much to see – it was still in the early stages and there were only wooden beams up. But I sneaked them all upstairs and gave them a tour. We were in the front room looking out to the driveway, when my mom’s car pulled up. Everyone knew we’d be in big trouble if she caught us.
“She’s gonna have a cow,” one friend said.
“She already did!” another replied.
And they all laughed.
A cow. I know there are worse names to be called – because I’ve been called them – but for some reason, that moment sticks with me. Maybe it’s because it was funny. A good quip. And I would have laughed had I not been the butt of their joke.
Being a fat kid was hard. My parents and grandparents would bribe me to lose weight. In my fifth-grade autograph book are reminders of those bribes, friends wishing me luck dropping 20 pounds and reminding me I could be $50 richer if I did.
There was the boy who told me I’d be “dateable” if only I were thin. The friend who said she’d put a pillow under her bathing suit if it made me feel more comfortable during a summer swim.
The fat kid became the fat teenager, who, despite all the bribes in the world, all the teasing, all the diets, all the work, all the loneliness, became the fat college student and soon the fat 20-something.
And now I sit here, at my desk job at the Star-News, and I’m the fat newspaperwoman. Only, “fat” seems almost too kind. I’m obese. I’m a step beyond obese. And there’s no way to hide it (insert joke here).
While it was hard being a fat kid, it’s been harder being a fat adult.
While the daily teasing ended in adulthood, what’s considered “acceptable humor” continues. On one occasion, a colleague, sitting a foot away from me, made joke after joke to a laughing crowd about the pre-thin Carnie Wilson and how, before her gastric bypass surgery, she probably spent every waking minute at the grocery store. Another recently wrote about the overweight opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and how he’s shaped like a Volkswagen Beetle. The comments stung. They weren’t about me, but they were about me.
Last year, in Raleigh to pick up a newspaper writing award, I felt the sting again. I was feeling good – not only because it was a special occasion for me, but I had just started a diet, and I had made it a solid two weeks eating right and walking two miles a day. Sitting down in the auditorium, a colleague, who also has a weight problem, recommended us sitting apart from each other because, as he told me, “we both spill over into the next seat.”
The special occasion didn’t feel so special anymore.
I know what I am and what I’m not. And I know it’s ultimately up to me to decide what I want to be and how I want to react to the world.
I know I’m much more than the image that reflects in the mirror.
I also know I can’t fault people for how they feel about me – and my weight – because, in many cases, I only am what they see.
So I’ve tried to find ways to make it easier on the people around me. When I’m forced to fly on a plane, I make sure I drive to Raleigh’s airport (it tends to offer planes with just window seats, which guarantees no one will have to sit next to me). I don’t go on amusement park rides. I try to leave a seat empty between me and others, so as not to “spill over” on them.
But I’m tired.
I’m tired of being only 28 years old and avoiding society. And I’m tired of carrying this past with me wherever I go.I have tried and tried to start and get through diets or even healthier eating and daily exercise. I know what stops me is me. There always comes a point in the attempt where it just doesn’t seem worth it, where it seems it will never happen, so why bother?
I don’t want to be that person – not the person who gives up, not the person who gives up on herself.
So I’m going to try again. I’m going to devote myself to a 15-week program of diet and exercise – a la Weight Watchers – and see where it goes from there.
And each week, good or bad, I’ll share with you how it’s going.
Many will tell me it’s foolish to put myself “out there” for thousands of readers to see.
But hiding just isn’t an option.