Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Society, Beauty, and Body Image, Oh my!

I feel so guilty about posting anything about the want to loose weight or slim down, just because I may not look grossly overweight. Society pushes me to feel guilty for wearing a size small, or if I order a shirt in a medium, stating that it's simply too big. I get ridiculed (as a joke, but it still feels like more than a joke at times) when I'm able to wear stylish skinny jeans or a really cute top that not everyone could pull off.

We are more often than not thinking about this happening only to those who are bigger and over weight. Feeling bad about wearing a large or extra large. Not being able to pull off a skirt or a slim fitting pant. But if you think it only happens to those who weigh more and are bigger... Think again... it happens to petite girls, too.

People tell me all the time, "Gosh I wish I could eat like you and stay so thin." I hear things like, "You're just so thin it's disgusting" and then follow it with a laugh because it's meant as a joke, and as some envy because they wish they could be thin, too. I get told how it must be nice to be so tiny. Comments are made that I shouldn't have to eat a salad for lunch, or eat a healthy lunch because I can certainly eat whatever I want. And then people jokingly (and sometimes seriously) tell me to grab that extra cinnamon roll or piece of cake because I certainly don't have to worry it about it later like they do.

But the fact is, this doesn't come naturally and most of the time I am not this thin. If I am, it's because I'm working my ass off at it, or because I'm really, really sick. In high school I was involved with sports and I was on the dance team. I always always really active. When I was in college I gained a lot of weight. I was nearing 140 pounds at my heaviest and I looked big. I was wearing medium and sometimes large sizes. I wasn't happy with my body. I ate enough calories and fat for 2 or 3 people because of Spencer, I hardly exercised. After he died it was a hard cycle to break. But then just last year I got terrifyingly sick. I dropped weight like it was nothing, going from 135-140 pounds to a measly 111 pounds in just a couple of months. I really didn't have much to lose after that.

When I dropped all of the weight I got SO many compliments about how thin I was. I also got told how I needed to gain weight. Fatten up. Some people told me how good I looked. But all I could see was how frail I had become. I had no muscle mass as it all atrophied away. I was just skin and bones and I looked sick, too. I certainly did not like the way that I looked. I wasn't happy with the rapid weight loss. Getting those extra pounds off may have been nice, however it was far too fast. Losing weight that quickly and as a result of being so sick is not the way I wanted it to happen or the way that it should have happened.

It wasn't until I started gaining some of my muscle mass back and filling out a little bit in my face that I started to become happier with the way that I looked. I didn't look quite as frail. I looked thin, but healthy. I was able to wear clothes and sizes that I haven't been able to wear in many, many years. I was pretty happy with the way things were going.

But when you loose weight so quickly as a result of not being able to eat more than 100-200 calories a day (if I was lucky, and man do I wish I was exaggerating), you gain it back very quickly too. For about a year I gained back a healthy amount of weight. I was able to eat fairly big portions, and I really didn't have to worry about what I ate because my body was still burning off things very quickly as it was still internally fighting against itself burning off a lot of calories and fat. I was weighing in at around 120-125, right where I wanted to be and felt comfortable at. My muscle had come back as well.

But lately I have continued to gain back the weight. I'm healthy now and my body is not fighting against itself as it was when I was sick. It's not taking near the amount of effort to get up in the morning, shower, sit up straight, even breathe. So the amount that I became accustomed to eating to gain my strength and stamina back when I was recovering and on the way to remission is now too much for my body to burn off. And so I'm becoming a little bit bigger around the middle. My face is a little more full than I'd like it to be. I just feel bloated all of the time, my clothes are getting a tad bit tighter and not looking as good as they did at the end of last year, and, once again, I'm definitely feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. Just 5 months ago I was feeling so, so confident. My self image soared. But now it is plummeting again as I'm having to try to figure out what I need to do differently to stave off this unwanted weight gain.

And now that I'm gaining weight again, it's been a little bit harder to accept then it was when I started college and gained the infamous "freshman 15" or 20....

When I was engaged/married and at my heaviest, while it bothered me, it didn't bother me as much as it does now. Spencer made a constant effort to always tell me that I was beautiful. I don't know if a day passed that I didn't hear, in some form, him compliment me and sincerely tell me how beautiful I was, even if I felt like I was looking my worse with no make-up on. That man made me feel beautiful and comfortable in my own skin. Inside and out. As comfortable as I could be. Do you realize how long it's been since I have heard those three words?

You look beautiful. You are beautiful.

Well sadly it's been years since I can recall hearing those words said to my face. I have heard that I am pretty, or that I'm cute, or I look good. But there is something about the word "beautiful" that just really stands out in my mind and leaves a lasting impression on me. Those are words I long to hear. And I know it doesn't really matter if it's from a girl, boy, parents, man, or woman... I'd feel flattered to hear it from anyone. But wouldn't it boost your confidence, too, to hear it specifically from a man? Thought so. It'd just be nice to hear.

I don't have that constant reminder that Spencer always gave me without even thinking about it and it makes it a little bit harder to look at myself in a positive light. To understand that I am beautiful inside AND out no matter how I look.. how much I weigh. How many stretch marks I have. And the list goes on.

I know, most people who look at me may not notice it. You may be sitting there reading this thinking, "She doesn't look big at all! She doesn't need to loose any weight or slim down!" It's been a subtle gain.  But enough that I have noticed. I'm not saying I'm "fat" per say, but I am just not looking how I want to look. Just because I am not very overweight doesn't mean that I don't have any pounds or fat to loose. It's my goal to not only look how I want to look, but also be healthy and feel healthy. A goal that I'm not quite reaching right now as I know that I am not eating very healthy at all, and I feel like I could exercise a lot more to benefit me in so many different ways.

But why do I feel so small when I mention anything about weight loss or slimming down? Why do people feel the need to comment? I just really hate hearing comments such as, "Are you kidding me?! You're so skinny. YOU need to work out more and eat better?" Hinting at the fact that in their eyes they obviously need it more than I do. So, you're telling me that for some reason I can't? Or it is somehow wrong for me to want to slim down a little bit? I just want to feel comfortable in my own skin. And that's OKAY. There isn't anything wrong with that. Please, please don't make me feel bad about it.

It's just really frustrating.

I don't know about you, but I think those of us living with chronic illnesses that cause extreme weight fluctuations tend to be quite self conscious of our bodies. Not only how much we weigh, but the extra fat we gain when we're finally able to eat 3 full meals a day vs. the one Ensure a day that we force ourselves to drink when we're sick. Or when we have to take 60mg of prednisone that makes us balloon up like a chipmunk or whale. We are terribly self conscious of the stretch marks that we develop all over our bodies, thighs, knees, stomach, chest, back, sometimes even chin because of the drastic weight gains and losses over such a short amount of time spanning from weeks to months. We become self conscious of the horrible acne we continue to have even in our adult years. The self consciousness extends when we notice that our hair is thinning and falling out due to medications and malnourishment. These extreme body changes ruin our self image, and in my case it happened at a very young age. It started when I was only 11 - a pre-teen not even in junior high.

I battled major weight changes back and forth all through jr. high and high school. When you're becoming aware of the other girls bodies and the changes that is happening is when mine was changing SO much more than theirs. And in such different ways. Despite your efforts not to, you compare. What is different about my body and theirs? At 12 years old I was asking myself why do I have stretch marks and they don't? Why do I have so much acne and they don't? etc etc. It wasn't fair and it still isn't fair. It just ruined my self image and it's something I've always struggled with. I've very rarely been happy with my body.

So I'm at a point right now where I really want to start eating better, becoming more active, and getting to a size, weight, and muscle mass that I'm comfortable with and proud of. I've been taking more walks and doing a little bit more cardio. My biggest hurdle with that is getting into more a routine with it and not skipping out on 2-3 days at a time. Motivation. And I think my biggest hurdle of all, which I know many can relate to, is eating a little bit healthier and having A LOT better portion control. I'm working my best with it, and I'm trying to incorporate things in slowly so I can get used to them one at a time. It's hard not to get discouraged when I make a slip up... but I'm trying my best to tell myself that tomorrow is a new day and the more I stick with it, the easier it will get.

Staying as thin as I have been doesn't come easily for me, as everyone seems to think it does. As I mentioned before, it happens because I am extremely sick, or because I put in a hell of a lot of effort.

And this time it will be because I'm working my ass off to achieve the body image that I want to have.