Hidden within a pile of photos, in the photo album drawer of my parents’ house, is a picture of me – a grinning chubby 2 year-old standing around with my older brother and some cousins at Centre Island, circa 1984.
My mom told me a few years ago that I was always conscious of body weight. She told me about a time we had sat down to dinner at an aunt’s house. I was a kid. I was offered a second helping of food, to which I apparently replied, “No thanks. I don’t want to be fat like Daddy.”
My father has always been big. At least as long as I have been alive. He has had several heart attacks, a near-fatal bout of pneumonia, and has a collection of prescription pills sitting on his bedroom dresser that can’t possibly be healthy. And of course baby Aspirin.
I was chubby as a toddler, but by kindergarten I lost a lot of the baby fat. I grew up skinny and remained skinny into puberty – which is difficult when you’re a black girl. Some people would kid me, accusing me of being anorexic. But both the kidder and I knew it wasn’t a serious accusation, ’cause who’s ever heard of a black anorexic?
I recall being at a family barbeque when I was 13 or 14, hanging around the food table looking for something to eat, when someone slapped my butt. I looked to my right to see my aunt laughing and asking “Where is your bootie?”, then assuring me that it’ll probably come over time. It did as I got to my later teens, to my relief. Yes, I was a toothpick, but at least I had a butt.
I remained slender well into my early 20’s. In my final year of university, I decided to move out to “concentrate on my studies”. At the time, I did believe that I wanted to focus on school, but looking back, it was really to escape my parents. It was the first time in my life I struggled with school work. It was hard to accept that I wasn’t as bright as I thought I was. And I found comfort in food. Food didn’t criticize me the way my profs did. Food didn’t torment me like my severe depression did. Yes – I will eat this entire Sara Lee cheesecake in one sitting. And yes – I will eat an entire cookie baking sheet of cheese-laden baked nachos with large dollops of sour cream and salsa to boot. And even though I don’t believe in drinking – yes – I will have a fourth.
I went home for Christmas. When my mom met me on the way up the front steps of the house, she said “Wow, you got fat!”. Nice to see you too, Mom. I re-learned over those holidays that West Indian folk really say what they mean.
“You’re fat now, eh?”
“Look, Sandra! Her face! It’s so round!”
Yep. Good times.
I actually didn’t mind being big. At first. Mostly because it didn’t really affect me. Before I realized I was getting bigger, having never experienced weight gain before, I just thought a) I was in a perpetual state of bloated-ness and/or b) the washer/dryer must be shrinking my clothes. Side note: I didn’t grow up with a dryer, so I honestly thought I wasn’t using the dryer properly.
And besides, unless you think a size 12 is fat, then yeah, I was fat. At the time, I just felt “filled out”.
Anyway, it gave me an excuse to buy new clothes. Clothes fit me differently. They felt… filled out. And now, I actually had to try them on before buying; I couldn’t just assume they would fit over my breasts. My breasts! Not that they were huge… I grew to a C-cup. But having been small-chested and a tomboy, these new breasts made me so uncomfortable. I really did not (and still don’t) understand why so many women want big breasts. Implants?! Why? Ugh.
Moving on. So for several months I was cool with it. My family became cool with it. The guys I rolled around with were cool with it (breasts!). But then I started noticing what came with the extra weight:
Fatigue. Not that I was a bundle of energy before, but it was like what used to be mundane pedestrian commuting (10 minute walk to the mall, climbing stairs to get to the bus platform at the subway station, etc) became tasks would require a ridiculously long recuperation period. Those stairs to the bus platform? I remember once I had to run up them to catch my bus, and I was able to board just before it was about to depart the station. This bus ride is a good 20-30 minutes. Half way through the bus ride, my breathing pattern was still laboured. That’s not right.
Stretch marks. Yes, everybody gets them. When they first appear, they are dark, and then they fade to pale. Think about that. I’m dark. When someone with dark skin gets stretch marks, IT SHOWS. And it’s permanent. And it sucks.
Spare tire. Or muffin tops. Don’t like that.
So those are three – but they were big threes. Especially the first one. Nothing I could do about the second one. And the third one, if banished, would be a nice bonus.
My company, as I mentioned in a previous post, is part of a city recreational league. Every season, we sign up for a sport. Fall of 2008, we signed up for floor hockey. I decided to show up for one of the games, and of course, it’s the one game where we didn’t have enough players to afford a substitute player. I’d have the play the entire game. Normally I would rather get a tooth pulled than man the net, but I quickly volunteered to do so. I donned the goalie gear, and watched my co-workers/teammates run the entire game through the smelly wired goalie mask. We lost. At the end of the game, as we high-fived the other team and exchanged “good game!” over and over, I knew I had to lose weight – ’cause at that moment, the feeling of guilt I had for not being an active member of the team that night was making me feel that much heavier.
In February 2009, I joined the gym and signed up for 12 sessions with a trainer. I decided that whatever I lost by the end of May, would be my weight to maintain. Exercise, while at first was hard, I ended up loving. Food was harder. Not only did I have to end my love affair with it, but I had to educate myself on something called… calories? Fuck. And who knew there were 355 calories in a medium-sized bran muffin?? How do I know how many calories are in something by looking at it? So yeah, that was hard.
By the end of May, I returned to the same size I was in high school – only healthier. Once I became healthy, I realized a fourth thing I did not like about being bigger: it was making me feel fat like Daddy. All these years of watching him labour doing the smallest of tasks, and eat abhorrent amounts of food, and be seemingly nonchalant (bordering on ignorant) about his weight… there is this selfishness in the act of gluttony that I find hard to swallow. You’d rather be fat and inactive rather than play with us? You’d rather continue popping pills? Do you care that mom is now unhealthier for having to take care of you all these years? Do you care if we lose you? All these years I was determined not to be like him and I had ended up with a round face that was reminding me of him. I was having none of that.
It is more than a year later. I’ve been able to maintain my weight. I still go to the gym. I jog. I can play entire soccer matches with my coworkers. So why did I catch myself picking at my “spare tire” this morning after my shower? Why am I still shaking my thighs to gage how thunderous they still are? Why do I still feel fat? I weigh less, so I’m more conscious of it? And I just noticed I typed “how thunderous they still are?”. Still? I obviously believe they are thunderous… present tense… still.
Maybe I’m bloated. Still.