“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

I was a fat kid.  When I say that, I don’t mean pleasingly plump, or chubby.  I mean fat.  At thirteen, I was 4′ 10″ and a women’s size 14.  A bookworm with glasses, poor, unable to afford anything approaching current fashion, and with no compensatory social skills, I was the object of all the adolescent torture you can imagine associated with that profile.  I hated junior high school with a passion. 

To complete the pretty picture, I was hunchbacked.  A large benign tumor was slowly strangling my spine at the cervical vertebrae, forcing my shoulders in a perpetual slump.  Ask me to show you the scar someday.  But, by some weird magic, after the tumor was removed, in the late spring before high school, I not only dropped weight like I was throwing stones out of my pockets, I shot up over six inches in the course of a few short months.  By 10th grade, I was within two inches of my full current height (5′ 7″), and about 98 lbs.  I think I dropped five sizes. 

Equally magic, with the new profile, the torment stopped.  I was elected to Student Council.  People said hello in the hall and invited me to parties.  But instead of being relieved, I was disgusted.  I was the same person I was.  I had done nothing, suffered nothing, given up nothing to be suddenly slim, and yet I was treated like a completely new animal.  It tainted my opinion forever of the weight (pardon the pun) that our popular culture places on appearance.  This distrust was only deepened by a short stint working for the high-end cosmetic industry after I dropped out of college, to the point where I simply refused to care whether I was or was not in fashion, and decided never to bank my future on how I looked.  I dress for business when I have to for my career, but I have thankfully chosen a profession where admiration is faceless – most of my colleagues know me mainly through my name on scholarly papers.  I have moments of depression when petty-minded people have made comments about my appearance; too many childhoods hurts and snubs are evoked not to feel a bit of sting.  But, by and large, they are only moments.  I don’t judge myself by those standards.  I don’t judge my friends by them either.  People are beautiful or not beautiful to me by their words and actions, not by their weight or what they wear.  I know ‘that world’.  I have experienced it.  I hate it.

I would like to say that I battled the weight all my life, but that is not true, either.  I have not been that heroic.  Just after my first marriage at 23, my weight settled at a proportionate place for my height, and I hovered around a size 8 or 10 for over a decade.  Athletic since college, a runner since grad school, I have never really had to fight my weight until after my 37th birthday when a combination of three SCA reigns, good New Orleans cooking, knee injuries and plain ole middle age, started a five year slow upward creep that hit its peak just after Harry was born.  I am the heaviest and largest I have been since childhood.

This has come as a bit of a shock, because I have resolutely refused to own a scale or full-length mirror.  I was stunned to see myself in a photo several months ago.  The person I saw was not the vision of the person I carry in my head.  Shocking a discovery as it was, by and large, it still didn’t affect my day-to-day life in any way.

Except one.

I had pre-eclampsia with Harry, and my blood pressure stubbornly stayed elevated much longer after his birth than it had any right to.  My liver enzymes rose with the blood pressure, and I had a moment of fear that I would leave a son that would never grow to know the mother that loved him so intensely.  It was an irrational fear, but one that recurs with every health scare I have had since.  In the months immediately before my son’s birth, I watched my mother struggle with the aftermath of breast cancer.  She had her last radiation treatment the day he was born.  In the sixteen months since he arrived, I have agonized through three cancer scares myself, all proving thankfully benign.  But my parents are in poor health, and my mind strays to a not-to-distant future where I may be caring for them at the same time I am raising my son – my son whose very promise of life my mother clung to during the dark days of chemotherapy.  I want to live to see the same light in my grandchildren.  I want to live to see them and be healthy enough that Harry does not lie awake with the same worries and concerns that make my nights restless. I don’t want him to feel the fear that worms its way insidiously into my thoughts as I watch my “younger” parents age.

And this means I have to start caring a little bit more about what the scale says.  Heck, it means I had to go and actually buy one.  I have to actually use that expensive stationary bike sitting in my living room. I have to get my 42-year-old ass outside once in a while and back in my armor.  Nothing like beating men half your age into submission to work up a good sweat and lose a few pounds.  To give you an idea about how seriously I am taking this, I have actually spent money on a diet.  Me.  A notorious skinflint.  I amaze even myself.

So far, it’s working.  I have dropped five pounds in less than two weeks, but that’s a drop in the bucket.  And I am fighting not only middle age, but decades of deliberate not-caring.  Old habits are hard to break.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 

Or just look for me in one of those Nutrisystem ads.

October 17th, 2006 at 1:36 pm
4 Responses to “The only thing stronger than vanity”
  1. 1
    Cinnkitty Says:

    Damn that New Orleans cooking! It also helped me reach an astounding size, that I had to take drastic measures to get rid of! That’s it! It’s all New Orleans fault… (not that my hand shoving food into my mouth had anything to do with it!) 🙂 xoxoxoxo

  2. 2
    Kat Says:

    I don’t own a scale, either (at least not the standing-on sort — I do have a cooking scale, but that’s different). However, I do own a full length mirror. Without it, how would I know my garb hit the ground just right? There’s just so much you can trust to the dummy.

  3. 3

    I hear what you are saying here on all points. Oh that we might all be judged by the content of our character and not the number on the scales. I’ll be 47 in a few months and in the last year all bets are off. Diet and exercise don’t do it anymore and my body shape is changing. Having said all that, I accept it. I don’t want to be one of those women who perpetually looks like she is trying too hard.

    A very good post. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. (Love the photo below by the way.)

  4. 4

    You said:
    I have moments of depression when petty-minded people have made comments about my appearance; too many childhoods hurts and snubs are evoked not to feel a bit of sting.

    My Response:
    Huh. I thought you were a hottie the day I met you. And the day I met you you were wearing a suit of armor, the humidity was 95% and you had been fighting for about four hours. I think it was a Border Raids, but I’m not sure.

    I’ll be when you hear disparaging remarks about your appearance, they are from either A)women or B) boys.

    Men know better.

    Will