This Is Me.
Every day of high school I weighed 246lbs & today I weigh exactly the same. When I look at these pictures I can’t help but notice that there is a remarkable difference between these two versions of me. It is as noticeable, to me anyway, as the difference in the colors of my hair. Want to know what the difference is? C-o-n-f-i-d-e-n-c-e. Confidence in knowing who I am. Confidence in my abilities as a woman. Confidence in knowing that I am beautiful by MY standards not someone else’s.
I won’t lie it took me a long time to get here. I spent more decades than a woman should being bullied by body shamers. I also shamed myself for being what my genetics predetermined what I would be; a super tall, super curvy woman. In the process of all this shaming I continued to give away or kill little bits of myself because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. By the time I was 24 years old I was a mere shell of a woman with no self-esteem and no self-worth. I could barely look in the mirror without cringing. I was quick to believe the negative things people said about me and I doubted the positive things people said about me. I shake my head just thinking about it.
Throughout our childhoods we are given a script that is programmed into our psyche. As we grow up this script is on a constant loop in our brains telling us the code by which we are supposed to live and how we are supposed to feel. For too many of us our script included the belief that we are not pretty enough, we are not smart enough, or we just aren’t enough in general. It’s those words that we hear in our heads every time we look in the mirror. I thought it was just me…and then I opened Botticelli. It became very clear to me that my true calling was to help women rewrite their script….and in the process I rewrote my own.
How did I get from there to here? It wasn’t easy. I did it in a time before the words like “body positive” were ever uttered. Like a super strict diet I cut out all negativity. That’s right, all the cancerous words & caustic people that slowly killed my self-esteem were kicked to the curb like a bad habit, because they were in fact no more than that... a habit. I then piled on huge portions of wonderful words like strong, curvy & love. Like most diets I have my share of bad days & can binge on self-doubts like a kid at an all you can eat chocolate buffet, BUT so long as I get up the next morning with renewed determination to stay on plan I know I’ll be ok.
Today I encourage you all to look in the mirror and find the good in yourself. I ask that you find a portion of your body you are unhappy with & say 3 nice things about it. It sounds crazy but it WORKS. “My breasts have provided thousands of meals for babies”, “My thighs are strong.”, “My laugh lines are from a lifetime of laughter.”, “My stretch marks are from growing people.” Find a few kind words for yourself today & every day. If you give yourself a steady diet of sleep & a healthy dose of self-praise long enough, you too will be in this awesome place.
A very long time ago someone said these words to my mother about something TOTALLY unrelated to this subject, HOWEVER, today I reflect on these words and understand the meaning now more than ever, “If this child ends up with hang-ups it’s because you gave them to her.”
Go find your confidence, ladies. Need my help? I’m right here waiting for you. #payitforward
What I’m Worth…
In the midst of an incredibly busy weekend I managed to watch all 6 episodes of Shrill on Hulu. A comedy about a plus size, twenty something woman trying to find herself in a world that still stigmatizes weight. I think my initial takeaway from the very 1st episode was sadness. Sadness not just for her but for every plus-size girl who sacrificed her self-esteem for a man who was not worth her weight in salt. I sat there with a brittle smile on my face realizing that she was me. Yes, this strong willed, body-image badass you see every day on Facebook was quite the opposite not so long ago.
Much like the show, I had well intentioned people in my life “helping” me to lose weight, exercise more or cut calories. I can remember as far back as my 10th birthday someone giving me a Gloria Steven’s membership. Yep, it was almost like saying, “here’s your cake & you shouldn’t eat it too”. When I was about 13 years old my grandmother pinched my back fat in a buffet line on Easter morning asking me “do you really need that?” Frankly, I do not recall a time when I was not conscious of my weight. Not. One. Day.
Throughout my high school years I was bombarded with all sorts of messages that reinforced the notion that I was too fat to have stylish clothing, that solos in high school musicals only went to petite ingénues, and boyfriends were for skinny girls ONLY. I was told that if I ever hoped to marry I better “lose some of the tonnage”. I started with diet pills when I was a sophomore in high school and lived on diet coke. Guess what? I was still fat. Why? Because looking back on it now I had snowballed myself into an eating disorder. The more food became off limits the more I snuck food, stole food, & binged on food in secret. Yeah, I didn’t purge it…but the psychology of binge eating was born.
Fast forward to college. For the 1st time in my life I was surrounded by boys…and I stopped eating entirely and was prescribed Ritalin for ADHD. I dropped 40lbs from orientation to parent’s weekend. I starved myself so I might be beautiful and hopefully make college a place where people didn’t ridicule me for my size. Then I gave up Ritalin and a lot of the weight came back on. As I started to gain weight the insecurities of old came back in full swing. Then in my junior year of college I met the boy who decimated me. Just like in Shrill he ushered me out the back door when his friends came around, he hit on other women while I was standing beside him, he made fun of me in public, and he cheated on me every chance he got. Why was I with him, you ask??? Because I was told day in and day out BY THE WORLD that no man would marry me if I were fat. Therefore in my mind I was lucky to have this piece of shit & I should be happy with the scraps of attention he so graciously bestowed upon me. I sold bits & pieces of myself to the lowest bidder and had nothing to show for it but a shell of myself. I lived like that for 2 years. When he physically started hurting me is when my mother finally drew the line in the sand. “You better break up with this kid AND you better pray that your father doesn’t find out he’s laying his hands on you...” I decided to break up with him but to be honest it was a lengthy process because, you know, “he’s so sweet when it is just the two of us.” Then totally by chance I met my husband.
I can honestly say at that point in my life I was freighted by him. Not just because he was hot, Tom Skerrit in Top Gun kind of hot, but because he thought I was attractive. He let me know in every possible way that my curves were appreciated. This man was proud to be with me and wanted to show me off. He treated me as an equal and every day showed me how lucky he considered himself to have me in his life…and THAT scared the shit out of me. It is CRAZY how much this scared me. To the point where I tried to find every flaw imaginable to have an excuse to break up with him. It brings tears to my eyes recalling how broken a woman I was that I assumed a man who loved me must have some major character flaw below the surface.
This man wanted all the parts of me that I had been told by society “no man could love”. His focus was not on the hard shell I had become but the whole package that made me me. Subsequently, I did the ugly cry all through our wedding ceremony because I could not believe a man would ever love me enough to want to marry me. It is gut wrenching to admit out loud, but it is one-hundred percent the truth.
Fast forward almost 20 years and I have an amazing husband who has supported me though countless diets that have all failed and he STILL looks at me like I am Sophia Loren circa 1962. I have created New England’s only plus-size exclusive clothing store and I have had the pleasure of working with thousands of women over the last 16 years. I am a body-image influencer and hopefully teach women to value themselves by my words and actions. I will admit I still have my moments when that creepy voice from the past still rears its ugly head and spews the lies of my childhood …and then on a random Sunday afternoon I watch a new series called Shrill and I am reminded how far I have come. I give my inner 10 year old girl a hug and get up off the couch and remind myself that “I’m the one with the fat ass & big titties” and I get to tell the world what I’m worth. #shrillhulu
Skinny Privilege is Real…
Skinny Privilege In The Medical Profession Is A Very Real Thing
So this is a tricky topic for me, a plus-size boutique owner, to write about as it pertains to weight loss. Don’t laugh but I am usually on the very opposite side of this issue. I am not a fan of losing weight to be beautiful. You already are. I don’t agree with women that being skinny will fix all of their problems. At the end of the day you still are left with you. I am more about feeling comfortable in your own skin & being your healthiest version of you. But today I am compelled to write about the vast conspiracy against plus size people in the medical profession.
So often I hear women say, “If I could just lose this belly I would be fine” and despite the thousands of dollars spent and months of deprivation and starvation women cannot seem to lose anything. Often I say, “Women who walk through my door are not the size they are because they can’t put the fork down but because of menopause, genetics & medications”. In my opinion doctors play a large role in this process…simply by their weight discrimination & the systematic dismal of symptoms of plus size people by saying, “Lose weight and you won’t have this problem.” Seriously? I am now at a point in my life that when I meet a new doctor I say from the initial visit, “If all you want to do is talk about or blame my weight, then you are not the doctor for me. I have been this weight (almost literally) for 30 years & my symptoms are new so let’s not blame it on the weight, ok?” Some are surprised by my stance (usually male doctors), but most new doctors I’ve met have been rather receptive to my take on my health situation. I also say, “I am player in my own health care & if you don’t see me as an equal in MY health then we’re not going to have a great relationship.” Yeah, I’m that girl. I understand I am not a doctor and that I’m just a retailer but I am the expert in ME. I will not be “Fat Tracked” by a doctor because they are too lazy or unwilling to do their job. Those days are OVER.
Think this isn’t a REAL issue? Let me a give you a little example. A dear friend of mine who is an eating disorder survivor & someone who has had a large weight gain during her recovery has been having LOTS of health issues as of late, some of which include sweating profusely, heavy breathing for minor excursion, sleep apnea, and skipping periods. She approached her GP and her doctor told her “You have PCOS. Lose weight, and it will get better”. That’s it. The GP didn’t order any lab work nor checked for the usual factors. Well, my friend desperately wants to conceive but with her system being so out of whack it isn’t happening. She went to a specialist on whom she “pulled a Jan” and set the rules about the weight conversation. The Doctor’s reply was, “Your weight is the least of my concerns.” After a lengthy chat about her health issues the specialist was shocked that the GP did not order any blood work nor did she check for the classic signs of PCOS like ‘the beard’. Well, within 2 hours of her blood work her specialist called to tell her her thyroid numbers were sky high & that she needed to start thyroid meds ASAP. She also told her that the hypothyroidism was putting more strain on her system & heart than her weight. My friend came to me with tears in her eyes & said “I thought it was my fault”. Of course you did. That’s what the weight biased mentality of Western Medicine wants you to believe.
And. This. Happens. Every. Damn. Day.
As some of you can relate to, I am suffering from a lot of arthritis from an auto-immune disease & from wearing high heels on carpeted cement for the 30+ years I’ve been in retail. This year seems to be the worst. At the gentle nudging of a new GP I reached out to an Obesity Medicine specialist. Her job is to help coach people through healthy lifestyle changes, prescribe weight loss drugs when necessary & to look at your current list of meds to see if any of them could be causing or maintaining a higher weight. I gave her my opening line & then added, “I want you to know I am not here because I have a low self-esteem nor do I have any desire to be skinny. I am here because my weight is making it hard for me to stand long periods of time at work & it is effecting my business.” She asked me, “How much would you like to lose?” I said, “25lbs. I feel really good at that weight.” She did the slow blink. She replied, “That’s it? That’s easy.” During this initial appointment she said, “Wow, you have a really good handle on the nutrition piece. You could get a little more exercise in & if you don’t have time for cardio try some weights. Now that I know you’re doing all the right things there let’s look at your meds”. In about 10 seconds she said, “Here is your problem”. Y’all, this is a medicine I have been taking for 25 years to help with my sleep. Not kidding. Even at a low dosage it will make you gain and/or maintain your weight and will not allow it to come off. It was my turn to do the slow blink. “Wait, what? You mean to tell me that all those doctors who have told me to lose weight in the last 25 years and not one of them saw this medication as an issue?” *deep cleansing breath while trying to find a Zen place* Forget it, I’ll Namaste another time. Thus begins my tirade, “You wanna know why????? I’ll tell you why…BECAUSE no one listens to fat people! Like ever! No one takes us seriously when we’re sitting in a backless gown that is too small for us while our chubby ass cheeks are sticking to that tissue paper you all make us sit on! NO. ONE. LISTENS. TO. FAT. PEOPLE.”
The Doctor giggled and said ever so kindly, “I’m not sure why they didn’t say anything but I am here to make it right. By the way, you really need to be a writer or a speaker for the Obesity Society of America. You are really articulate about being plus size.” It was my turn to giggle, “Doc, you have no idea.” So the Doctor & I decided to switch out the Devil’s Pill to something else and to see if there is any movement in my weight. As I left her office I felt like I might have just gotten a new lease on life and I took a moment to count the blessing that I have found this practice and they are willing to find the answers and not just hand me a brochure about proper nutrition & exercise, pat me on the ass & send me out there to fail again.
I am not entirely sure why I am writing on this topic today. It is a problem that has been rampant throughout the medical profession for decades but today I am moved to write. Today I am moved to tell you not to accept one doctor’s opinion or approach. Today I am telling you that you are the expert in YOU. Today I am telling you feeling better isn’t a privilege of the skinny. In fact, most recent studies show that healthy has very little to do with our weight at all. Today I encourage you to be an advocate for yourself and I encourage you continue to seek out doctors who will not put you on the “fat track”. Today I am telling you that you deserve to feel good too.