Real Women Have… Shapes. All Kinds of Shapes.

**This was originally written on July 10th, 2014**

I was probably doomed from the start.

My parents were both slender. My father was 6′ 3″ and almost too skinny to join the Navy. My mom was 5′ 6″ and not even 100 pounds. So once the baby fat wore off, I was a bit of a twig.

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But honestly, I didn’t even realize it. I was homeschooled, so I didn’t have to endure any taunting about my gangly limbs from that quarter, and the kids at church had known me since I was a baby, so there really wasn’t anything to comment on.

And then I started taking dance lessons when I was nine years old. Dance lessons meant being in a leotard and tights for every class. Leotard and tights that were actually baggy on me. Every costume had to be taken in. EVERY SINGLE COSTUME. And all through this, I kept growing taller and taller, my arms and legs and back getting longer, so I was obviously gaining weight, but the weight kept going straight into more and more height and it was just a whole lot of awkwardness all around.

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And then… I became a teenager.

Until then, no one had really pointed out my resemblance to a toothpick in a negative light. But, of course, when you’re a teenager, and you’re surrounded by other teenagers, then suddenly everyone becomes SO WONDERFUL about pointing out your flaws and just being generally catty and awful to one another. As hormonally-charged, insecurity-ridden teenagers often do. All of a sudden, I couldn’t be skinny just because I was a naturally skinny person. No, I must be anorexic. I must be bulimic. I needed to eat more. And more. And more. And more. And while surrounded by other girls who were constantly stressing about wanting to LOSE weight, I wondered why I was different, and what on earth was wrong with me.

And so I started to notice my body. I saw the bones of my rib cage sticking out. I saw my spine, my shoulder blades, my twiggy little thighs and the bony arms and wrists that people just loved to come up and wrap their fingers around in order to better illustrate how small and abnormal I was.

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I stopped wearing shorts, first. And then skirts and dresses that showed off anything above the knee. (Funny enough, my mother is probably one of the few mothers who encouraged her teenage daughter to wear short skirts and cute dresses while stressing that I had “great legs”. I, being fifteen years old and wallowing in low self-esteem, did not believe her.) I layered my clothes. I wore bulky, heavy outfits – even in warm weather – to hide my body.

I also started to keep track of everything I ate. I became obsessed with counting calories. NOT to keep myself from eating too many, but because I had to make sure that I was consuming enough. I filled notebooks with daily lists of everything I’d eaten and how many calories were in each serving (I also made sure to round the numbers down in order to keep the totals low and thereby make myself eat more). If I hit my daily goal (usually around 3000 calories) I put a little foil star sticker next to the total. If I didn’t hit the goal? It went into a deficit account that I had to make up by the end of the week.

Into my early twenties I continued to keep the notebooks and the lists and the numbers. (Seriously, you know you have a problem when you voluntarily introduce MATH into your daily life.) I kept layering clothes, putting on leggings under jeans and tank tops under shirts to make me look “thicker”. I would hear the saying “Real Women Have Curves”, and I would get angry at my hip bones, at the sharp angles that made up my body.

Then, when I was twenty-eight, I met my husband. (CORRECTION: I started dating my husband a second time. But this is the time that stuck so it’s the one that goes in the books.) I still – STILL – felt bad about my body. I didn’t want him to see me. I wanted him to think I was curvy, that I had a bosom, that I looked like the other women that he most definitely-obviously-no-doubt thought were better looking than me. But he always made me feel beautiful. He always made me feel like I had the most perfect figure imaginable. He made me feel confident and gorgeous.

I stopped stressing about my weight… a little bit. Gone were the notebooks, the constantly checking out the Nutritional Information on every package to see if it something was fatty enough to even be worth my time to eat. And then, I found out I was pregnant.

Morning sickness was evil. I hardly ate anything for about six weeks, and having started out at 125 pounds, losing ten pounds was a bit scary. But I knew my body, and I knew I would bounce back as the constant illness began to wane. I remember going in for my first prenatal appointment. I remember the ultrasound and hearing my baby’s heartbeat for the first time. And then, the doctor sat down to ask me a few questions.

The first question? Did I have a problem with gaining weight?

My first thought was that she meant did I have difficulty gaining weight? Which I do. I’ve always been skinny. And I started to point this out to her, and then something in my head… clicked. She didn’t mean would it be physically difficult for me to gain weight, but would it be mentally difficult for me to gain weight. And at that moment, as tears pricked my eyes, I felt all of my teenage insecurities rush back at me, hitting me with the force of a flash flood.

So there I sat, pregnant for the first time, knowing that my life was about to change in so many wonderful and amazing and frightening ways, and I had to defend myself. No, I was not anorexic. No, I had never had an eating disorder. Yes, I was just naturally skinny. No, I didn’t need to speak to a counselor. Yes, I was sure my baby would be fine without any sort of an intervention. I don’t know if she believed me. Frankly, I didn’t care. But I wanted to be out of there so much, because just a little bit of my pregnancy happiness was suddenly sucked away from me.

Over the next six months, I gained forty pounds. I loved those forty pounds. I gloried in them. My arms, my legs, my belly, my CURVES were gorgeous and spectacular and I wanted to bottle them up and keep them on a shelf so I could bring them out again whenever I was feeling down. I had the pregnancy glow in spades, and I didn’t even mind when someone got a glance at my legs or my upper arms.

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And so here I am, nearly five years after the birth of my first child (and with two more children tagging along behind her), and I have to ask myself: Why am I writing this?

Well, I have daughters. Two daughters. Two daughters born to tall, skinny parents (I’m 5′ 11″ and holding steady at about 130 pounds, while my husband is 6′ 2″ and averaging around 170 pounds) so I won’t be surprised if they end up tall and slender, too. But my hope – my fervent, fervent hope – is that after going through what I went through, after hating my body for so many years, after feeling myself pull further and further inward every time someone would tell me I needed to eat something, or would ask if I was TRYING to lose weight (in that oh-so-concerned tone that still sets my teeth on edge), that I will be able to tell them that they’re not alone. They’re not abnormal. They’re not ugly.

Will their ribs be visible during the worst of their growing years? Probably. Will they have the “coveted” thigh gap (that I loathed with every fiber of my being)? More than likely. But I want them to know that they are beautiful, that they don’t have to worry about how others look at them, what others say about them, what others accuse them of when it comes to health and nutrition, AND that they absolutely, positively do not need to eat a sandwich just because their upper arm is not as wide as their elbow.

Oh, and shorts. I definitely hope they wear lots and lots of shorts.

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