I am overweight. Since a prescription medication mishap (they called it a side effect resulting from combining two medications that they don’t prescribe together anymore) in 1995 or so caused me to gain 80 pounds in three months, I’ve been overweight. I haven’t gained any more than that initial amount but I haven’t lost any of it either. You name a diet, I’ve probably done it at least twice in the last decade and a half, trying desperately to get back to the 120-135 that I weighed before the meds. Cabbage soup diet? Yup. Grapefruit and canned beets diet? Oh yeah. Atkins? Sure. Paleo? Burp. Vegetarianism? That too. South Beach? Who hasn’t? I’ve read the books, the magazine articles, and the weight loss forums. The term “clean eating” makes me cringe.
I love to exercise. I wish I had the time, skill, and strength for more varied types of exercise but I like what I can fit into my life right now. I especially like dancing.
Dancing was always been something I’d wanted to try but had been afraid of. Being expelled from a ballet class at age six for being too clumsy left me feeling insecure. Last year I did some drop-in adult classes just out of curiosity because my daughter had begun dancing. At some point I found I really loved it and “dance in a performance” made it onto my bucket list. In the fall of 2012, I tore up my left ankle. Really tore it up. “No activity outside of physical therapy” for months kind of tore it up. I had to take the rest of the class year off.
This fall I started again with a ballet and a jazz class. Where I live, there’s very little available to adults for classical dance. If you’re a beginner, even less. If you’re a beginner that wants to eventually progress to performing, zero. The studio where my daughter studies allowed me to take a beginning ballet class with teen girls who are basically beginners. Very nice, very supportive girls, I might add. Girls who said, “cool” when they found out how old I was. I love these classes. They are fun, they are great exercise, and they make me feel stronger when I walk out that I felt when I walked in. The jazz class is a non-performance adult modern/lyrical/jazz class that is loads of sweat-drenched fun.
This ballet class I’m in is a class that culminates in a performance in June. This performance goal thing has been on my bucket list for a little over a year now. But it’s in the section of my bucket list where everything starts with “when I am thin.” That’s been my mantra since about 1996. I’ll wear that when I’m thin. I’ll do that when I’m thin. I’ll buy that when I’m thin. WHEN I’M THIN…
I figured that there would be no way they’d let me perform with the beautiful, young, teenage girls. But the teacher of the class and the owner of the studio talked about it. And, long story short, they decided I could perform with the class. My immediate thought was, “okay, that gives me months to lose weight so that I can perform WHEN I’M THIN.” Cool, right? Bring on the new diet!
Right around that time, I took about three to four weeks off to have shoulder surgery (I’ll cover the shoulder thing in another post). While I was off, the studio went about ordering costumes and choreographing the Christmas performance. Usual fall business, no big deal.
And then it got interesting. There was a small miscommunication and they choreographed me into the December show. The December show. December. As in December, 2013. As in five and a half weeks from today.
When I found this out earlier this week, a jumble of thoughts immediately popped through my head. Okay, Strike that. After I started breathing again, a jumble of thoughts popped into my head. After I thought about that first day in retrospect, I realized that my worries weren’t about forgetting the steps or tripping on the stage or anything like that. Nope. The thoughts that haunted me for the next several nights were all centered around body image. It was “how much weight can I lose before the performance?” I had a nightmare one night that I was booed and laughed off the stage. At one point I asked a teacher if she thought I would be an embarrassment to the studio. She looked at me strangely and said, “I don’t think you’ll have any problem learning the dance by December, you’ve only missed three or four weeks.” Under my breath I said to her, “no, I mean because I’m so big.” I think she said something about it not being a big deal, but honestly, by then I wasn’t breathing right, having sent myself into a anxiety tailspin, and I honestly don’t remember exactly what she replied. I asked friends what they thought. I figured if I was going to pull out and ask the studio to re-choreograph the dance without me in it, I’d better hurry up and decide. Some friends were very supportive. Others weren’t.
I Googled “plus size ballerina,” etc. trying to get a feel for what I’d actually look like in a dance costume at my current weight. The first thing I noticed was that there isn’t much out there in the way of motivational stuff regarding the non-traditional dancer. There is one photo circulating of a gorgeous, fit, plus size dancer en pointe in a tee shirt and shorts.
The next thing I noticed, and this is what really got me, was that the vast majority of stuff on the internet is very negative. To be overweight is a sin for which you can never do enough penance. Fatshaming is the last publicly acceptable form of discrimination. To be overweight and fit is assumed to be mutually exclusive. If you’re overweight, the expectation seems to be that you are a public nuisance, a bad example to children everywhere, and should be ashamed to be in public. If you’re overweight and have a positive self-image, you’ve committed a double crime. Not only are you overweight but you aren’t appropriately ashamed of yourself.
There’s a fair amount of blame placed on the media over this whole fatshaming thing, and rightfully so. However, a good amount of it is self-inflicted or inflicted by friends and family under the guise of good intentions. People mean well, I’m sure they do, but the stuff they throw at an overweight person isn’t helpful. It’s usually hurtful. And we, the overweight people, won’t say anything about it because after all, we’re supposed to feel bad about our condition, and we usually do. I remember being at a dinner about a year ago and within the span of less than an hour I had the following suggested to me: I should watch The Biggest Loser because it would be very motivating; I should become a vegetarian because meat and fat make people fat; I should only eat meat and fat because carbs make people fat; I should try fasting; I should try eating multiple times a day. I pushed the food around on my plate, didn’t eat anything, and went home and hit the proverbial Ben and Jerry’s before crying myself to sleep. This has happened more than once.
Someone I know recently lost a large amount of weight. I was really happy for her and still am because she’s happy and she feels better. I’m jealous but I’m happy for her. I wasn’t feeling as happy when she remarked at one point how relieved she was to not have to shop at the fat girls’ store anymore. I shop there. I have to shop there. I felt sad and ashamed.
My psychologist has handed me three different diets over the last year with the comment, “I saw this diet and thought of you.”
The fact is, I’m not ever going to be skinny. There are a number of biological factors at work (bone density, large bone structure, childhood starvation, medication, metabolic damage, etc.) but they all add up to one thing. No matter what diet I try, no matter how many miles I run, how many PX90 workouts I do, I’m not ever going to be skinny. I’ve been to the doctors, the trainers, the specialists. It’s not laziness, it’s not being on the wrong diet, it’s not “cheat eating” too often. It just is what it is. Having people continually suggest a new diet or a new workout just reminds me how stuck I am, that I am never going to be as thin as I would like to be or as I used to be, that I have failed at the one thing I am most obsessed with.
Don’t assume that someone is overweight as the result of laziness or poor dietary choices. Don’t tell him or her about a diet they should try. Odds are, they’ve already tried it. Don’t tell them to get out and exercise more. They’ve probably put in more miles than you can imagine.
Me? I’m working on figuring out how to feel comfortable in my own skin, and hopefully feel at least a little less weird in a tutu in December. But do me a favor, the next person you see, regardless of what they look like, pay them a heartfelt and sincere compliment. I’ll do the same. And if you’re having trouble fighting the urge to recommend the latest diet and/or exercise fad to an overweight person, remember what your mother told you, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”