Archive for August 27, 2013

How to remember yourself after weight loss:
not hating who you used to be

…a guest post by Rachel Hoge

When I came to college everything changed.

But not in the way I expected.

I had to walk thirty minutes uphill to class, and—at 260 pounds—the shallow breaths and circles of sweat were embarrassing enough to make me skip class. Around this time, I fell into friendships with dancers and physical therapy majors, who traded television for treadmills and actually liked vegetables. And walking.

It seemed strange to me at first.

But eventually their habits became mine, and instead of gaining the freshman fifteen, I lost weight—around seventy pounds. I was still considered obese for my height, but I felt better than I ever had. After years of quietly being overweight, I finally knew how it felt to be confident. When anyone noticed my weight loss, I told them thank you and that really, I was happy to have changed.

But that’s not entirely true.

It’s been over three years since then, but something strange has happened: I can barely remember who I was seventy pounds ago. I’ve created an identity without my past—without those hard moments that molded me into who I am. It’s like the shame that comes with seeing old pictures of yourself—a thank God I don’t look like that anymore moment.

What I don’t understand is why.

I’m the same person I was then—an aspiring writer, a young adult full of hope—so why is a bigger jean size powerful enough to make me want to forget?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad to know more about nutrition. I’m glad I exercise—it genuinely makes me feel better. I’m glad that my lifestyle is healthier. But I’m not glad that this embarrassment, this shame, has made me want to erase some great years of my life—all because of my weight.

I think it has something to do with this: when my girlfriends and I talk about our bodies, someone always says, “I just want to be skinny.” Not healthy—rarely healthy. Just skinny.

I would rather walk up ten hills as “old” Rachel—my XL shirt dripping sweat—than feel embarrassed about who I was…or, for that matter, who I am. Because I’m not skinny. My thighs are heavy and my face is round and my stomach has stretch marks. But I’m beautiful. Because I’m so much more than my body.

And after years of weight loss, I’m only starting to understand how important it is to know that.

 

RACHEL HOGE graduates next May with a degree in creative writing. She will continue writing and plans to pursue graduate school.

Two celebs accept their post-baby bodies, making me rethink my attitude on worshipping celebrities

I’m not usually one to follow celebrities, but Kate Middleton and Kristen Bell have been getting my attention lately.

The reason I’ve started taking note of Middleton and Bell is because of their behavior since they both delievered babies this summer.

First, Middleton posed for the camera the day after giving birth, proudly showing off her still-present baby bump…

Then Bell appeared on the cover of Redbook, claiming that “I had to surrender to not worrying about the way I looked, how much I weighed, because that’s just part of the journey of having a baby. I am not a woman whose self-worth comes from her dress size.”

And now, just this week, Middleton has posed for pics in a $79 maternity dress a full month AFTER leaving the hospital…

Of course, the reason Bell’s and Middleton’s actions are revolutionary is because celebrities usually only pose for post-baby pics AFTER they have lost all of their pregnancy weight. And most of them do that mere weeks after giving birth.

So Middleton’s willingness to be photographed in a maternity dress and not hide her baby bump and Bell’s willingness to say she may never lose all the weight sends the message that new mothers don’t have to lose their pregnancy weight (via insane workout routines and unhealthy crash diets) before they can be seen in public.

It also sends the message that there’s nothing wrong with carrying a few extra pounds or settling into a bigger size after giving birth to another human being.

And since both Middleton and Bell look like the picture of health in these pics, they’re also showing us that women don’t have to have a flat stomach, a tiny waist, or skinny thighs to be beautiful.

In other words, these two are letting us know that it’s okay to be human.

I’m not going to lie—that’s enough to make me a fan.

In defense of curly hair and natural beauty

When I was traveling last week and the week before, I encountered an idea that always makes me kind of nuts… the idea that naturally curly hair isn’t as good as straight hair.

I first encountered this attitude when visiting one of my friends. It was a fantastic visit except for one thing… my friend’s eight-year-old daughter, whom I’ll call Valerie, started questioning what makes someone hot.

We were looking at old pictures of Valerie’s mom, and I said to her, “Doesn’t your mom look pretty?” and Valerie said, “Kind of, but she’s not hot.”

“Why not?” I asked Valerie.

“Because of her hair. It’s not straight. It’s all puffy.”

“Well, that was in style back then,” I told Valerie. “Trust me, your mom was hot.”

“No,” Valerie insisted with all the self-assurance of Heidi Klum. “She wasn’t.”

Valerie was adamant, and I saw no way to change her mind. Still, I didn’t want to simply give in to her belief, so I added, “You don’t have to have straight hair to be hot.”

“Yes, you do,” Valerie said, again as sure of herself as a supermodel.

Then, a few days later, I was visiting my sister’s family when the same issue came up AGAIN with my nieces, ten-year-old Lucy and twelve-year-old Ethel (obviously not their real names).

“Your hair would look so much better straight, Aunt Molly,” Lucy said. “Will you please let us straighten it?”

“But I like it curly,” I said. “How about you can do my hair but keep it curly?”

“No, Aunt Molly!” Lucy said, pushing me to give in. “We want it straight!”

I looked at Ethel, the quieter of my two nieces. “It looks really good straight,” Ethel said somewhat reluctantly, agreeing with her sister.

“Okay, fine,” I said, not really caring if I had straight hair for a day or not.

Still, the whole time I kept thinking, why do these young girls think straight hair is so much more attractive than curly hair? Where do they learn that?

Of course, I didn’t have to think about it very long.

Turn on the TV or open a magazine and all you see are stick-thin women with long straight hair—often made longer with extensions.

One time I was out shopping with my nieces when we saw a young woman with super long blond hair (obviously fake) as well artificially white teeth, an equally artificial dark tan, Daisy Dukes, and a tight v-neck t-shirt that showed off her tiny waist and out of proportion large boobs. The girls were wowed.

“Look, Aunt Molly!” Ethel said as she blushed at the woman. “She’s so pretty.”

“She is?” I asked the two of them, not hiding the skepticism in my voice. “I think she looks fake.”

“No,” Lucy insisted. “She looks beautiful.”

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I tell you that both Lucy and Ethel really are beautiful—simultaneously beautiful and incredibly natural looking in that way that comes so easily when you’re young and is so hard to achieve as you age.

But if young girls today think that a fake tan, fake teeth, fake straight hair, and fake boobs are what make women beautiful, then I fear that the adult women of the future will all look exactly the same.

Do you need a pick-me-up?

Some days you just need a pick-me-up. I’m definitely having one of those days.

As you can see on my “healthy living” page, I think it’s crucial that we give into our cravings and treat ourselves to what we want on those kinds of days.

Because if we don’t, let’s be honest—we’ll just want it even more later.

Today I’m getting my pick-me-up in the form of chocolate cake and ’80s music…

I really hope you get what you need today too.

Will you feel lucky when your looks go?

And when your looks are gone and you’re alone,
how many nights you sit beside the phone?
What were the things you wanted for yourself?
Teenage ambitions you remember well.  

—”Heat of the Moment” by Asia

 

I’m visiting family right now in the suburbs outside of Chicago, and that means I’m spending a lot of time with my two wonderful nieces, ages 10 and 12.

My nieces—whom I’ll call Lucy and Ethel—LOVE to talk about bodies. They are almost obsessed with bodies, especially the bodies of adult women as, of course, Lucy and Ethel are aware that they will some day be adult women.

A few years ago, they were infatuated with breasts, which they called pillows back then. But this summer we’ve been talking more about how bodies change as we age—how their bodies are changing and will continue to change, how my body is changing, how their mother’s body is changing, and how my mother/their grandmother’s body is changing.

The other day we were talking about shaving legs—and when it’s appropriate to do so—when Lucy started poking my legs.

“What are those?” she said, pointing at the tiny circles on my legs.

“Hair follicles,” I told her. “They’re more noticeable once you start shaving. That’s another reason to wait as long as you can to shave.”

“What about that?” Ethel said, putting her finger on a larger, darker circle on my ankle.

“That’s an age spot. You get them as you grow older.”

“I don’t want to look like that when I get older,” Ethel said.

“You don’t have much choice,” I said. “If we’re lucky, we will grow older, and our bodies will start to look different.”

Neither Lucy and Ethel seemed happy about this assertion. They both looked at me with their lips twisted into knots.

“You know there’s nothing wrong with growing old—or even looking old,” I explained. “That’s what’s wrong with the American obsession with beauty… if we’re all supposed to be beautiful, what happens when we get older? How are we supposed to feel good about ourselves when we get wrinkles and saggy boobs?”

Lucy and Ethel didn’t answer, their bright eyes open wide as they pondered my question. I, too, considered the question I had posed to them, which caused me to have an epiphany of my own.

I realized then that if we don’t reject the notion that the only way we can be attractive and have value is to be beautiful (and by American standards that means thin and young and blonde), then it’s going to be very very difficult to be happy or have any sense of self-esteem as we age. That means that I really and truly have to buy into the idea that I don’t have to look beautiful to feel good about myself.

To be honest, this realization was somewhat freeing. The idea that I truly won’t be able to be beautiful (again, according to American standards) as I get older also means I won’t have to worry about it anymore.

I’ll just be able to be myself.

I turned back to the girls once I’d figured this out. “Someday I’ll look like Grandma,” I told them.

“You will?” Lucy asked.

“Yes, and if that happens,” I said, “then I will be very very lucky.”

Are you waiting to be someone you’re not?

Yesterday was our fifteenth wedding anniversary, which obviously made me reflect on the big-top circus event that was our wedding day and all that means for American women.

Last year—in my “Confession Time” post—I admitted that I went on a pre-wedding diet, a diet that caused me to lose 13 pounds, gain 30, and decide that dieting is bad for us.

I went on a diet because I incorrectly believed that you had to look a certain way to be a bride (not to get married, mind you, but be a bride). I held this belief unconsciously for YEARS before I got married, but it hit me pretty hard about three months before our wedding date—the bride is the center of the wedding, the showpiece. She has to look a certain way, act a certain way, etc.

I’m kind of horrified to admit that I used to buy into these ideas (and I obviously don’t anymore). I’ve been a feminist since I was about eleven years old, and, as such, I’ve always understood that women don’t have to fit prescribed gender roles.

So I should have known better.

The truth is I did know better, but I didn’t have the objectivity when I got engaged to see that this applied to brides too. The notion of the bride was so monolithic to me I couldn’t see it clearly.

All of my mistakes came flooding back to me this week when I read Stephanie Snow’s “So tired, tired of waiting” blog post about how long she waited to have good wedding photos, reminding me yet again how important it is to resist the notion that brides have to look or be a certain way.

Stephanie confessed that she had been horribly unhappy with her wedding when she got married, so she and her husband renewed their vows ten later, finally giving her the beautiful wedding photos she so desired (one of which is shown below).

In the months leading up to Stephanie’s second “wedding,” she cut out unhealthy food, kept a food journal religiously, and exercised so much she wore out two pairs of sneakers, ultimately losing only a portion of the weight she desired, which, as it turns out, was enough to make her happy.

I’m happy that Stephanie got what she wanted, but more than anything I’m thrilled that, like me, Stephanie has now decided to “stop waiting” to be someone she is not.

And I truly hope that all of our readers can do the same.

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