Suburban Snapshots

How a Thin Man Helped Me Love My Fat Butt

Monday, January 09, 2017

I've written before about my husband's slim build. Through our 19 years together, I've outweighed him by anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds. Sometimes I forget about his physique until we're spending time with other husbands, approaching middle-age and comfortably wearing the particular shape of midlife. Steve's weight doesn't fluctuate much, and indications are it won't; his father still wears the high school cast offs Steve and his brother left at home when they moved away. Our daughter is easily 10 pounds lighter than her smallest classmate, making it almost impossible to find her bathing suits that are both long and narrow enough for swim lessons, jeans that reach her ankles, and pajamas we won't lose her in. These are her dad's genes.

There's a photo set on my bookshelf taken when I was maybe two or three, and I'm a solid toddler. I grew into a meaty kid, then a tall, thick teenager, when I started learning to diet. I remember joining Weight Watchers with my aunt when I was around 13. I lost several pounds for a little while. In my junior year I ate only salads for a few weeks and lost weight again. I got thin in college during a bout with anxiety, then again before my wedding when I ate nothing really aside from light wheat bread and veggie burgers. If I felt deprived and hungry, I knew it was working. If I was denying most of what I wanted, I felt accomplished. In 2010 I lost weight again and kept it off for three years before it started a slow creep. Now I'm about 15 pounds from where I'd like to be and avoiding all but one pair of jeans.

There's a friend I meet not frequently enough for dinner or brunch, sometimes drinks. She's fantastic, and I don't know if it's a conscious effort or not but she has never once condemned herself for choosing fries over the side salad. I've never heard her tell me she was "being bad" for taking our server up on the dessert menu. Our conversations never veer into dress size or martyrdom over what we've been denying ourselves. She's not a small person, and her company is a joy. I never realized what a relief it could be to just let all that shit go, or how much of my conversation with other women — and even my husband — revolved around eating habits. It's a supremely defiant act simply to be a woman unapologetically enjoying your food.

So months ago I decided to deliberately shut up about it. I told a few people about my plan: I'm not going to say one disparaging word during meals, I'm not going to whimper about what I shouldn't have eaten yesterday, or how I'm making up for it today. I'll make my own food choices, I'll accept this body I've fought with for most of my life, and sometimes if it wants, I'll feed it a gooey reuben with cole slaw. And I did it. It's been three months with only a few remarks now and then, mostly post holiday indulgence.

But back to Steve, my husband. Living with him, watching him year after year trying some new high-calorie shake supplement, or eating almost nothing but steak bombs and pizza, drinking rich, hoppy beers and maybe occasionally feeling a little bloated, all of that made me really understand, truly, finally, and very late that bodies are different. I know this isn't a revelation for everyone, but as someone who's spent 30 years either fighting weight or being frustrated by it, I've never taken the blame off myself, Why can't I just eat less? Why don't I have enough willpower? Why am I shaped this way? Why do my thighs always touch? Why am I such a failure? When will I get this right? Steve has a weight problem too — his body just won't put it on. It's not him, it has nothing to do with his success or failure or effort or his value as a person. And yet I continued to pin my struggles exclusively on my own inadequacy, some character flaw or lack of discipline.

I hope I'm at some new place of understanding, of being a little kinder to myself, and at the start of figuring out where this body wants to be and how to keep it there without berating it, or feeling accomplished in deprivation — that's so messed up. I hope not having to listen to me lament my every food choice makes me a better dinner date. It turns out I have a lot more to talk about.

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