Like many, many, many American women in their thirties, I struggle with weight management. Unlike most American women in their thirties, I have no earthly idea how to get control of what has become the strange roller-coaster of my body. The reason for this is my health issues, which most know about, but if you don’t, have yourself a read. Basically, I can’t just run out and do a bunch of cardio and/or start lifting weights. What I eat is even a little bit off the table for discussion, because I’ve found that in periods of more intense pain or stress (which is a lot) I get cravings that rival the ones I had while pregnant, and they seem to be linked to something my body actually needs. While I can curb some of that within reason, generally my diet is not a battle I can fight and win. At the very least restrictive portions are a problem, and sometimes simple preparation is the problem. So I find myself often stuck between a rock and a hard place.
But lately I have been looking at photos taken of me and feeling not just revulsion at my weight gain but serious shock. Several times I haven’t recognized myself. Shopping for our vacation had already informed me I was going up one, sometimes two sizes; the photos, however, were very hard to take.
What makes this extra hard was that just a few years ago I was actually losing weight and at a good clip–but that what I”d been doing at that time to lose weight ended up being a mistake and part of why I have such a hard time working out now. Now as I say, determination a fire in my gut, that I want to lose weight, I must acknowledge that I really have no idea how to do it. Many days the elliptical machine is too much strain for my hips. “A long time” to work out is twenty minutes. In fact, that’s really, really long. Generally it’s best I stick to ten minutes at a time. “Very fast” on a machine is 2.1 miles per hour. Tonight I got on the elliptical (so far so good) and eventually was able to go from no resistance to setting three. When I bike I can go a bit longer, but again, I need to be careful.
Harder even than seeing photos that shock me is accepting that this is where I am, that I must be very, very careful when I work out, and that I don’t know when if ever this will change–getting better or getting worse. In general I just try not to think about it, but that of course doesn’t work. It’s not just photos. It’s reflections in department stores or the shirt that now looks horrible or the roll of fat resting on my thigh as I sit down.
What makes this extra bittersweet is that I have not ever felt good about my weight, even when it was okay. When I was in high school I looked at photos of myself and felt sick. Now I look at them and marvel and how slender I was. Photos of my honeymoon made me startle because I didn’t know I’d gotten that heavy. Now I yearn to be such a weight. On and on it goes. And I hate it. I want to love my looks now, not from the past. But it’s a difficult thing to do. I don’t even want to log on to Wii Fit anymore because it will try to weigh me then be passive aggressive about the fact that I’ve gained. I really don’t need a fucking computer to nag at me. I’m doing enough of that on my own.
And so I’m going to do something that makes me feel slightly sick and in all honesty makes me tear up as I think of doing it. I’m going to post the photo that took me out of my writing mode and put me on the elliptical machine for thirty minutes (with several breaks) so I could work off 100 calories according to the machine. I’m going to post it because it’s who I am. It’s the body I’m in. It’s the body that tortures me, but it’s also the body that houses me. If you like me as a person or like what I write, this is the body that gives you that. And I know that most people don’t care about how I look, or think I look fine, so I’m going to try to be one of those people too.
That’s me at South Padre Island a few weeks ago, visiting my sister in Texas. Me in a bathing suit, in fact. I’m smiling, but to be honest, it was a bit forced. I didn’t feel well, and I had hurt even before we left, and by the time we did leave I was almost crying, my arm hurt so bad, and we had to stop at Walmart for me to buy things to relieve the pain. I should have rented a chair or bought one at Walmart, but I was being frugal and not really thinking. I was also, I admit, very self-conscious because all the twenty-somethings were sitting next to me, none of them so fragile they can’t even sit at a beach, and even the ones who thought they were “fat” not even close to my weight.
What I do like about the photo, actually, is that I’m sitting up straight. That’s really good, because it means all this PT and chiro is doing something. It’s especially amazing given how fucked my arms were at that moment.
Okay, also, I’ll say that yeah, I’ve reached the plus-size woman category for sure, but I look pleasantly round at least, not like a stuffed sausage. Let me tell you, that’s hard. Nobody thinks six feet tall women are overweight. I have a devil of a time finding clothes. I literally teared up at the Dallas outlet mall in the Lane Bryant store when I saw all their tall clothing. The salesladies noticed and after they teared up too, they looked up LB outlets closer to me. (Turns out there’s one in Williamsburg. Caryle, we are so going.) But in this photo, despite my being not the shape I think I should be or am in my head, I don’t exactly inspire vomiting, not the way I think.
What I have to learn to accept is that I am not my sisters. You should see them. They’re like models, they’re so gorgeous. One is pregnant, and she even looks elegant and graceful ready to pop. My daughter too is a gazelle, thin-boned and elegant and lithe. Everything she does is grace, even in her kid clumsiness. I have never been any of that. I’ve always been built to help my fellow Germans haul warships and laundry baskets and small children. Ironically, I can’t do any of that now. Not even the laundry baskets some days. But that’s the body I have. At my most slender I was a size 14. That’s as little as I get–even starved, I’d need that for my ribcage at least. Hips could maybe manage a ten in a concentration camp, but in any realistic settings, fourteen there too. But likely? I’ll be lucky to get back to eighteen, and sixteen would take Herculean effort my body likely can’t do.
So I shall be round. Round and roly and tall. I will hunt for clothes with the same desperation I do shoes. I will look round in photos. I will have lumpy bits unless I’m wearing Spanx. It’s who I am. I still want to lose weight or at least try to get myself better managed. I still want to strive for health. But you know what, goddamn it, I’m sick of hating my own image. I’m sick of seeing myself and thinking I look horrible.
I’m overweight. According to Wii Fit, I’m obese. I also have big feet, varicose veins like crazy, a strange chronic pain disease, and bit of an astigmatism. I also have six published novels, two novellas, three short stories, three cats, an awesome husband, an amazing daughter, a great family, and a lot of friends.
It’s a package deal, all of it adding up to the wonder and weirdness that is Heidi Cullinan. And I’m going to keep working to accept that, body and soul.
Like the image at the beginning of this post? You can buy it!