My Body, A Timeline
Ten years ago today, on January 26th 2009, I made a decision to change my life. I committed to reinvent myself as a healthy, active person, to stop hiding from the world, and to let people see me. My relationship with my body has been complicated; the journey that I have taken has been formative. The steps I took to go from someone who feared exercise to someone who races in triathlons has been nothing short of transformational. The journey that I’ve taken from self loathing to self love, from internalized fat-phobia to deep knowledge of my own worth, has brought me more joy than I knew possible.
Today’s post is something different. I wanted to share with you a window into my experiences in this body, and the way that the world has reacted to it. Parts are painful but ultimately, all of these experiences brought me to where I am today. Ten years ago I made myself a promise, because I believed that I deserved a better life. Today, that life is mine.
The first time I learn my body is wrong is when I am forced to race in track and field at school and come in last. I trip on the taunts of my friends. Their words leave marks on my body.
I am first in my class to get my period, much to my horror. My friend finds out and tells everyone else. The other kids make elaborate shows of avoiding me and treating me, for the first time, as other.
My early development advances, and I become the target of bullies. They dangle snacks in front of me while I sit on the bus and try to ignore them, staring straight ahead. When I finally swipe pieces of chocolate out of their hands onto the floor of the bus, they become enraged and nickname me ‘mooch’.
I turn to food for comfort. The school tuck shop sells potato chips, and I buy 3-5 bags a day. I learn when shifts change so that no one knows how many times I visit. I hide the bags in the bottom of my locker.
I eat an entire bag of Hallowe’en candy before Hallowe’en, hoping that my Mom will think she bought four bags to give out rather than five. She doesn’t. My Dad, who had once lost 100lbs, and my sister, who had once been hospitalized with anorexia, stage an intervention. I want to die of shame.
I start high school, and my bullies become more malicious. In science class a group of pretty, popular girls throw pieces of dissections at me. I don’t let them see my humiliation. I go to the bathroom to cry and scrub fetal pig from my corduroys.
I become a peer counselor and mediator; I lead the renovation of my local park as a way to change the public image of my high school. It works, and with the power and visibility I have, my bullies move on to different targets. I still hate my body, but I start to recognize my value. I am smart, I am kind, I am a leader.
My typically sweet and kind Grandmother loses her filter as she ages and muses that since I will never be thin, maybe I should have been a boy. I fight tears, say nothing, and walk away.
I get accepted to university, and I decide I want to lose weight because I think no one will want to be my friend because I’m fat. I lose 30lbs in the six weeks before I start school.
I have the most amazing group of friends. I have the most amazing life. No one cares about my size, I find people who accept me and miss me when I’m gone. We eat so much junk food together. My main motivation to lose weight is gone.
I graduate university, and go overseas to Korea where I reach my all-time largest size. I am no longer just a binge eater, I’m a binge drinker as well. I use food and alcohol to numb my loneliness. I seek to fill a void inside myself; I do not succeed.
My parents come to visit me and I see my size reflected in their eyes. We don’t discuss it. My Mom and I visit Japanese hot springs where everyone bathes naked. My Mom sees me naked for the first time in years. My father calls me to stage an intervention, again. He tells me how worried they are, and that Mom cried after she saw me in the nude. His words wound me.
I finish my Master’s degree and I move to Toronto. I am isolated and alone. Food is my closest companion. On a regular basis, I binge to the point of pain.
I go shopping for bridesmaid dresses for my sister’s wedding. I am too large to try on sample sizes. After, I sit in the car, crushed and miserable, thinking to myself ‘I didn’t want to be this size at my sister’s wedding’. I respond: “you have five months. Don’t be”.
I return home and clean out my cupboards. I put on my bathing suit, and go for my first swim in the pool in my building. I swim 30 lengths in a 12m pool. It feels a like a lot. Then, I swim every day for the next three months. I go from 30 lengths to 160. I learn to count calories. I find two key weight-loss buddies who are critical confidants in my journey. I ground my efforts in a place of self-love, and I create a mantra:
“You deserve a better life than you have been choosing for yourself.”
I read the words ‘Binge Eating Disorder’ for the first time, and I realize that I have had a mental health problem for most of my life, not a willpower problem. I learn about how my brain was re-wired to be rewarded by consuming food, and that it is permanent. I learn that most people need therapy to overcome this illness.
Losing weight becomes my life, the only thing that matters. There is no wavering, no exceptions. When friends want to make plans I invite them over for dinner and a swim. They support me. I have no regrets. I feel like I am finally in control of what felt like an impossible mountain to climb. I am summeting the peak. I am winning the battle.
I reach my weight loss goal of 60 lbs in five months, in time for my sister’s wedding. People call me an inspiration. I feel like I’ve been released from the cage of my body. The world opens to me and responds to me in a way I’ve never experienced. I run and leap through life.
I wear a bikini for the first time. My Grammy eyes me up and down and asks me how much weight I’ve lost. “70 lbs”, I tell her proudly. She nods and says, ‘looks like another 20 would be a good idea’.
I go out to a bar and men try to pick me up for the first time. I don’t trust them. I don’t understand why they’d be hitting on me when I'm with a hot group of skinny women. I look gorgeous, and I don’t realize it. I still feel too fat.
I top out at 75lbs lost, and my body refuses to lose anymore. I haven’t hit my weight loss goal, I’m still 7lbs away. I never celebrate my achievement, because I never hit my magic number. I start doing p90x and gain 7lbs of muscle. I look the best I ever have, and I’m so frustrated that I can’t make the number on the scale go down. It doesn’t occur to me then that maybe my weight shouldn’t be the goal post.
I decide that it’s finally time to clean out my closet. I happily tackle throwing out my old clothes along with my former identity. Something changes halfway through, saying goodbye to old clothes I once loved. My dress from my Master’s grad, my leather jacket that I saved up to buy… eventually I start to cry. At first, I think I’m crying because I spent so many years abusing myself with food, living life on the sidelines. Eventually, I realize I’m mourning my former self. The sense of loss is profound.
I move in with friends. I no longer have access to a pool where I live, and I start to relax around food. Every Friday night we have a wine and cheese party. I gain 10lbs, and I’m still happy. I have an actual life. I date. My body isn’t holding me back anymore.
I face my fear of the gym and join the Y. I’ve always been immobilized by the thought of people seeing me exercise in public, but living in a shared house, it seems like the only option. I’m shocked to realize that among the patrons of the Y, I’m average. Some people are bigger than me, some people are smaller than me. For the first time I think, I might be normal.
I fall in love.
I move in with my boyfriend, he really loves beer and candy. I love beer and candy with him.
I buy a bike and face my fear of riding. I start cycle commuting for an hour and a half a day. Once I get over my initial fear, I’m addicted.
I get caught in the streetcar tracks on my bike. I smash my face and break a tooth, and get bad road rash. I don’t break any bones though, and I realize how lucky I am to have such a strong body, which protected me from more serious injury. Once I recover, I get back on the bike. I never stop riding again.
My boyfriend and I fight all the time. I have a relapse with my eating disorder. My brain is still hard-wired to seek food for comfort when everything goes wrong. Finally, we break up. I lose ten pounds in a month.
I move into a building with a beautiful lap pool. I find myself again. I swim in the mornings, I bike to work every day, I have a rich and busy social life. I am so happy. I realize that I am living the better life that I dreamed of when I created my first mantra.
I incorporate running into my workout routine, and decide it is finally time to fulfill a lifelong dream and sign up for a triathlon. I’ve never even raced in a 5k, that seems too easy. I beat my goal time by 17 minutes. I have never loved my body more, never felt more proud. This achievement feels bigger than any weight I ever lost. I cry so many tears of joy, and realize maybe my body isn’t wrong after all.
I start reading feminist critiques about fat-phobia and body positivity, and have the stunning realization that all of the hate I’ve been directing at my body should instead be directed at the world that determines my value solely based on my size. I truly stop hating this body, but I still hate the way I am judged for it.
I become addicted to racing. I train for triathlons but my body doesn’t shrink. I stop caring about whether or not I’m fat; I like the way that I look. I join a 5k running group, and act like a leader, encouraging others. I’m not afraid of people seeing me exercise anymore. I don’t feel like an imposter, I know I belong.
I do three triathlons, and two 5k races in a summer. After I finish the second triathlon, I sign up for the third on a whim, because I don’t want my race season to be over yet. I smile the whole morning, high on the thrill of race day, loving the triathlon community that I am a part of. I race just for fun, and have the best time. With a shock I realize that I’m the now the kind of person who does a tri on a Sunday morning like it’s no big deal. Later, I cry when I learn that I finished in the top five in my category.
I realize that this body, which I’d been battling my whole life, is capable of so much; this body houses an athlete. This body is strong and powerful, and it carries a fierce woman with indomitable will. I have given up the war with myself and made peace with my body. Never again will I allow the fear of judgement to hold me back from the life I want to live. I’m no longer on the sidelines; I’m in the race, and I’m grinning as I cross the finish line.