A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a woman named Mindy, who had been my best friend at nerd camp when I was 14. We lost touch somewhere around senior year of high school, but she recently stumbled across a link to this blog and realized I was that Kate Harding — and that we live reasonably close to each other — so she got in touch. We’ve hung out a couple of times now and still get along like a house on fire. How awesome is that?
So Mindy, being a much more organized nerd than I am, shows up to our first drinking engagement with a photo album. Including, among other gems, this:
Wonder Twin powers, activate! Form of: fashion catastrophe!
Don’t even ask me what’s up with the leis.
Here’s the thing: in the almost 20 years (gah!) since that was taken, Mindy and I have both gained some weight, gotten better haircuts, and learned to dress ourselves — but we both still look pretty much just like that. (I sent this pic to Al yesterday, and he replied, “Which one are you?” Smartass.) When I say she’s gained weight, I mean she’s got boobs and hips now (though she would argue that she still doesn’t). That’s about it. I’ve gained substantially more weight, but of course, if I hadn’t spent my twenties dieting, I’d probably still be a lot closer to that weight now.
And here’s the other thing: that weight? Was like 130-135. Maybe 140, but I don’t think I cracked that until sophomore year. Yet, as you might have guessed by the fact that I am wearing cut-off sweatpants and one of my father’s shirts, I was so desperate to hide what I thought was a gigantically fat body at the time, I made myself look 40 lbs. heavier. I was already a DD cup and probably only had like a 28-inch waist under there. Anyone familiar with my thighs can see a big difference between then and now, but other than that, I currently give the impression of being not much bigger than I was in that picture — except I’m actually a hell of a lot bigger.
And a hell of a lot happier with my body, I might add. In fact, if this makes sense at all, even as a self-identified, semi-professional Fat Chick, I don’t think of myself as as fat now as I did back then.
There are a whole lot of reasons why I thought I was huge when I clearly wasn’t, but one of the biggest is that I was awfully precocious in the tits and ass department. I was a C-cup by age 11; it was downhill from there. For years — only about 3, granted, but that was a significant percentage of my life at the time — I was just about the only girl in school who actually needed a bra, and I was surrounded by a sea of girls all built like Mindy, the way I saw it. And the way I saw it was, they were thin and I was not. Period. I wasn’t thinking about who had gone through puberty and who hadn’t yet, let alone about natural size diversity (whaaa?). I was thinking about who had the thinnest legs. Who could still wear children’s sizes. Who had visible pelvic bones (which I thought were cool) when we were forced to put on swimsuits in gym class. Not me, not me, not me.
Meanwhile, Mindy — undoubtedly just like most girls built the same way — was busy wishing she had curves, wishing she’d start to look like a woman already, wishing she looked more like… me. I was intellectually aware that girls my age who wanted boobs must exist — they were the subject of lots of Very Special Episodes in the late eighties, and of course I’d read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret a billion times. But still, every week, I’d watch the opening credits of Life Goes On, and when Kellie Martin would look in the mirror and say, “Come on, where are you guys?” I’d be all, “HAVE SOME OF MINE!” I would have gladly shared with Mindy, too, but of course we never discussed this when we were 14. We just had the, “Wait, you hated your body, too? Just as much as I did?!?” convo a couple weeks ago.
And unfortunately, we weren’t just talking about when we were 14. We were talking about well into our twenties. Somewhere in there, Mindy got depressed and spent a long time sitting on the couch eating, just like I did. That got her up to 140 lbs. at 5’8″; it got me up to 190 lbs. at 5’2″. And then Mindy dieted herself into oblivion, just like I did. That got us both down to 114 — but on her, that weight was absolutely skeletal; on me, it only made a couple people raise an eyebrow and ask if I was eating (which I barely was). Now, we both seem to be in our setpoint ranges: 120-130 for her, 160-180 for me. She’s smack in the middle of hers; I’m at the top of mine (thanks, Lexapro!). And you’ll note that the middle of her natural range is only 10 lbs. more than absolutely skeletal. Not so for me, to say the least.
Mindy got behind the idea of fat acceptance/Health at Every Size pretty quickly when she started reading my blog, in part because it occurred to her that if the world turned upside down and size 14 became the ideal — let alone size 26 — she would be every bit as screwed as fat women are now. There’s no way in hell she could change her body that much just by changing her diet and exercise habits. So it makes perfect sense to her that naturally fat women can’t perform such a miracle either. She’s got a degree in genetics, by the way. Just sayin’.
So, Mindy has rheumatoid arthritis. She told me she went to the doctor not too long ago, weighing 124 at 5’8″– BMI of just under 19. She complained of knee pain. To a rheumatologist. Who knows she has ARTHRITIS.
He suggested she try losing 10 lbs.
I have a feeling I’m going to be telling that story everywhere I go for the rest of my life.
Anyway, seeing that photo of Mindy and me reminded me that I scanned a bunch of old pics a while back, intending to use them in a post about how I was utterly convinced I was fat when, in retrospect, I can see that I really, really wasn’t. And Elastic Waist’s Pictures of You Photo Project reminded me again. So here you go. I’m putting them under a cut, since there are a ton of them. (They’re also mostly really crappy quality, but the point is to see the size and shape of my body, not the detail.)
Here’s me at around age 6, with most of my immediate family; Dad was apparently taking the picture.
I’m the tiny person in front. The old folks are not my grandparents (who were nowhere near as thin, of course), but friends of theirs. To my right is my sister M., who would have been about 10 — you can see she’s already well on her way into puberty, with the added indignity of a boyish mushroom cut. (She was also on the swim team at the time and used to run around the yard like a maniac. Didn’t keep her from getting fat.) To my left are my sister J., age 20, my brother, age 21, and my mom, age 44 or 45. That would have been right around the time when she was diagnosed with diabetes and lost 65 lbs., which she kept off for the rest of her life — she might even have already started losing by then. (J., M., help me out?) The catch was, she never got below a size 14, even after religiously restricting her diet and losing all that weight. The other catch was, she barely ate anything for the rest of her life. And she died anyway, 7 years ago today.
So that’s the fam. They were fat. I wasn’t. That’s where it started.
Here’s me around 8 or 9, I think. Still runty as ever.
Here’s me on my 10th birthday. This is the latest photo I have that I can look at and remember not feeling fat at the time.
Next, we have shots from the night of my eighth grade graduation dance. That would be the year after 7th grade (yay, math skills!) — which was the year when I was assigned to a lunch table where a bunch of mean girls told me how fat and fugly I was every. single. day. Not coincidentally, it was the year when puberty hit me like a goddamned truck. And from then on, I thought I was fat, period.
So, here’s me a year after starting to think I was fat:
I mean, really, hopelessly fat.
Here’s sophomore year in high school, about a year after I met Mindy — I’m wearing an uncharacteristically body-skimming outfit, so you can sorta see how big I actually was.
By that point, there was no point in even trying to tell me I wasn’t fat. I knew I was gigantic, and no boy would ever love me because of it. In retrospect, it’s obvious that no boy ever loved me because of the fucking glasses, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.
I don’t have any pics handy from college or the thin phase immediately after, natch. But here’s me at my fattest ever, or thereabouts (can’t remember if I started another diet right before or right after this):
The friend of mine who took that one gave it to me for Christmas in a frame, because she thought it was just a cute pic of me having fun with the dogs at the lake, all very happy things for me. At the time, I wanted to fucking kill her for that. I thought I looked disgusting here. How could she not see that? How dare she say she thought it was “cute”? Did she really think my baseline was so revolting, this constituted “cute” for me? Every time I looked at it, I couldn’t stop staring at my thighs, which of course are expanded there because of the way I was sitting. I could not fathom how anyone could look at this picture, see my thighs right there like that, and not just want to burn it. (Al: “And now you realize the real problem was the hair?” Me: “Fuck you.”) All I could see in this picture was fat.
Now, of course, I’m almost exactly the same size as I was there, and I think I look perfectly normal in that picture, if a little goofy and in need of a decent haircut. It breaks my heart to remember how much I hated looking at that girl just a few years ago — almost as much as remembering how I felt about my body in those eighth grade grad pictures.
Here’s me at a wedding in 2005, after I’d lost 45 lbs. and gained a little back. This dress was a size 10, pants size at the time was 12.
I’ve posted this recently, but for comparison, here’s me this past June:
Almost exactly the same size as the lake photo. (In fact, looking at them side by side, I think I look bigger in this one.) Whole different attitude, though.
9 pictures. I’m fat in 2 of them, and only just. I thought I was fat in 6 of them. Too fat to really deserve love. For over 15 years.
That’s why I write about this shit every day, among other reasons.