Monday, April 30, 2012

Heavy Past

When I was young, I was a spindly girl along with my four brothers, all legs and arms: my mother likes to tell a story where someone saw the five of us all together, looked at her accusingly, and asked, "Do you feed those children?"  (She did, of course).  At some point before puberty, I got a little chubby, but as soon as I got a growth spurt, I was a normal, slender teenager.

I  honestly don't really remember this phase except that I was shy and wanted to hide my body and dressed in out-dated clothes.  I only know that there was a period of time in my teenaged life that I didn't really think about my size, and I didn't want anyone to notice me.  I wore huge, baggy t-shirts and oversized sweaters and avoided anything fitted, though a friend was able to talk me into wearing some trendy, tighter clothes a couple of times.

I must have started to put on weight before I worked at a fast food chain, but I don't really remember.  I do know that working there when I turned 16 was the start of my weight gain; by the time I graduated high school, I was a size 14.

Several memories have surfaced as I was thinking about my weight struggles: one, a memory where my dad, frustrated, called me lazy when I refused to do some chores, and I went and wrote angrily in my diary about how I was fat and how much life sucked (ah, teenage angst).  There are quite a few entries like that.

Two: I frequently went to the doctor when I was 16 until I graduated high school because I had horrible, recurring ear infections.  There was the WORST NURSE in the entire world who worked in that office who tried to tell me to use ear candles to get rid of the infection and was generally annoying and neither nice nor good at her job.  She was taking down my information (weight, BP, etc), looks up at me and says, "Don't you think you need to lose some weight, dear?" I felt the tears well up, and my mother was upset.  Weight was somewhat of a taboo subject in our house, so I never heard anything from my parents about being concerned about my weight--my mother had endured too many taunts as a teenager and could not bear that I would suffer the same injuries.  I knew I didn't look like the girls around me, but I didn't think a lot about it.

Three: I had saved up money my junior year and bought a beautiful dress (which, unfortunately as it turns out, was not well-suited to my pear shaped body).  I wore it several times, including for graduation.  Someone asked me what size I was, and when I told them, they commented, "Huh, I thought you were bigger than that, especially in that dress."  I was stung.

There are more memories about generally being unsatisfied, not feeling like I was pretty, and longing to be like the other, thinner girls I associated with.  For me, though, the turning point came my sophomore year of college, where (after putting on a freshman 20 or so), I went to the gym and got on the scale, and saw the number: 200.

I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, but I knew I had to do something--I could not continue to go up in weight.  At this point, I was a size 18.  I found a Denise Austin show on one of the TV channels we had in the dorm; I recorded it an did it a couple of times a week. I began to read more about health and nutrition.  I think I lost a bit of weight; mostly, it was a relief not to gain more.  The real breakthrough came that summer, however, when I traveled to Mexico for six weeks: I was sick for the first part, didn't eat a whole lot during meals, and walked all over the place.  I returned to the states around 10 pounds thinner and fitting into my abandoned size 14 jeans.  I was happy, and my mother and many others remarked at the difference in appearance.

The next school year, I managed to maintain this size and began dabbling with running (but had shin splints and other woes).  Toward the end of the year, one of my friends had lost quite a bit of weight with Weight Watchers, and she offered to share her materials with me and several other girls who were moving into the same house that summer.  I began following the plan...and was shocked by how many "points" I ate on an average day, mainly on snacking.

I followed the plan religiously, tracking my points daily in a little notebook, putting stickers on all my food with their points values.  I also began running with another couple of friends, one who was also trying to lose weight.  Watching him run a mile around the track one day, I was inspired--I wanted to run a full mile, without stopping.  It was hard, but I knew I wanted to do it, so my friend A and I kept running until we both could.  The day I ran a full mile without stopping was amazing--and I immediately wanted to run more.  A and I would continue to run 2 or so miles several times a week.

By the end of the summer, I was around 155 pounds and in a size 10.  I was running more and eating healthier, making good choices.  I walked around campus a lot.  I stopped following the plan precisely, but continued to lose weight.  People who hadn't seen me all summer were shocked; one brother exclaimed, "Where'd Jenn go?!?" I liked the attention.  Better yet, I liked that I could run--it made me feel as though I was capable and powerful.  When I ran, I felt free and graceful, so different from my normal existence.  I continued to run from then on, and started playing sports, including Ultimate Frisbee and intramural sports.  From that summer in 2003 on, I would never be the same Jenn, and she was someone I was happy to leave behind.

Reflecting on that past Jenn, though, I realize she wasn't so bad.  She was shy, held back by her own insecurity, but she was the path that led me to where I am today, and I wouldn't be myself without her, without the memories of that awkwardness and youth and hope and desire.  I hope by sharing this story, it can connect with others of you readers who have shed someone, left some version behind.  Or who perhaps hope to find some other version of themselves.  I know that I'm moving toward some future Jenn, who I hope (regardless of my size or physical fitness) is wiser, smarter, and continues to strive to be kind to herself and others.


John Q. Doe said...

Well said, Jenn.

rebeccaljennings said...

That was a great story girl, I was always upset about my weight in high school too because all the girls who got all the cute boys were really skinny and guys picked on me for being bigger than the other girls, saying they were scared I would beat them up if they dated me.. my weight went up and down like crazy after school, from being a size 3 at age 18, to after having my 2nd son, going up to a size 16 then after my divorce being down to a 10. Trying to be more active and healthy everyday!

Anonymous said...

This is possibly the best blog post in the universe. Thank you for sharing this!!! Makes me want to do something similar :)

Lauren said...

I came to know you during your Denise Austin phase. I have enjoyed watching your transformation from an insecure, obedient, and often unsettled girl to a confident, freethinking, and satisfied woman. I believe all the best people have a constant evolution. I'm thankful that I can be witness, albeit by Facebook/blogs, to your journey and ask that you continue to be part of mine. Prepare for a cliche emoticon... :)