Bitter Body Image, Part I

While I try not to dwell on it – publicly, at least – I struggle with my self-image. I know the idea of a woman wishing she were thinner is nothing revolutionary, but there you have it.

I was a very active child. I started in dance classes and moved to competitive swimming when the requisite grace of the former never came. There also seemed to be no end to my growth spurts. I was tall, lean, and could eat whatever I wanted. I remember sitting down to breakfasts that consisted of four full bowls of cereal. Sometimes, after swim practice, my sister and I would eat these horribly-processed blueberry pie-type treats that came pre-packaged into slice-size portions. While I vividly remember wishing I were shorter (all my friends in grade school had pixie-like proportions and lacked my lanky legs), I remained blissfully unaware of my weight.

I even managed to skip any “Freshman Fifteen”-esque weight gain that I was assured would come with my first year away at college. Weight gain – and it’s related anxiety – didn’t come until after grad school.

I started working in downtown Chicago in August 2005. I joined a gym down the street from my office the following month and quickly became a regular. I started running more and entered races to fuel my old competitive spirit. Twice a week I attended a weight-lifting class with and instructor I adored. I was slimmer than I’d been in my adult life, fit into laughably small sizes, and was generally quite pleased with my shape and tone.

But slowly, things changed. The instructor I loved left for another gym. I had a falling out with the girl I considered my exercise buddy. I was put on different projects at work that required long business trips and unhealthy room service dinners eaten alone in random hotel rooms. Fewer work-outs, frequent treats. My doctor mentioned the increasing number on the scale, but really, she could have saved herself the trouble. I was well aware of every inch of space I consumed.

Currently, I’m thirty pounds heavier than I was when I moved here six years ago. I wear a pant size that is twice what I wore back then. While I know, at some level, that my self-worth shouldn’t be derived from numbers stitched inside my clothing, it’s been very difficult. I feel defeated. I’ve cleaned out my closet twice: first to get rid of the size sixes, next to get rid of the size eights. Some of the size tens don’t fit all that well, but I’m holding on to them for now.

My weight gain is constantly on my mind. When heading to work, I use my purse or gym bag to hide my stomach from the other commuters. I’ve become almost afraid to shop as I fret about what will fit. I’ll spare you the Dear Diary-type drama and just say that my current weight situation makes me very uncomfortable and quite sad.

But wait! Don’t cry for me just yet – there is a silver lining to this self-image storm cloud, I promise. I’ve never been one to stew in my sadness (hello, the very reason the blog was originally started). Tomorrow, I’ll share what I’ve done so far and my big, exciting plans going forward.


About Helena

Helena lives in Chicago with her boyfriend and two cats. Her boyfriend thinks she's awesome. Her cats agree.

Posted on June 28, 2011, in Body Image, Memory Lane and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Obviously, I have only gotten to know you in the past year, but to me you are on the thinner side of “normal” (whatever that is). You do not look the slightest bit unhealthy and in fact I aspire to have a shape closer to yours 🙂

    That said I do understand. Most people wouldn’t think I’m terribly overweight, but I am heavier than I look and my weight has fluctuated in a range of 40 lbs and four pant sizes in the 8 years since I graduated from college. And it frustrates me because I *was* thinner, and I haven’t managed to hold on to it as life has changed. I am still searching for what works for me now.

    But remember: while health is important, and so is feeling good about yourself, nobody but you knows your pant size or that number on the scale. There are a million things that make you an awesome person that have nothing to do with how much you weigh.

    • Thanks, Renita. I know it’s mostly in my head – it is for most people – but now that I have actual metrics (e.g., 30 pounds) I want to do something (healthy, sane) about it. Notice, however, that I will not sacrifice good food with great people!

      • Never gonna give up great meals with great people 🙂 But I do need to eat more fruits, veggies and proteins and fewer simple carbs. That’s just a good goal in general. One thing, I am stronger and leaner at this weight than I was eight years ago — so even though that number has gone back up, it’s not ALL bad.

        I also agree that building muscle is important and makes it easier to burn fat. I am doing more weights, pushups, etc (though probably not as much as I should be).

  2. Lauren Lavorato


    I read your blog regularly, and this one was particularly interesting to me. I freak out when I gain 2 pounds. Yes, that sounds incredibly shallow and control-freak-ish, but I am who I am. Everyone has these self-image issues, and if they say they don’t, they’re probably lying. My only suggestion to you is to take it out of the gym – I didn’t do so well with my gym membership either, and I’ve made more progress joining outdoor edurance training groups or going to more specialized classes (such as boxing) than trudging to the gym every day. Maybe it will work for you too? Best of luck!

    Have a healthy journey,

    • Good suggestion with taking it out of the gym. My sister is a runner and I’d love to start running with her more (outside, not on side-by-side treadmills). Thanks for reading the blog!

  3. Helena-I don’t think you are anything near “fat” or overweight! You looked great in high school when I knew you and you still do. In fact I remember looking at your Facebook pictures thinking “she looks the same as she did in high school”.
    However, I can see where you are coming from. I look at myself and think “what the heck happened?” I think we all go through the phases of gaining weight, and the older we get the harder it is to lose it. But the one thing I have learned is that you don’t need to be a certain size to be happy. When you look in the mirror and can smile, then you are right where you need to be. I look forward to reading your “next steps”.

    • Thanks, Liz – that’s so sweet. It is so much harder when you get older. I used to be able to do what I wanted with no recourse. Anyway, next steps are to get to a place where I’m happy and proud of myself, as you say!

  4. I can relate to this. I actually lost 35 pounds when I started university, and didn’t start gaining most of it back until leaving my ex a year and half ago. But hey, the thing about weight gain is that it doesn’t have to be permanent. I’m choosing to look at it as an opportunity to change my entire lifestyle for the better.

    I find that it helps to treat myself well. I take care of my hair and makeup, try to walk my dog as often as possible, give myself pedicures…that sort of thing.

    Looking forward to reading about your plans!

  5. I’m of the opinion that spending hours and hours at the gym (or even running) ain’t gonna do as much as targeted exercise to build muscles (more muscles = more calorie-burning) + a great diet.

    This is a virtual cookery site that I love, and she has some fantastic tips regarding eating slow-carb (note: NOT low-carb!):

    Anyway, can’t wait for tomorrow’s post!

    • Build muscles, eh? You will like tomorrow’s post! ALSO! Will and I have been looking at (and slowing incorporating into our diet) various slow-carb things from the book you recommended previously (Four Hour Body, I believe?)

  6. Kerry Butters

    Those pre-packaged pies were delicious! The topic of weight for our family – as I know it is in many families – is touchy and loaded with feelings of low self worth, but I just want to say how amazing and beautiful I think you are! You have a wonderful boyfriend who thinks you are beautiful and you can run the shamrock shuffle in an time that would impress many; wouldn’t it be great if that’s all a woman needed to feel good about herself.

    • The pies were delicious. Ah, to be 12 and super-active again.

      Thanks so much for your comments – they mean a lot to me. When I wrote the post about “Doing Something Right” I was thinking about how I have such great relationships with you and Will and, thus, must not be completely without redeeming value.

      Great point about how it would be wonderful if women weren’t so hard on themselves!

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