For a lot of my life, I never saw myself as “the fat girl.” I mean, I knew I was an “other” from the girls in my classes. And I knew I couldn’t do the things they could do. And I was teased a lot for my weight. But at home and among my (very few) friends, I was loved and appreciated and respected. For my mind, my sense of humor and the other qualities that made me — and continue to make me — a lovable gal. And that tended to outweigh the negativity.
So, no, I didn’t wake up every day and think about being overweight. Even though I very clearly was.
But there were times when I was reminded — embarrassingly — how big I really was. In elementary school, a group of us kids was playing “Red Rover.” A boy came running at our side and slammed into me, throwing me to the ground. All part of the game, and part of the fun. Until I couldn’t stand up on my very sprained ankle. Our playground was at the bottom of a large hill. A hill I struggled to walk up on my best days, let alone with a sprained ankle. And, unfortunately, I was too big to be carried. I know because someone tried. So what did they do? They came and picked me up in the maintenance tractor. A very small John Deere riding mower with a tiny trailer. They drove me up in the trailer, every single one of my schoolmates watching. And then the school banned “Red Rover.”
There were many times like this when I was younger — when I was made to see just how much bigger I was than “normal.” The thing is, it happened in my adult life, too. Personally, my obesity never was my defining characteristic or even something I paid attention to on a daily basis. Perhaps if I ignored it, it would go away all by itself? But there were times when it definitely got in my way of leading a “normal” life and doing the things I wanted — or was asked — to do.
There are the obvious things that are made more difficult when you’re carrying an extra person on your back (and legs, and stomach, and arms …), like finding clothes that fit or traveling by plane or walking long distances or climbing the Great Wall of China (yeah, I did that).
And then there are the less obvious things, like participating in outings and events with friends, family and coworkers. On a retreat a few years ago, the group I was with got to participate in a lot of fun outdoor activities, including a ropes course. When I stepped up to get my harness on, the staff member assisting us said (he thought) under his breath, “Oh my.” And then proceeded to harness me up, loosening the belts and straps to their very limit. In so many senses of the word it was not comfortable. Add to that the fact that a high-ropes course scared the crap out of me, and it was certainly an event I’ll not soon forget.
I’m glad they got the harness to fit. Because, even though I was scared, I wanted to participate and be able to do the things everyone else was doing. It didn’t work out so well on one of the other activities. The goal: Get everyone over the wall. The rules: You can only use each other to get over the wall — no ladders, pulleys or tools of any kind. And once you were over the wall, you couldn’t go back down to help. The trick: Figuring out the right order of people to get over the wall. Do you go largest to smallest? Smallest to largest? Tallest to shortest? Shortest to tallest?
I opted out of this activity. Not only was it embarrassing to be looked at side-eyed by a few other members of the group (who I could only imagine were thinking, “You want me to lift that?”), but I knew it wasn’t fair to ask them to haul my obese butt over a wall. We’d be there all day. So I opted out. I stood toward the back of the group, helped lift people up as needed and then asked that they not lift me over the wall. The rest of the group may not have even noticed, but I was fighting tears the whole time. Thankfully, the group was understanding (either that, or relieved), and there was no additional pressure or attention put on me.
Please don’t get me wrong: My obesity hasn’t prevented me from living a decently full life. But, yeah, I’ve missed out on things. Things I’ve wanted to do. And since I’ve lost some of the weight and started taking care of myself, so many cool “adventure” doors have been opened to me. Like that time I went skydiving.
Or that time I went zip lining through the Costa Rican rain forest?
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a thousand times again. To me, it’s not just about being skinny. It’s about being healthy and fit so I can participate in life. I want to lead a fulfilling life where I don’t have to opt out of activities or step back from the edge. It’s about taking care of my body so that it’s in shape to participate in fun races and adventures and take me to new places I’ve never been before. And, most definitely, losing the weight has been an important part of that. But that’s not my whole story.