FORGIVE THIS WALL OF TEXT!
Ok okay. I have a site called “The Chubby Mermaid” I like drawing them, they’re cute, they’re portly, they rock their cold water extra layers. I, however, am neither mermaid nor chubby. In fact I am quite into fitness and nutrition!
Before you dismiss anything I have to say about body image, here is some back story on me.
I GET you, really.
I used to have a lot body image issues. My boobs weren’t big enough, my legs weren’t long enough, my teeth weren’t straight enough, I had a little pouch on my belly no matter how hard I tried to get rid of it, why is my belly button so high, I don’t have hips, I look like a boy, is that back fat?! I’m hideous, boy’s won’t think I am pretty… I don’t think I’m pretty. There are so many things that women beat themselves up about, both verbally and by a constant stream of dialogue in their heads. The sad part about this is that it’s mostly self inflicted through other women. People love to blame the media saying fashion and film set unrealistic expectations on what women should look like. That really isn’t the whole truth. When I was a young and impressionable teen my body image issues didn’t come from media, they came from the girls I hung out with. My family never really put much stock into what you looked like. They valued how smart you were, how resilient, how level headed you acted under pressure, what you knew about your surroundings and how kind polite you were to others. It was about WHO you were in my house, not what you looked like. So when my friend constantly complained about the size of their butts, the lack of a perfectly flat belly or how they had arm jiggle I started to see imperfections in myself. Despite that my body was strong, healthy, lean and perfectly normal- the head that sits atop my body started postulating other ideas about how I should look. Looking at pictures of myself as a teen I was adorable (I can say that as a grown-ass woman that’s come a long way). It’s like a different tiny version of me that was so fit and healthy and bright. It’s so sad to think that instead of enjoying what I had, I felt bad about myself. There is a great quote by George Bernard Shaw that says “Youth is wasted on the young.” That is some serious truth.
Growing up and finding new levels of body related unhappiness
As almost all women do, I went to college and gained the freshmen 15. Long nights, crazy schedules, stress, a boyfriend, no money and therefore poor nutrition contributed to the small weight gain. Even so… at 5’5″ with the added 15lbs I was still MAX 128-130 after graduation. That’s not overweight. That’s a perfectly healthy weight according to BMI. After graduating college and entering the work force that number gradually crept up. I had a new relationship in which we got fatter together because what does a young adult do when they have money and want to have fun? Eat. That’s what. So that number crept up a little more.
I tried diets, I made very paltry attempts at exercise and continued to gain weight. I was tired all the time, had poor digestion, my body constantly was bloated and uncomfortable, I had NO muscle tone due to not even walking. This whole time I learned to hate myself even more. I stopped buying cute clothes, I stopped buying lingerie, I stopped feeling comfortable in my own skin. I was more insecure than I had ever been, but just didn’t know where to start to lose weight or how to do it. It felt like every attempt I made to get fit or lose weight ended in frustration, terrible food that felt like pure suffering to eat. So I just ended up feeling bad about myself, not eating for a day, binging, and then feeling even worse for not having the fortitude to not eat. A few times, I would eat to excess, feel physically and mentally horrible, and then throw up. KNOWING that is not a healthy situation it didn’t last long and I could never really call myself a sufferer of bulimia. Believe me, scouting “Pro-ana” sites in a desperate attempt to get skinny and like yourself again is not going to get you anywhere good. My best friend at the time tried crazy diets like the 5 bite diet (where you only have 5 bites of food a day) and also saw not results… how could you? None of that is sustainable! So I gave into my fate to be fat… after all, my mom is overweight, and so are a lot of other people, It must be our western diet, or genetics, or my thyroid. It’s not me. I looked for something, or someone else to blame.
I can tell you in complete honesty that I did nothing. I didn’t stick to anything, I didn’t really eat well, I absolutely wouldn’t exercise. I let it happen. I floundered, waffled, cheated and lied to myself about how I ate and what I ate. I counted calories and wasn’t honest about the portion size. Knowing full well that it was more like FOUR portions, but telling myself and others “See! I just can’t lose weight! I follow all the rules and I am gaining weight still.”
When I was 24 I was about 140 lbs. Which by societies standards or even medical ones- isn’t overweight, but on my body it definitely was. One night I was taking a shower and I found a lump in my breast. I have small breasts, that lump was NOT there the previous night. It was like a pea stuck under my skin and it was pretty painful to the touch. I couldn’t sleep on my stomach and was in a surprising amount of discomfort. I panicked and went to a breast cancer doctor. He did a fine needle aspiration and the results came back inconclusive for cancer cells. He said it’s probably nothing to worry about since I was so young and breast cancer isn’t painful, but since it hurt he’d be happy to take it out. So I had a small surgery and he removed the lump. He said it was a benign lobular hemangioma, in layman’s terms it’s kind of like a strawberry mark inside your body. He said it was likely to come back, but not to worry about it. He said “If It gets uncomfortable again we can do another removal, otherwise just have a mammogram when you’re 35.” So it came back less than a month later. It was a little painful, but I figured “why have another surgery? It’s not really a big deal.” So I ignored it for a year.
I was feeling kind of strange. I was tired all the time. People get tired, this was bordering on narcolepsy. My bloating and discomfort were worse and I just felt “off”. I went and had about a million tests done trying to find the cause of my fatigue and inability to lose weight. I was normal in every test. Finally the lump in my chest got scary, it suddenly got MUCH larger. The skin covering it turned sort of blue, like when you see your veins through your wrist. My nipple inverted, this was very bad. So I went to a new doctor and after one look at my breast she said “I am pushing you through for a biopsy TODAY, you have a very unhappy breast”. I wasn’t prepared for that. So I had a biopsy that day with assurances that the results would be in the next day and to call if I didn’t hear from someone. It took a while for the results to come in. I called every day for about a week to conversations like this: “We don’t know what we’re seeing, We’re not sure what it is. We’re sending it to Mayo. We’re sending it to Johns Hopkins. We know it’s a neoplasm, but don’t know what kind.” Finally late one evening I got a call from my dr. asking if I was sitting down and had someone there with me. She told me that I had an extremely rare cancer called Angiosarcoma. It’s not breast cancer and that unfortunately she wouldn’t be able to treat me and referred me to a specialist. So I had cancer at 26. A very aggressive, very rare, little known cancer that has a survival rate lower than congressional approval rates. It was IN my breast, but wasn’t breast cancer.
So this body that I was constantly berating for all of it’s imperfections had cancer. The SUPER bad kind. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of diagnosis, especially when there appears to be no hope. The statistics for angiosarcoma are incredibly grim. The treatment plan was chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation and more chemotherapy. Hopefully that plan would kill the cancer and hope that there were no metastasis that weren’t showing up on my scans.
If there were body issues before, there is nothing that can prepare you for having one of your breasts chopped off as a 26 year old. I could imagine a future with cancer… but not until I was old, probably a grandmother. I’d have fed my kids, lived a cool life and breasts probably wouldn’t much at that point. At 26 though? That’s the prime of life. When you should be young and pretty and have great boobs and not have to worry about your hair falling out, mouth sores, bone pain, and DYING. I hadn’t even lived. I’d never been to well, anywhere! I will never have kids. The aggressiveness of this cancer is such that if my oncologist could have started me on chemotherapy the day that I met him he would have. There was no time for fertility treatments or freezing eggs. I was surprised to learn as much as breast cancer sucks, it’s relatively slow growing cancer for the most part. Angiosarcoma however, is not.
The thing that people don’t tell you about cancer, and it’s subsequent treatment is that unless the cancer is fairly advanced you don’t waste away and get thinner. You get FAT. You’re on a constant stream of steroids to prevent reactions in your chemotherapy, even LESS activity because you feel like reheated dog crap, and the only thing you can keep down are bland fattening foods like potatoes, pastas and bread. So on top of the emotional horror of being afraid of dying in pain, disfigurement and being bald you’re also gaining a lot of weight. It’s just insult to injury.
I weighed nearly 160 post treatment. That is clinically overweight for my height. I was miserable in more ways than the average imagination could process.
After a year of recovery with clean scans I was able to have a new breast made. It’s actually pretty cool, they take the skin and fat from your belly and do micro surgery to reconnect all that to a blood supply on your chest. Unfortunately the procedure also took a chunk of stomach muscles with the blood supply. The recovery from that 12 hour surgery was terrible. I had to use a walker for about a month. I have a giant hip to hip scar across my abdomen- very visible in a bikini. I also have this new breast made from my belly. The scarring associated with this is kinda funny, since it’s made of my belly the skin is much lighter than the skin of my surrounding chest. the new tissue looks like Texas. Most bathing suits can’t hide it. It also doesn’t have a nipple. I call it my “foob” or “Kyle XY boob”.
Having a crazy health scare that young will mess you up. All the scars, odd lumps of fat, and steroid moon face will do wonders for your body image, believe me. Nothing would ever be the same, so I had to make a decision about who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be unhealthy and I really felt that all of the negative body talk, the poor diet, the lack of movement, were all contributing factors that allowed cancer to grow in my body.
I started the road to changing myself inside and out. I was still destructive, but less so than before, especially in my eating habits. I was so unsure about how and what to eat I didn’t know how to cook so I mostly ate low fat pre-packaged things. I ate a lot of Lean Cuisine and was constantly hungry. I also did SPX Pilates for a year. While I did get a lot better at Pilates I didn’t really see any physical changes. I was still fat, though I was definitely stronger. I would lose a few pounds, but would gain it back almost immediately. I fell of the wagon for a little bit. A year actually. I still weighed almost 160.
One day while looking in the mirror I looked myself in the eyes and said “I hate you.” It wasn’t my body that I was talking to. It was my failures, it was my lack of dedication, it was who I’d been. I hated that person and I didn’t want to be her or put up with her anymore.
Here enters CrossFit Merge. My friend Mike had lost a lot of weight. He looked amazing and I was sort of inspired by him. He told me about CrossFit and it sounded horrible. Insane in fact. It was full of weight lifting and running. That’s for guys obviously, I don’t want to get bulky and I HATE running. After all, one of my exercise attempts was Couch to 5k and that lasted for one day! It was too hard.
So I did a little bit of research, I looked at the women athletes and fretted about bulky arms and giant legs. Finally I just went to an intro class and tried it. I had a one on one with the owner Bryce for an hour. We talked about goals, what I wanted to get out of my fitness, how my nutrition was, and why I was there. After that I learned how to do a few simple movements. The Burpee, air squats, and the box jump. During the warm up I did lunges, air squats and pushups. My legs and arms were totally uncooperative at the end of the warm up. I was sure I couldn’t do more. My legs felt like lead and I was having a hard time standing. The actual work out was only 7 minutes. It was a small circuit of 7 burpees, 7 jumps to a 12″ box, and 7 air squats. Once you complete this series, you start again until the 7 minutes are up, how many rounds you do is your score. I made it to two rounds. In 7 minutes I could only do 14 of each movement. I threw up on the way home. That is a body that can’t move itself. That is a body that has suffered neglect, sickness and isn’t ready to support what I want to do in life. It was so incredibly sad.
So I went back to CrossFit when I could walk again, and I kept going back. I went back each day. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever physically done. I was tired, every muscle protested, I couldn’t run around the block without stopping for MONTHS. I had shin splints, I threw up, I was weak. I went back even though I still weighed a lot and I felt embarrassed working out with all these fit amazing people. People lapped me on every workout, it was humbling. I learned about food, and nutrition and how and what to eat. I learned that if you eat a diet that is rich in fat and protein you don’t feel like you’re starving to death all day. Removing processed foods and most carbs from your diet means you not only feel better, but you drop weight like CRAZY. This is an absolute contradiction from everything I’ve heard my entire life about food. If you don’t want to be fat eat fat free. Ohhhhh my god… so totally and completely wrong. Those fat free items just replace the fat with sugars or other chemicals to make them not taste like sadness. The people in this community were there for me in ways they will never know. We’re always stronger when we have people around us that provide support and encouragement.
The effort became fun and the struggle became a challenge to overcome. I started to enjoy working out! I enjoyed how it made me feel and what I could do spontaneously do without preparing “Oh there is a 10k obstacle race tomorrow? cool lets do it.” In 8 months I lost 32 lbs. obliterating the goal I set for my weight loss. I’ve been consistent and have maintained the new weight for nearly 3 years. It’s pretty awesome and a lot of fun. I am one of THOSE people that ruins plans for people on Friday night because they “have to go to the gym first.” I am happier with my body than I have ever been because it’s STRONG. It can do all of these amazing things even though it’s scared, missing bits and has been through a lot. I absolutely love my body now. I am not ashamed of it because when my body is healthy, strong and powerful so is my mind. We’re one thing.
Was it easy? No. Did it take a long time to reach my goal. Yes. There were discouragements along the way and places where not seeing changes made me want to quit. The community at the CrossFit gym helped me push past where I would have normally quit.
I’ll Never look back.
You might not like what I have to say here because I am not in support of HAES, nor being thin for thin’s sake. It’s about being average.
I have been overweight. I have never been obese or morbidly obese. I have been thin. I have never been underweight or anorexic. That being the case if you on the far end of either of those things, your work will take longer. You know what is in the middle of those two extremes though? Average. Plain old average. In the average you find that your body gets you where you need go and does what it’s supposed to. The average body doesn’t require crazy diets to look like a mannequin or societal labels to make you feel accepted. It just is, and you feel generally okay about it. It doesn’t have to look like a professional athlete. It just has to work well. Being averagely fit is only taking care of yourself like you would a car or your pet. The right foods so it gets the fuel it needs, and move it around a lot because that’s what it was designed to do! If you do these two seemingly small things, your life, your mind and attitude will shift. You can stop feeling bad about the things you don’t have and you focus on how good you feel and how your body perfectly accomplishes everything you want it to. Life is more fun.
It’s human nature to want to compare ourselves to others. It is also a human trait to dehumanize others when we disapprove of how they live their lives. No one knows what life has been for you except you. You know how you arrived at the place you are right now. If you can say with honesty “yes, I am truly happy with myself” then fine! The world needs all sorts. If you are unhappy, if you are angry, if you’re lying to yourself and don’t see what you want, it’s so very very simple to change a body. It starts with the mind and that is truly the difficult part, the body just requires the time. We cannot all choose the bodies we have, some suffer diseases or genetic problems, and others are changed in accidents. The luxury of health is not always given and when it is gone believe me, you will regret the decisions you have made. So work on being average. Average is pretty great.
About the actual drawing…
Being that I am pretty fit now (which I absolutely love and take pride in) it does come with some rather annoying drawbacks. For instance yesterday I “Hulk smashed” another damned shirt. My arms and shoulders are pretty muscled, which makes them categorically a “medium” fit size, while my waist and torso are a size small or extra small because I have low body fat. The end result is what I will refer to as “shmedium”. The same problem arises in pants. I have some pretty defined butt and thighs, but normal waist and calves. All jeans are skinny jeans for me. :/ In order to not look like I am wearing a printed trash bag I wear size small in shirts and dresses, but sadly the arms are usually pretty tight. My arms tore apart my shirt today like tissue paper. I really liked that shirt too. #fitpeopleproblems
Being an average weight is good. Also here is my life history plus cancer.