The Skin I’m In

Round face, boob explosion. What you can't see are my kick-ass sparkly shoes.

Round face, boob explosion. What you can’t see are my kick-ass sparkly shoes.

“Listen To Your Mother” was an unbelievably moving experience. The women, the stories, the camaraderie, the fabulous audience, every single moment of it. It was better than anything I could have imagined.

And then.

The photographer’s pictures were released.

This post is not about “Listen To Your Mother.” That deserves its own sacred space.

This, instead, is about my back fat and my larger-than-life ass.

It’s no secret that I have a love/hate relationship with food. I love food — every kind of food — good food, bad food, processed food, food straight from the garden. And I hate what the bad stuff does to my physical appearance. I hate that food controls so much of my life. I hate that just when I think I’ve conquered that particular beast, it rears its ugly head again. I hate it, I think, mostly because society does. As much as I’d like not to be, I’m influenced by my environment, I’m in tune to what others think of me.

I’m an approval whore. (Love me, love me! And if you don’t love me, at least love the way I look! Yuck.)

I’m ready to raise the white flag on this crazy game of weight gain, weight loss, weight gain, weight loss, but I’m not quite sure how to do it. On one hand, I’d like to look “better.” On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to shove myself into that societal box. And on the biggest hand of all, I don’t want to leave this legacy — this “how you’re supposed to look” weight of the world — to my daughter.

Right now, today, I am healthy. I’m overweight and healthy. You might argue that’s a contradiction, that the weight will eventually catch up and start wreaking it’s inevitable havoc. You might be right. Today, though, my blood pressure is low, my cholesterol is low, my body fat is high. I’m willing to take some of it off. The big question is… how much am I willing to take off? What feels right? Where does the “happy, healthy, and satisfied” reside?

You see, back in 2010, I trained for and ran a marathon. By the time I all but crawled across the finish line, I was the “smallest” I’ve ever been as an adult, and I still was not what you might consider “small.” Maintaining where I was then is not a sustainable plan — at least not in this phase of my life. Our days, nights, weekends were scheduled around my training runs. I was not working full-time. My training regimen worked when I needed it to, but quite frankly, it was a selfish time — a time about me, my plans, my goals.

I love exercising. I truly do. I may not be the world’s fastest runner by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m one of the happiest. Fat, happy, sweaty, red-faced runner. But exercise typically only affects 20% of weight loss. Diet accounts for 80%. And I won’t deny that I love me some Cookies and Cream ice cream with a red wine chaser.

Food has always in equal parts been my best friend and my nemesis. When I feel good about myself, my life, my future, it is easier for me to eat well, to say no more often, to make better choices. And when I am unsure, unsteady, trending toward sad, wondering if I’m fulfilling my life’s purpose, I wrap myself up in a protective cloak of bodily bulk to keep the rest of the world at bay. Like so many other women looking for the elusive answer to the weight riddle, I’ve binged and purged and exercised and Ex-Laxed my way through hundreds of pounds over the past few decades.

We all have our burdens to bear. Mine just happen to live on my hips. They’re visible for everyone to see. They are not the silent, soul-eating kind. My burdens scream, “Look at me! Here I am in all my dimpled glory!”

“Stop talking about your skinny alter-ego,” my dear friend, Mary, tells me. “I don’t think I’d like her. I like my strong, sturdy, substantial friend. The one with grit and gumption and a huge heart. That’s the friend I love.”

As much as those life-altering words often serve as my rock, I really, really wanted to be thin for “Listen To Your Mother.” I’ve been in Mississippi for two tough years. I’d packed on the Southern fried pounds, I’d sought solace in wine and Oreos, and I wanted to rid myself of the evidence before I hit the stage. I did the Whole 30, I pumped up my exercise routine. But you know what I did more?

I ate. I drank.

Instead of getting thinner, I expanded. My boobs became unruly, my ass morphed into a shelf — one that could solidly support a full set of encyclopedias.

“It’s your defense mechanism,” Chris said. “It’s your protective armor. You were nervous about getting onstage. You built a wall — a physical one — around yourself.”

Oh, my husband who knows me so well and loves me anyway — no matter what the scale might say that day.

It’s true. I’m your classic emotional eater. And my emotions have been completely out of whack for the past 24 months. I eat to be social, I eat in private, I eat to soothe, I eat to celebrate. I eat for the instant gratification. I eat because I want to… and I’ll be damned if you’re going to tell me I shouldn’t!

And you know what else? I’m a pretty neat human being. I’m a lover and a giver and when all the words line up correctly in my pea brain, I can sometimes — every once in a blue moon — write like a mother fucker. (Thanks, Cheryl Strayed. I’m owning that one. 🙂 ) I have a beautiful family, beloved friends, a life of abundance. I’m funny and fierce and loyal and grateful.

Whatever my shortcomings may be — and trust me, I have plenty — they’re not in direct correlation to the size of my thighs. My weight does not define me. It is not who I am. Nor is my thinning hair, my often slim bank account, the car I drive, the clothes I wear.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Mike Jeffries. I’m looking at you, my daughter is looking at you, my girlfriends are looking at you. You know what we’re not looking at? Your elitist clothes — the representation of all that is hurtful and wrong and ugly about our tender teenage years, about our fragile, awkward psyches.

We judge ourselves harshly enough — we don’t need your judgment piled on top of our own. We don’t need you to slam your exclusive club doors in our face.

We’ve already decided not to knock.

I don’t love the skin I’m in right now. It’s a little bigger than what I’d like. I’ll change it. I always do. And it might very likely change back someday. That’s what history has taught me.

What age has taught me, though, is that the size of my jeans is not indicative of the content of my character. Neither is yours. We’d all be much better off if we remembered that, if we believed it. It’s the belief that’s tough. Tougher even, than running a marathon or birthing four babies. I know. Trust me on this one.

Mamas, daughters, girlfriends, grandmas, human beings, let’s let go of judgment.

Let’s begin with ourselves.

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About Katrina Anne Willis

Author, friend, lover, dreamer, drinker of red wine.
This entry was posted in Big Thinks, Me Myself And I and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Skin I’m In

  1. Carla Drizin says:

    Love it! This is great, Katrina – thank you for writing it! AND I believe in you. I too have worn the protective cloak of bodily bulk to keep the world at bay. Interestingly enough, I just had this exact convo today with one of my health coach friends. I also realized that my emotional eating isn’t just the approval seeking, I’m not good enough, I am good enough and therefore shouldn’t be deprived battle. It’s also my excuse – a handy one – for any failure or rejection. That person didn’t like me or I didn’t get that opportunity because of my weight. Yes, surely that was it – weight discrimination. Oh no, not me, they didn’t reject me because they didn’t bother to get to know the real me. I put it on them, as if it’s their fault. When in fact I wearing that cloak on purpose, hiding myself behind my weight so that becomes the easy scapegoat, the fall guy for all that might be wrong with me. If I don’t have my weight to blame, I might have to face, gulp, that it’s actually ME they’re rejecting.

    The good news is… I already know I don’t need “them” to validate me. I get to do that. I DO do that. I’ve made millions of miles of progress in every other area of my life… my weight is my last frontier. And I know I will conquer it too! The battle, in fact, is already won! Now I’m just waiting for time to catch up. 🙂

    • So interesting, Carla. I’ve not used the “weight discrimination” excuse — in fact, I never really thought about it — but I certainly use my weight as a deflection. The “If I say I’m fat before you say I’m fat, you can’t really hurt me when you say I’m fat” scenario. It’s self-deprecation at its finest. I find it more than a little sad to see that my posts on weight always get such a big response. Most of us seem to struggle with it on some level, and it SO doesn’t matter (unless it becomes a health issue). We can all be so cruel and judgmental and exclusionary — especially to ourselves. Keep on keepin’ on, Sister! The only “size” that matters is the size of your heart. And we all know how big that is. 🙂 XO

  2. dustbunnymom says:

    This was a great piece! And it speaks for so many of us. Thanks very much for your candor, your wit, and your insight.

    • Thank YOU! It is disheartening to see how much the weight discussion resonates with so many. In my ideal world, we’d celebrate our differences instead of trying to create a uniform image of how we all “should” be. And my ideal world would also have unlimited supplies of cookies and cream ice cream. 😉

  3. MDUNCAN says:

    Katrina, I think you are absolutely perfect inside and out! As we move on to a new adventure in Texas, I hope I shed my “protective layer” I have acquired in Zville. If I do/don’t, I wish to be at least half of the incredible woman/mother/friend you are. I am so envious of how strong you are and hope I can grow to be more like you. I’ve been a secret admirer for years. You have no idea how often you encourage me! Much love to you and your wonderful family.
    -M

    • Oh, my sweet Southern/Hoosier friend! Thank you so much for your kind words! And Texas?! Yee-ha! Last time I dropped my boy off in the neighborhood to play, I saw that your house was for sale. When are you going? Are you excited? I sure do miss your smiling face and the fantastic conversations we used to have! Please stay in touch after you go. And best wishes on your brand new adventure! XOXO

  4. Angela Carr says:

    I gave up a lot of bad habits to become a successful adult, wife and mother. I worked a long time to clear psychological hurdles from my formative years, like anger and envy. I drew the line at heroin, not butter. Sometimes you can’t have it all. You are lucky you enjoy exercise…which seems to be the one thing my addictive personality is immune to.

    • “I drew the line at heroin, not butter.” You can say so much in so few words. Those 8 will stick in my tiny brain forever. Thanks for the reminder that being a successful adult does not in any way depend upon the shape of our exterior package. And for the record, I would say you’re one of the most engaging, entertaining, whip-smart, and giving adults I have the privilege of knowing. Success, indeed.

  5. Oh yes, you can write like a M$#% F%$#! Beautifully written, as always, and so much truth to your words. I battle DAILY with the inner critic inside my head telling me what to eat and what not to eat … the inner critic that pressures me to believe acceptance and love come from how I look (the fitter the better). It’s BS, and I know it in my logical brain, so why do I continue to torment myself? Like you said, changing this damaging belief is tough, so so tough. But for the sake of my children, I must.

    • Our kids, our kids! It breaks my heart in a million places when my sweet, funny, smart, beautiful 12-year-old daughter grabs her middle and declares, “I’m soooo fat!” She is imitating me, she is living what she sees on TV and in magazines, and she is far too young to adequately come to terms with her own worth — the worth that is not connected to her corporeal self. At 43, apparently, I’m still too young to fully grasp it. But I’d better damn well get a grip on it with these four sets of little eyes watching everything I say and do. “Lean into it” is the new catch phrase, right? Guess I better start leaning a little harder into some self-worth and self-love. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if we all learned and lived that way? XO

  6. We may be the same person. I’m an emotional eater AND a food addict. It’s really a disastrous combination. In the week before and after LTYM, I ate my feelings 24/7. Lots of them. Monday and Tuesday, I ate an entire container of ice cream all by myself. Why? Dunno. So I suddenly decided to become a runner! I hope this sticks. I don’t want to find out that I’m also manic/depressive…

    • You remind me a great deal of my younger mother self, girl. And I’m so excited for your new running adventure! I’m here to support you in every possible way! I haven’t figured out the eating thing yet, but the running? I can do that. Here for you!

  7. Debbie Dyson says:

    Kick ass sparkling shoes and kick ass necklace, don’t forget. So many of us fight these same battles, year in and year out. You just put it to words better than the rest . Way better. Really liking the exercise is a big part of the puzzle and a key component to the most important part, which of course, is just being healthy. Good writing always moves me to tears, as yours nearly always does, even when it’s funny. You are so on the verge of really big things, I just know it. DFD

    • I think the kick-ass necklace totally kept everyone’s eyes off my shelf-ass. Thanks for that!! 🙂 And I’m sorry that I make you cry, my friend. You, on the other hand, always make me smile!

  8. Sherry says:

    Made me cry.

  9. SO great, and so true. I’ve had heavy days and tiny days, and I’ve come to realize that how I feel about myself isn’t even necessarily connected to the scale in a logical way – I was looking at the kids’ baby books yesterday, and realized that before my first daughter was born I weighed 23 pounds less than I do now – probably an unhealthy amount of skinny – and yet I *felt* heavier then than I do now. It’s so complicated. I hope to get it under my thumb one day.

  10. Friend, this is great! As one who got super fit and skinny…. and as one who will not be that way again…. I’m learning to accept the fact that my body is what it is. My goals aren’t to look like I’m 20 and have never birthed children. My goal isn’t to look like something created in a doctor’s office. My goal is to care more about how I feel than what size I wear. To find balance in eating/enjoying/exercising/living life to it’s fullest. To find my NEW NORMAL. PS ~ I personally find it super unfair that today women aren’t supposed to age. We are all supposed to run to doctors at the first sign of a wrinkle or a sag….. Maybe that’s what keeps some marriages together. I don’t know. But I’m deciding that I’d rather my kids have a little extra to hug and snuggle into than for me to spend my waking moments fighting my age. 😉 GREAT POST!

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