After the holidays, before the New Year, my seven-year-old son and I were cuddling on the couch watching a movie. As always, he was bouncing around from the couch to the floor with his Legos, not really watching. At some point, his attention was captured by a weight-loss commercial. On TV, a B list celebrity was touting her 40-pound weight loss and encouraging the audience to buy a trial of some program that guaranteed results or your money back.
“You should do that,” my son suggested when the commercial was over.
His words stung. Not because I didn’t know I was fat but because I assumed he was embarrassed by the way I looked. I thought I’d taught him better. “Why? I like the way I look,” I replied, hoping to jog his memory of all those conversations we’d had about the inside being what mattered and how liking yourself is more important than what others think.
“So we can ride bikes this summer.” He said it rather matter of factly, without judgment, and then he went back to playing.
I was stunned. He wasn’t comparing me to some societal standard; he just wanted to have more fun with his mom. The truth hurt more than my assumption.
I am almost 100 pounds overweight, and there is no way I could or would ride bikes with him this summer, or any summer for that matter. I have been fat my whole life. My disposition towards exercise was cemented in elementary school with a rather dictatorial gym teacher and those awful fitnessgram assessments we had to do twice a year. He (or I guess the state) would make us line up for the skinfold test. During which my fat would be measured with a giant set of tweezers pinching my underarm flab and recording it for posterity and on my report card.
This wasn’t the most embarrassing of the tests for me, though. The mile run was the worst. Consistently, the fit kids would have to wait for an extra 6-8 minutes for me to finish. The disdain on their faces was palpable. Through heavy breathing and encouraging words like “Pick it up” and “We don’t have all day!” I developed a hatred of exercise.
I grew older and learned to avoid sports, gym class, and especially the mile run. Choosing instead to focus on the things I was good at, like school, theater, and cracking jokes at my own expense. These became the cornerstones of my high school identity. My honesty about my body caused my slim friends to comment on how they wished they could feel as comfortable in their skin as I did mine.
What they didn’t know was I was often dieting, hoping to lose weight. None of the diets worked for me or lasted very long, so it was easy to continue to play the happy, chubby girl. Slowly, this farce became my reality. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And I did. I embraced every curve and roll I had, avoiding anything that made me feel bad about my body – especially exercise.
That avoidance became impossible a few days ago. Long after our movie was done, I stayed up thinking about all the things I had missed out on in my son’s short life by embracing the fat and rejecting all things fit. I didn’t go sledding with him this year. I sat on the bench when we were at the park. Then, I thought about when he got older. What if he wants to play sports? I won’t ever be able to practice with him. When we go on vacation, we won’t learn to surf or go hiking together. Was that the life I wanted for him? For me?