Fatkinis in Paradise

Back in January, my family and I made plans to go on a giant summer vacation together to Cabo San Lucas. It’d be the whole gang — my parents, my siblings and siblings-in-law, my sister’s parents-in-law (they actually have a timeshare down in Cabo, and are prett much the whole reason this thing is happening), Sean, and me — and the timing, I figured, would be perfect! I’d have more than six months to get my body back to bikini-ready shape after typical holiday-season slacking. It was just the motivator that I needed to get back on the wagon and drop some libbies again, right?

Weeeeell, actually, wrong (as we already know.) I have indeed managed to shave off about 20 – 25 pounds from what I had regained, which is awesome, but in the months since I have clearly stopped making any attempts to hide the fact that I’m not actively dieting anymore. And yet, this tropical vaycay was still looming, looming, looming… and I realized that sooner or later, I’d have to face my body and whether it was bikini-ready or not.

Now, first up, my feelings about the term “bikini body” in general can now pretty much be summer up by the following (adorable) graphic:

But even so, hey, I’m not immune to the pressures that society puts on people to want to look a certain way. I mean, I’m a mass consumer of media in all its various forms, so of course I’m not, hahaha. So I would be lying if I said that the idea of baring skin by the poolside didn’t cause me at least a little bit of stress. But you know me, I’ve never really been able to subscribe to the idea that skinny feels better than food tastes or whatever, so ultimately it came down to whether I wanted to get myself all bent out of shape over how I looked at the beach, or if I wanted to, you know, continue enjoying my life the way it is. And I mean, I know I probably sound super douchey saying it out loud, but my life is pretty stellar right now.

S0 since I am, at least currently, totally uninterested in torturing myself both physically and mentally over a vacation (which, hello, is supposed to be relaxing anyway), I came to realize that the best way for me to get beach-ready probably wasn’t to agonize endlessly over my bodily imperfections. No, I’d take a different approach.

Rather than forcing myself to do a juice cleanse in the hopes that it’d shave another 1/4 of an inch off my general body circumference, I decided to do a mental cleanse instead. I rejected the notion that summer is limited to people who wear single digit sizes. I faced the fact that I am really not as important as I make myself out to be, and people out there enjoying their own vacations really don’t give two hoots what I, some random stranger with outrageously colored hair, am wearing at any given time.

I know, I’ve talked a bit about this kind of body acceptance before, of course, because it’s always been true. But my past posts were written with the looming idea that I still needed to lose weight. So, you know, I could love my body and all, sure. But in the back of my mind I was still telling myself, “Just don’t love it so much that you stop wanting to fix it.”

Weeeeell, obviously I have a little bit of a different perspective about things now. I don’t want to have to fix anything anymore. And you can say that’s just me being lazy, but it’s not going to change the fact that I fully embrace the fact that any body really can be a bikini body. After all, just like bodies, bikinis come in lots of different shapes and sizes. And whether you have thunder thighs or flat butt syndrome or belly flab or big boobs or small boobs or no boobs, you’d be pretty amazed at how great a relatively tiny amount of fabric can make you feel, if it’s the right cut.

This idea of there being different swimsuits for different bodies isn’t news, of course. I’ve been reading magazines for years, all offering advice on what swimsuits work best for different body types. Small bust, wide hips, broad shoulders, hourglass, there were options for all, and the features usually even came with photos of real-life women illustrating the effects of properly allocated swimwear.

In retrospect, though, I realize that while these articles might have been a great way to showcase poolside fashion, they still fell into the trap that a lot of  mainstream fashion does when it comes to dressing one particular type of body shape: they don’t really know what to do with it, so they just cover it up. Which, yes, granted, not everyone has a nice flat tummy to showcase between the top-part and bottom-part of your swimsuit, but does that mean we’re not allowed to show it at all?

I have distinct memories of flipping through magazine pages as the feature addressed pear-shaped and straight-shaped and hourglass-shaped figures and showcased adorable, fashionable bikini looks for each of them, only to finally get to the “Full Figure” or “Plus Sized” section at the end and have it be full of one-pieces and tankinis.

Yeah, kinda like that.

And hey, don’t get me wrong, there are some might fine one-pieces and tankinis out there. I’m a big fan, myself.

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Terrible iPad selfies aside, this is literally my favorite suit to ever exist in the history of swimwear. I pretty much just hung around the house wearing it all yesterday afternoon because I didn’t want to take it off, that’s how much I love it. I mean, aside from the whole wet swimsuit + full bladder predicament that surfaces every once in a while, I’m all about the one-piece. But I think you know that really isn’t where my issue lies.

I just don’t love the message that it sends when the media showcase all these different kinds of women looking fab in two-piece swimsuits… except for one kind. Because even larger, thicker, curvier, whatever-er women can still look totally bangable in ‘kinis, and not showcasing that fact, as unintentional as it may be, still perpetuates the idea that we should be hiding our bodies because there’s something wrong with them.

Luckily, I think the tide is finally beginning to turn on that front. Maybe it’s due to the resurgence of vintage-style clothing coming back into vogue (high-waisted bottoms FTW!), or maybe it’s because of body positive figures like GabiFresh (I believe she’s the originator of the term “fatkini”), but either way, I am so on board with all women being able to wear whatever the hell they want and hopefully feeling beautiful and confident while doing so.

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Which is why next week you will see me, proudly rocking my own fatkinis (given how much I’ve admitted to hating the word “fat,” I actually really love the term “fatkini”) and maybe even inspiring other women to do the same. It’s your body, after all. Wear what you want!

And that goes double when on vacation.

The Power of Words

I like words.

I mean, I must, right? I wrote an entire book that consists of over 80,000 of them, and I’m working on another. (Slowly, slowly, hahahaha.)

I don’t know if it’s because of the whole Shakespearean pen being mightier than the sword thing, or if it’s just because I love to hear myself talk (which, of course, I do), but I just really like words.

There are quite a fair few words that I have a particular affinity for. I don’t just like them, I really like them. Words like:

  • Effervescence
  • Proclivity
  • Defenestrate (literal meaning: to throw out a window)
  • Irrevocable
  • Kerfuffle
  • Ineffable

But then, conversely, there are a handful of words that I really, really, really hate.

And I don’t just mean the bad words, you silly goose, I mean that there are a few words out there that incite nails-on-a-chalkboard-esque cringing from me. Maybe it’s because of the sound it makes when you say it aloud, maybe it’s because of the way it looks when it’s spelled out, maybe it’s because of its meaning (or the fact that nobody seems to know how to actually use the word correctly — I’m looking at you, irony), maybe it’s because OH MY GOD THAT IS NOT ACTUALLY A REAL WORD. A-hem. But for whatever reason, some words are just the worst.

And because I love you guys oh, so very much, I’m going to go ahead and, potentially causing myself (and other word-sensitive folks) irreparable harm, list some of them:

  • Moist
  • Irregardless
  • Squirt
  • Viscous
  • Phlegm
  • Sanguine (most confusing word ever — it’s derived from the Latin word for blood and yet means optimistic?!)

So, yes, I guess I should refine my original statement to say that I like most words. But I think I should note that the word I hate most in my entire earthly existence isn’t even on this list. It’s a word that I hate so very, very much that I don’t know if I want to write it again here now.

And what is this awful, terrible, no good, very bad word, you ask?

  • Fat

hate the word “fat.” I hate it so much that sometimes I get angry just thinking about it. And do you know why I hate this word so much? It’s not because of its meaning, or because of how it sounds, how it’s spelled, or any of that.

It’s because I honestly think that I could trace almost every bad feeling I’ve ever had about myself, every ounce of self-loathing I’ve ever felt for my body, every time I binge ate, every time I forced myself to throw up, and even now, the self-worth I feel as a (sort-of) adult, to that word. So many of my thoughts and actions throughout my life have gone into attempting to avoid being called that word. 

I hate that any word in any vocabulary of any language has ever had that kind of power over me.

My first memory of being called fat is still vivid. “Aiyah, you’re getting fat,” was precisely how it was phrased, a few words from an aunt who I’m sure had no idea the impact those words already had on me. She didn’t really mean anything by it, I’m sure. I couldn’t even tell you exactly how old I was — 8, 9 maybe? — but that comment marked the exact moment I consciously realized that getting fat was bad. (I don’t know if it’s important to note or not, but I was not a heavy kid. My struggle with my weight really began when I hit puberty.)

Of course, I’d soon come to realize that it wasn’t just bad to be fat, it was the worst possible thing you could do as a girl. By most of modern society’s thinking, that is. Forget being cruel, bigoted, jobless, uneducated, selfish… no, no, being fat was, of course, much worse. I like to think that the tide is beginning to turn on that particular train of thought, but then I make the grievous mistake of reading the comments on certain posts on Facebook and, well… whether it’s under the guise of concern-trolling or it’s actual hatred for non-standard body types, people are pretty damn nasty.

I know that for me, even with the strides I’ve taken and how far I’ve come in my journey of self-acceptance, I still fear being called fat. Lately my emphasis and goals have been in accepting and loving my body as-is, and so I try to exude an aura of self-confidence and body love despite of — or rather, because of — my size. But in reality, I am still so affected by the words and opinions of others, and I’m still afraid of other people calling me “fat.”

There are a lot of awesome folks out there working hard to redefine the word “fat,” and regardless of your feelings about the merits of being fat vs. thin, or of your opinions about what it means to be at a healthy weight, I think that’s something we should all support. This isn’t a post about fat acceptance or the obesity epidemic, it’s about taking away the power from a word that can, at least in my experience, cause immeasurable harm to one’s ability to love oneself.

This is about taking one more small step towards being able to take back the word “fat,” to reclaim it, to return it to its roots. Roots that most definitely did not include making someone feel like they are less worthy, less beautiful, or less deserving of love just because of their size. For all the nine-year-old girls out there who are barely on the cusp of learning what it means to own their body at all, I think it’s so important that we do start to turn that tide.

“Fat” is just a word. It’s a word that, in this context, is used to describe appearance — the same as “thin” or “fit” or “tall” or “short” or “brunette” or “blonde.” But we have injected so much significance and negativity into those particular three letters, that it has the power to affect us more than any of those other words ever could. (Well, I guess you could argue that the word “thin” has as much of an affect, just in a different, much more positively accepted way.) So in attempt to take one small step towards changing that, if for nobody else but myself, here I am, embracing it. This is my personal attempt to redefine that no good, very bad word in my life:

I am fat. I have fat on my body, just like every other human being on this planet. I have more than some, and less than others, and the particular amount of fat that anyone has does not define their worth as a person.

Of course, I’m sure I’d still feel less than amazing than if someone else were to call me fat, since my natural inclination is to assume everyone else does so with the implication of judgment and insult attached, but hey, it’s a step, right? And while I do hope one day that, as a society, we can help de-awful-fy my least favorite word, for now, I’ll just work on making these words more of a fixture in my vernacular:

  • Worthy
  • Beautiful
  • Honest
  • Significant
  • Memorable
  • Wonderful

Modesty, Validation, and Acknowledging Our Strengths

Talent. Strengths. Passion. Career. I know I’ve been waxing on and on about this stuff for a while, so depending on how you’ve felt about it in the past, I imagine you will be either delighted or disappointed to read the following. See, in my current quest to figure out not only WHAT I want to do (which, as you will probably be shocked to hear, is NOT to be stuck in a cubicle for the rest of my natural-born-life), but also HOW I’m supposed to do the things I want to do in a fiscally responsible, not-gonna-move-back-in-with-my-parents kinda way, I’ve done some thinking. Go figure. And while my recent revelations may cause some of you to be like, “Uh, duh?”, I’m going to talk about them anyway. Probably in a fairly nonsensical and stream-of-consciousness kind of way. Because I can. Thbbbt. 😉

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It actually all started when I attended the Kristin Chenoweth concert a couple weeks ago. In between beautifully-sung songs and anecdotes about how her mom accidentally (but continuously) calls Fuddrucker’s “Mudf*cker’s”, she also told us quite a few stories from her pre-celebrity days. She talked about what it was like to be little and to have her first solo in church, performing and getting her first role on Broadway and as she spoke, there was no false modesty. She didn’t fish for complements, or underplay her talent. She is, and apparently always was, an absolutely incredible singer. We know it. She knows it. And why wouldn’t she? I mean, how annoying would it be if she were to say something like, “Well, I can sing fairly well, I guess…”? I’d want to smack all 4’11” of her. Hearing her talk about herself that way didn’t make me think she was conceited or immodest, even though in everyday life, my first instinct would be to mark someone as such if they were doing the same thing.

So obviously the rules that apply to celebrities don’t necessarily apply to us regular folk, it’s true. I mean, hello? Lindsay Lohan is still getting work. Wtf. Regardless, the whole experience still sparked something that I thought deserved a little thought. Our society of polite interaction and political-correctness puts a premium on modesty. You might be extremely talented, but you’re not supposed to be the one saying “I’m a gifted artist!” or “I’m a great writer!” or “I’ve got a fantastic voice!” No, that would be bragging. Society tells us that validation is supposed to come from other people. And eventually, even if we start out believing in our own abilities, it is still discouraging not to be able to tout our own strengths. Having to rely on the validation of others’ opinions gives self-doubt a lot of wiggle room.

I feel like that doubt is what ultimately prevents us from pursuing the things that we really want. Take me, for example: I want to write. I think I know that I’m a good writer. With drive and perseverance, I might even be great someday. But I don’t feel like I can really say that. What I CAN say is, “I love to write,” or “I’m passionate about writing.” It feels conceited to even think, let alone say, otherwise. Even if my intentions are correct (though, let’s be honest, when are they ever really? Haha), it still feels like bragging. So I rely on other people instead. And when their comments don’t come, or when they’re not what I want to hear, or when I’m not constantly showered with reassurance, the doubt crawls back in. I start to think, “I’ll never make it as a writer, why bother trying?” And then the mental battle ensues once again.

This applies to more than just creative talent, of course. How many of us that are on the weight loss track didn’t really feel like you were making any progress until you started to get comments and compliments from others? I lost THIRTY pounds before I started getting regular comments from people I knew, and thus it wasn’t until I was thirty pounds into my weight loss that I felt that I had succeeded. But before I lost 30, I had lost 25. And before that, I had lost 20. And so on, and so forth. Shouldn’t I have felt proud about those accomplishments, too? That thought never even occurred to me. It was only “Well, I guess I need to keep going because nobody’s noticing.” I probably fall victim to this line of thinking more than the average person, I’m sure, because I have a long and sordid history with my self-esteem. Some of you might be reading this and want to roll your eyes, chalking up my feelings to my own self-worth issues. That’s a fair reaction, although I do honestly think it goes beyond that. I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way, after all.

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I don’t have an answer for how to really fight against this way of thinking. I’d like to be able to say it’s as simple as coming up with a mantra that you repeat as you fall asleep, or sticking a Post-It to your computer screen, or writing on your mirror in lipstick, all to remind yourself that you’re awesome! You’re amazing! You’re a rockstar! But c’mon. That doesn’t exactly tackle the root of the problem, does it? I want to be able to get to a place where I don’t NEED a constant visual reminder to acknowledge that I’m good at something. That I’m possibly — GASP! — fantastic at something. And, perhaps most importantly, I don’t want to feel guilty about thinking that way when I do.

One

It just takes one.

One disparaging comment.

One possibly judgmental glance.

One ill-fitting garment, one unfortunate glance in a store window.

One moment for the weakness to set in, for the thoughts to take hold. A single second, and suddenly your world turns. It takes all your strength not to run to the kitchen and rip open bags of tortilla chips, boxes of leftover pizza, pints of ice cream. It takes every ounce of resolve that you possess not to jump into the car and head straight for the nearest drive-through. To drown your remaining shreds of self-esteem in french fries, chicken nuggets, and double junior bacon cheeseburgers.

You’re having a normal day. Maybe even a great day. You don’t expect it. You can’t predict it. It happens so fast. It catches you off guard. And it only takes one.

As you are all well-aware, I’ve been feeling pretty good about things lately. I may still be dealing with my holiday weight gain, I may not be at goal, but in general I’ve been feeling like things are really starting to fall into place. So yesterday, when I dropped by my parents’ house to pick up some vegetables that my mom was trying to get rid of (free brussels sprouts? Heck yes!), I wasn’t prepared for the conversation that came in response to my blog post showcasing the epic Valentine’s Day meal that I had the night before.

“I have too much produce,” she said, thrusting a bag of brussels sprouts, spinach, and a container of blackberries into my arms.

“Thanks for these! Yeah, you do have a lot. It’s going to go bad while we’re in Orlando,” I replied, eyeing an entire drawer full of peppers, leafy greens, and tiny purple eggplants. Suddenly, she pinched the skin on the underside of my chin.

“You had better not eat steak anymore. Look at your face.”

“What are you talking about? I lost a pound this week!”

“I saw. But I can’t believe it.”

So I left. Well, I guess “stormed out” is the more appropriate term. And the very instance I stomped out of the room, my head was filled with self-deprecation, loathing, and hatred. I know that to her, the comment was nonchalant. Moms are moms, and she has nothing but love and concern for me. I know that I’m a sensitive person in general, and I’m extra defensive when interacting with my family. I know that there have been miscommunications between my mother and me in the past. I know that her intention was not to hurt me. I know these things. But knowing doesn’t stop it from hurting. It didn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes as I slammed the front door behind me, or from falling once I got to the car. It wasn’t about what was said, it wasn’t about who said it. It could have been anything. The point is that it happened: one comment got under my skin, and brought with it an emotional flood that I hadn’t experienced for some time.

I wrote a post a while ago about trying to figure out my identity as someone who has lost a significant amount of weight (“My Name is Gretchen, and I Used to be Fat“). In it, I questioned why I have such a hard time letting go of my “old self”, as it were, and embracing my new mindset and my new body. I talked about not wanting to forget who I was, for fear of slipping back into those habits. My experiences today only affirmed those feelings. Without fear of backsliding, without the constant reminder of how you once were, you forget. You let your guard down. You are vulnerable, and it takes just one thing before… you slip.


Summer 2009

I was fortunate this time. My mind may have slipped, I may have let in that self-hatred and beaten down my self-esteem but I had the strength to resist the temptation to binge. Instead of eating $18 worth of Taco Bell, I came home. I chopped onions and roasted brussels sprouts and sauteed mushrooms and I didn’t succumb. But I wanted to. I wanted to binge. I wanted to fill my stomach with crap until it felt like I was going to burst, and then I would have wanted to purge. I managed to fight against that, and I’m both grateful and proud that I was able to. But the physical act of bingeing is only one side of it.

The worst part is the emotional damage that one simple, innocuous comment can do. How it can unravel you. How in a split second, it can undo a year’s worth of repair to your self-esteem. Sure, I won the binge battle, but the emotional war? It’s still raging, even now. I’m my own enemy, fighting against all the thoughts I’ve been trying to keep out for so long. And not only do I have to fight against old thoughts, but there are new ones too. Like feeling that being happy about my life and making peace with my appearance is the very reason why I let my guard down in the first place.

I’m still fat.

I’m not good enough.

Nothing’s changed.

Nothing will ever change.

This is your fault.

You’re soft. Weak. Complacent.

You’ll never make it to your goal because you’re too content with how you look. Hate yourself more.

Having this blog helps, it really does. It lets me go back and see where I began. It lets me reflect on how far I have come, in so many ways. It helps me rally the strength to fight, because I owe it to myself, and I owe it to you, to try. It convinces me that instead of wallowing in a pool of self-pity and dysmorphic self-image, I should try on my newly delivered dresses. It allows me to revel in the fact that I fit firmly into a regular ol’ size L, something I would simply not have been able to do a year and a half ago. It proves that change has occurred.

ModClothed

Chalk it up as cheesy, self-indulgent, narcissistic. Label it as just another trend. But blogging helps me see the progress I have made and will continue to make. As long as I keep trying. As long as I can rebuild, stay the course, and be prepared for the next time this happens. Because, as much as I wish it weren’t the case, the sad truth of it is that it will happen again.

It just takes one.

Stuck in the Middle with You

Unfortunately this post is not about the classic 1972 Stealers Wheel song. It’s about clothes. And yes, it’s probably going to get pretty superficial up in hurr. I find myself stuck in this strange middle ground between the size I am and the size I plan on getting to. I am stuck in Clothing No (wo)Man’s Land.

The wedding I went to this past weekend made me painfully aware that I am rapidly running out of wearable clothing. I know what you’re thinking. “Waaaah, waaaah, poor little Gretchen has lost too much weight and now has no clothes to wear,” said in your most sardonic mental voice (sidenote: does that sound like the start of a twisted nursery rhyme or what?) I mean, yes, you’re right. It’s not like I’m going naked here. I’ve got enough cutesy t-shirts to last me a millenium or two, but when it comes to A) work or B) dressing up, it is slim pickings in terms of clothes that I feel comfortable and (or?) attractive in. But while I’m not a size 20 anymore, I’m still a bit short of my goal size (an Old Navy 8, or a 10 anywhere else, haha.) So I keep struggling with whether I should buy new clothes that will fit me now, knowing that I will just shrink out of them (well, hopefully…), or whether I should wait.

See, I am very much of the opinion that, as much as I want to save money, clothes that are too big just don’t look good. One of the first myths I adhered to when I was obese was thinking that big, roomy clothes would hide my flub. WRONG. They just made me look even bigger. Which, in turn, just made me more depressed. Thus, part of this whole rebuilding my formerly devastated self-esteem thing is to try to feel good about the way I look. That might sound shallow but… well, if it is, then we are ALL shallow, aren’t we? 😉

To illustrate my point, I traveled into the depths of my closet to find a few pieces of now-oversized clothing that haven’t quite made the trip to Goodwill yet (I say as if the other four grocery bags full of too-big clothes aren’t still sitting in my car. Oops.) Allow me to present the following comparisons:

Blouse + Pants Front View

Oof.

Blouse + Pants Side View

These portraits were taken mere minutes apart, but you can’t deny how different I look. The pants and top on the left are two sizes too big, and there’s no doubt that they make me look bigger too. Of course it isn’t always as blatantly obvious as the example above, but it’s the smallest things — a droopy sleeve, a billowing bust, a puffy waist — that make a big difference in how you look (and thus impact how you FEEL about how you look.)

Dress for Success

Take, for example, the dress on the left here. At first glance, it’s really not so bad.

Dress Side View

Turn to the side, however, and you can see just how gaping the bust is, making my chest look droopy. Dangling ta-tas at 23? I DON’T THINK SO. And the side-bra view? Not cute.

I’m not saying that you should get rid of all your clothes as soon as you outshrink them. Nor do you have to rush your favorite pieces to a tailor right away. As if I could afford either option! There are a lot of things that you can do to make your clothing wearable for as long as possible.

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Bad + belt = better.

Belts and I have become besties, and scarves and cardigans are part of the gang too (to hide those pesky safety pins!) My closet is still full of clothing that I can’t yet bear to give away (um, like all the above pieces?) One of my biggest “regrets”, if you want to call it that, is that TWO WEEKS before I decided to start this blog and go on my final diet, I went to New York City with some girlfriends and blew over $500 on new clothes. Of course, within 3 months, they were rendered obsolete. Which might explain my current clothes-buying hesitation situation, now that I think about it.

Flatter Me
Same jeans, different tops.

I definitely feel that certain items of clothing “matter” more than others when it comes to fit and feeling good about yourself. For example, I see absolutely no reason to downsize my coats, sweaters/cardigans, jackets, and even skirts (A-line being the exception) since for the most part, it doesn’t matter if they are a bit big. But jeans, work pants, dresses and blouses are what I seem to notice most. Oh, and don’t forget about undergarments. Getting my bra resized is one of the things I was most adamant about!

I’m not trying to replace my wardrobe just yet — I’ve got a shopping spree from my parents (my blogiversary present!) for that! It’s just that as I continue down this road and get rid of these last twenty-ish pounds, I want to make sure I’m doing all that I can to stay motivated, in control, and most importantly, happy.

What is your stance on buying clothes when losing weight? Save up and wait? Pick up sale & thrift items as needed? Or replace your closet as you downsize?