I started my first diet at the end of 8th grade. It was 900 calories of fruit and meal replacement shakes. I ate this for three months and worked out to Richard Simmons’ “Sweating to the Oldies” every damn day. I can still see his room full of fat-burners skipping to the beat of “I get around” and the eventual cool down to “Summer Lovin’.” I dropped 30 lbs. and was able to shed another 20 over the next year. But, losing 30 lbs., 50 lbs., 70 lbs., still did not boost my self-esteem; all that loss was not enough for me to allow myself to love me.
Having been uncomfortable in my body from as early as second grade, my journey to a more positive view of my body and self has been a long, tumultuous 28 year struggle.
The first time I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, I was in the second grade. One day I was wearing a white tank top with little fireworks printed on it and blue shorts. I leaned back in my desk and stretched. My arms high above my head; two of my classmates told me I had boobies. That same year one of my teacher’s nicknamed me “Pokey Joe” because I couldn’t run very fast. In a time before teachers were held to today’s anti-bullying standards, this teacher’s insensitivity began the years long cycle of my begging for notes to escape P.E. Naturally shy, I did not want to risk ridicule due to my lack of athletic prowess and ‘pokiness.’
By the time I was in the 5th grade, my hatred of my body became preoccupation. I lived in a Spuds McKenzie tee shirt and Jams shorts and the piece de resistance to my stellar fashion choices in elementary school…a poodle-like perm accompanied by glasses and crooked teeth. I remember the first day I wore my glasses to school one of my peers said, “It’s not Halloween, Raven.”
Now, as an adult, I know that some of what I experienced in elementary school was par for the course. Kids at that age can be mean, and they only become even more beastly as they enter puberty and middle school. By 7th grade, I was so lost in myself that I had trouble connecting with friends I had known since toddlerhood. None of them knew how out of place I felt…how isolated, inadequate and burdened I felt by my own body. No 12 year old should feel this way.
For a kid with self-esteem issues, there is no more brutal a battlefield than middle school gym class. In my isolated state, I assumed that this practice of having all of us change together in the locker room didn’t bother my peers. In fact, as far as I was concerned, I was the only one hiding in wait like a Butterball turkey in the corner getting trussed for the oven. I became a master at removing one garment at a time, slowly and deliberately so as not to reveal even a sliver of skin. A perpetual overachiever, I was an honor student with D’s in P.E.
I lived in torment in 7th and 8th grade. There was this girl in one of my classes who would sit behind me. She had this habit of resting her feet on the book basket under my desk. From time to time, she would use her feet to shake my desk and make my fat rolls jiggle. I hated her. I hated that I couldn’t just be “normal”- or what I considered normal- like her….instead, I was Jell-O and she was perfect…the bane of my existence.
For so many young women hatred of one’s body sets in during high school, but I was ‘advanced,’ having started to cultivate my body image issues from age seven, I had already perfected my body preoccupation by middle school; as a result, I didn’t hate my body in high school. However, still lacking confidence and a sense of self-worth, I began to develop and perfect the art of “Smile. Suck in. Am I sucking in? Suck in some more.” I never felt like I looked good enough. Even in sophomore year when I was crowned Miss Sweetheart, all I could think about while the pictures were being taken was “suck in…god, please don’t snap on an exhale.” That night a gym full of people saw a smiling beauty queen, when really that beauty queen- me- I was dying inside- self-conscious and at war.
In my senior year of high school, I experienced a very public break-up in a very small town. The stress, the pressure, the attention…I could not handle it all, and I felt overwhelmed.
I had lost control over the situation.
During this time, I dropped to 122 lbs. Some days I looked ill. Some days I felt ill. Some days I marked an ‘X’ on the calendar to indicate I had eaten less than 500 calories that day. Extreme calorie restriction became the pocket knife I used to whittle down my body and reshape it- reform it into something I could manipulate and maneuver at will. No one knew this was happening. I wore baggie clothes, and I wasn’t so small that it raised any red flags at doctor’s visits. A classmate found my calendar and asked about the ‘x’s; I told her it was for school stuff and left it at that.
At the time, eating so little was the only thing I seemed to have influence over, and I had to have control over something. That summer I went to a party in a half-shirt and jeans. Where I once was apprehensive to show off my body, I now wanted to brandish how much control I had exerted over my past errant pudginess.
By freshman year of college, I was a size 4. My hair was bigger than I was; I hid behind that bleach-blonde mane often.
Prior to college, I didn’t drink much; alcohol was a waste of calories; however, by my sophomore year, I forgot that alcohol has calories and spent the rest of my undergraduate years in class 20% of the time, in bars 60% of the time, and sleeping the rest of the time. This was the beginning of my years of yo-yo dieting, binge eating and drinking, laxative abuse, and diet pills; it seems, in retrospect, that anything that was bad for me was part of my normal routine. I wasn’t huge. Logically, I knew that, but logic wasn’t even in my vocabulary between the ages of 19 and 23. I was, perhaps, 30 pounds larger than I had been the year earlier; this was a healthy gain, but I felt like I had been pumped up on air like a new tire, straining against the confines of my clothes.
For years, my husband had no idea to the extent or lengths I had gone to be the skinny bride, the skinny coed, the skinny teen. He has never said anything negative about my body. In fact, the only thing he has ever said was “I don’t know why or how you do this to yourself over and over again. You are beautiful, can’t you see that?”
He was confused by my preoccupation with my weight. I’ve been all over the spectrum the fifteen years we’ve been together. He always saw me as beautiful, but no matter what came up in my life weight was always my main concern.
But, it was never about him or anyone else; it never is. It was always about how I saw myself and how I projected that. I just couldn’t see my own beauty.
Not long after getting married I started nursing school, and I thought I would lose weight, not that I needed to at 135 lbs., but I thought the possibility was there. I sincerely thought that all of the studying would allow me some peace from my weight preoccupation and a loss would just happen. Wrong.
I’m a stress gainer. I ballooned from 135 to 188 in one school term.
I started school in August and by Christmas had taken on 53 lbs.
Pictures from nursing school do not exist.
After nursing school, I started my nursing career and dropped 28 lbs. where I hovered for the next 10 years. Some days I was okay with being that size and other days…well, I called those my ‘fat head’ days because I felt fat from my head to my toes.
By the time I had conceived for my first pregnancy, I had been less than 150 lbs.; I was at 220, my heaviest, at delivery. This was a hard time for me with the new stresses of motherhood and the extra weight that I just could not shake. However, inspiration was near, and so when my son was 6 months old, I joined my first boot camp, run by a friend’s sister who is a personal trainer.
I had never done anything athletic in my life. My first day of boot camp, I was like a fish out of water. I could barely run 40 feet and I gasped for breath after the attempt. I had no idea what terms like ‘dead lift’ meant…I only knew I had been holding onto and carrying around ‘dead weight’ that I desperately wanted to shed. In some ways it felt like the return of “Pokey Joe” but eventually “Pokey Joe” became the little engine that could.
After one month of boot camp, my results were amazing. I had not lost a great deal of weight, but I lost inches; I gained confidence. My sense of accomplishment was strong. I was growing stronger physically every day, which was enabling me to feel stronger mentally and emotionally. With every additional 5 seconds I could hold plank position, I became a more powerful me. And, it was a power that did not come from restricting calories or purging my body. I am strong; strong is beautiful. After three more months of boot camp, I was pregnant again. But, I did not let pregnancy deter me; I continued to work out through my second pregnancy, and I barely put on 20 lbs.
After my daughter was born, I struggled to lose the 20 lbs., but I was different. I felt good. It didn’t bother me that I was 160 lbs., as it did before in my ‘fat head’ days. I knew that I was healthy. I wasn’t restricting calories. I wasn’t binge eating. I wasn’t gulping down my daily caloric intake in alcohol.
Now, as a mother, I don’t speak negatively about my body … or anyone’s body for that matter, in front of either of my kids. Even though my children are so young, I praise them, I lift them up, I teach them that god makes us in all shapes and sizes; we are all beautiful. That’s part of the motivation for opening my lingerie and boudoir business.
When my photographer husband asked me to pose for him so he could expand his portfolio, I reluctantly agreed. However, when it was all over, I was flabbergasted at how amazing I looked in the photos. It was like being reborn as a vibrant, sexy being; I embraced my sexuality and my new-found confidence.
Initially, on the business end, I started as a consultant so that I could make other women feel as confident as I felt when I first saw my shots. Eventually, the boudoir sessions turned into a full-fledged online boutique with hopes of one day opening a brick and mortar store. For me as the boudoir consultant, it feels amazing to see women light up when they realize they are beautiful, vibrant, sexy beings; they too can be reborn- vivacious, self-assured, provocative. All of these women leave walking a little taller.
When I opened my business, I began to embody the feminine. And so, where I once may have been preoccupied by ridding my body of curves and attaining a thigh gap, I am now in the business of sexy. Curves and femininity and self-acceptance…that’s sexy. As a consultant, I’m able to empower other women, so that they see themselves the way others see them. It is so important for women to let their inner light shine through their eyes, to allow themselves to feel sexy in their own skin…I am able to give them in one photo shoot or lingerie purchase the self-love and body acceptance, I have worked almost 30 years to attain for myself.
My whole perspective of self has changed. And well, that first boot camp stint was my only boot camp run. Now, I enjoy cycling, and Barr/Pilates classes. My diet is different now too. A Paleo-Pescatarian, I stay away from processed and fast food. I feel good…finally… about myself and where I am headed. For the first time since I can remember, I don’t wake up and weigh myself daily; I don’t opt to take a fluid pill or a laxative if the scale reads too high.
Now, I pay attention to what I need physically and emotionally. I pay attention to how my clothes fit and how I feel in them. I had a doctor’s appointment last week, and I stepped on the scale without hesitation. I didn’t care if the number was 120 or 200. I feel good in my skin and that is what matters…and it only took 28 years to get here. I am a wife, a mom, a registered nurse, a business owner, a strong and confident woman.