Five Things I Should Have Learned in Kindergarten (But didn’t figure out until I was in my 30’s) Part 4
The Fourth Thing: It’s okay to be the biggest girl in the room.
At most gatherings, I’m the largest female. This is not new for me. I’ve been a big girl since birth. I came squalling into this world at 10 pounds 5 ounces and have just kept growing up and out since then.
By the time I was 11 years old, I was 5’10” and 200 pounds. Back then I lived in Wahiawa, an old agricultural town in central Oahu. Though elsewhere in Hawaii, sugar cane was the predominant crop, Wahiawa had been all about pineapples for 100 years. Throughout the 1900’s, immigrants from Japan, China, and the Philipines moved to the area to work in the fields. in 1990, the population of Wahiawa was still predominantly Asian and, especially in my old neighborhood, up heights, most of the kids were Filipino.
As a general rule, Asians are not the tallest of folk. The Filipino tend to live up to this generality. That is to say, my classmates, male and female, were all shorter than me. Oftentimes by a foot. When we took class pictures, there I was in the back row, towering over the class.
In sixth grade we had a “dance.” It was a low budget affair. The entire sixth grade, two classes with about 50 students, were put into one classroom during school one day, the lights were turned off and the loovered windows positioned to let in just a little seep of daylight. Hot I-94 was streamed through a boombox. At first, only a few brave souls managed to cabbage patch and running man to such classics as Ice Ice Baby and U Can’t Touch This. As each song progressed, more and more students wandered to the dance floor, a spot that had been cleared in the center of the room by pushing the desks to the edges, and began dancing. By the time Mariah started crooning “Vision of Love” I was one of only a few students hovering at the edges of the room. The dancers instantly started pairing off, girls placing their hands on the boys shoulders, boys hands stiffly on girls’ waists. Step-sway right, step-sway left, don’t make eye contact. Awww, the awkward slow dance of junior high dances everywhere!
Finally, I screwed up all my courage, approached a boy half my size, and whispered down to him, “Will you dance with me?” He lifted his eyes all the way up to mine, wide with fear, and shook his head back and forth. No. Of course not.
I spent the rest of that dance humiliated in the girls room. I spent a lot of dances that way.
It’s not easy to grow up an ogress in a land of Asians.
As you can imagine, this left me more than a little self-conscious about my size. Early on I developed a habit of scanning whatever room I happened to be in, measuring all the women there. When my eyes fell upon another fat girl, I would begin calculating. How tall is she? How much does she weigh? For years I had a fascination with other women’s dress sizes. Is she a 16 or an 20? Every lady I met got sized and categorized two ways- bigger than me or smaller than me and if they were bigger than me, acceptable fat or gross fat.
If she was gross fat and bigger than me, we were okay. At least I wasn’t that big. If she was bigger than me and acceptable fat, that was perfect. I’d console myself with, look at her, she’s bigger than you and she’s still pretty. Maybe you’re okay? Maybe you’re acceptable.
You see, I was the one woman I couldn’t categorize as acceptable or gross. No matter how I peered in the mirror, I couldn’t ever see my component parts- rounded stomach, jiggly upper arms, full moon face- as a whole. I simply could not tell. My only self-conception came from myself in comparison to others.
Problem was, most of the time, I came out the worse for the comparison. Usually, I was by far the biggest girl in the room. My thighs were twice the circumference of the other girls. I could rest my chin on top of my girlfriends’ heads. I swallowed them up in my fleshy hugs. I could pick them up and twirl them around.
After years of this, I finally came to a conclusion about how to tell big from too big. A thorough examination of one fleshy mama in stretch pants brought me to a final decision. It was all, I concluded at 17, in the belly. An overhanging belly was the line in the sand between nasty and livable. I considered my rounded but not sagging belly in the mirror. If I ever, I swore to myself, reached the stage where my stomach folded over, draping my pelvis, I would kill myself.
For being too fat.
Line drawn, I spent the rest of my teens and the entirety of my twenties engaging in all sorts of unhealthy activities to keep myself on the right side of fat. I tempered my love of food with one destructive habit after another.
At first my little drug habit kept me in line. Crystal meth has a way of killing a girl’s appetite.
I did quit that little habit when I found out I was pregnant. Luckily for me, pregnancy brought with it constant and abiding nausea. Nothing sounded good. Every smell made me ill. I ate less and less, sometimes going days without food. I threw up constantly, multiple times each hour. Often it was involuntary, but frequently I gagged myself, puking up nothing but bile in order to gain relief from queasiness for a few blessed moments. I lost forty pounds in the first six months of my pregnancy. I was ecstatic.
My daughter’s late October birth brought an end to the constant illness and marked the beginning of eggnog season. By Christmas, I had gained back every pound I had lost. But still I kept myself from crossing the line through physical activity. I worked and worked and worked. I worked fast and I worked hard. As a baker, I threw myself into 12 hour shifts full of lots of heavy lifting, kneading, and running to buzzing ovens. I prided myself in being able to haul 100 pounds of flour at a time. I raced myself at work, trying to be able to accomplish more and more each day in a shorter period of time.
Besides my crazy work schedule, I tried diet pills. They were like meth-lite. That old familiar buzz and aggression accompanied by a decrease in appetite. Eventually, those pills were taken off the market.
So I turned back to the only thing that had ever really worked for me. Vomiting. I spent years forcing myself to throw up every time I screwed up and overate. My throat burned and my teeth were set on edge but at least I didn’t get any fatter.
I developed a fondness for laxatives, consuming those little foil wrapped waxy squares like they actually were chocolate.
Through it all, I smoked two packs a day. Camel Menthol Lights were my best friend and my lifeline. They satisfied my oral fixation and worked as an appetite suppressant.
Through all that I never managed to get below 200 pounds. In fact, besides the period during my pregnancy when I didn’t eat, I hovered for over a decade between 230 and 250 pounds. All that abuse and I was still fat! But at least I wasn’t the biggest girl in the room. At least I wasn’t gross fat. At least there wasn’t belly over-hang.
My thirties have been a time of great healing for me when it comes to food.
First, I was convicted about all the vomiting and laxatives. I began to see that the occasional binges I let myself indulge in were sin and the lengths I went to to avoid the consequences of this sin were harming myself and my body. So I stopped those behaviors and got a little bit fatter.
Next, the Holy Spirit addressed my motivation. I realized my little food problem was really idolatry. I have spent a lot of years relying on bacon cheeseburgers for acceptance, cheesy quesadillas for love, steaming hot bowls of ramen for comfort, and Ben and Jerry for companionship. I have let food fill a role that only God was meant to fill. Little by little, I’ve learned to turn to Him before I turn to a slice of pizza. My weight has teetered up and down as I struggled with this concept.
Then, God really worked in me on my tendency to overeat. One of the biggest revelations I had was that, instead of trying to make the food behave- low-fat, lite, low-cal- I could instead eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full. It was I who needed to behave- and with the help of the Holy Spirit. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a handle on food. The pounds actually began to slip off.
But then I quit smoking. I quit smoking and I cried and I ate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. For 2 years, all the food progress I had made was lost and I got to the heaviest I had ever been. I stopped wearing makeup, I didn’t care about my clothes. I hit 270 pounds and the worst happened. I crossed the line. My belly began to hang over. It draped. It sagged. I had reached the place I said I would kill myself if I ever reached. Beyond my size, my depression was so deep and so dark, suicide seemed like an escape.
This is where God met me. Staring naked into my mirror one day, I wept. I could not stand my body, I could not see any beauty in myself, and I had no hope that anything would ever change. That is the day I began to talk back to my mirror. I started singing back, actually.
“Where does my worth come from? It comes from the Lord! Where does my beauty come from? It comes from the Lord! Where does my joy come from? It comes from the Lord…”
And on and on and on. I sang that song through my shower and as I got ready. I sang many many days after that. I kept singing until I believed it. I believed my worth was from the Lord. I believed my beauty came from the Lord. I believed I could have joy, even though I was fat. Even though I was 270 pounds. Even though my stomach fell over my pelvis.
That was a few years ago. So much has been restored since then. I am no longer a slave to my hunger. It is very rare for me to fall into the trap of overeating. I turn to scripture and prayer a lot more often than cheeseburgers. I actually enjoy exercising nowadays. Most days I look in the mirror and I feel beautiful.
But you know what? I’m not thin. Not even close. My belly is still over the line. I can slip my fingertips into the space there. But mostly, I don’t. I’m too busy grinning.
When I walk into a room nowadays, I’m still usually the largest female inside. But you know what else I lost? My constant need to size myself up and compare.
I finally learned, whether it’s me or it’s you, you can be the biggest girl in the room and be beautiful.