Well….I did it. I cleaned out my closet and ended up with three garbage bags full of beautiful size six and size eight clothes: dress pants, jeans, capris, shorts, dress shirts, sweaters, dresses……all I’ve been unable to fit in for the last four years. I must say, my closet looks pretty bare now.
Aaaaand I do have to admit I cried a little bit. When I told my mom about my great purge, her first words were, “Aww…you don’t think you’ll ever be that small again?”
And that’s exactly why I cried – because getting rid of those clothes is like me giving up, admitting defeat and accepting the reality that I won’t ever be that small again. But let me explain why that means so much to me.
From childhood, I was overweight and teased mercilessly in school. My family moved eight times in my youth. If there’s anything worse than being the “new girl” it’s being the the new fat girl in all my schools. Back then, there was no attempt at fashion for bigger people, let alone bigger children. So, while my skinnier, prettier cousin wore the latest fashions to our school, I wore men-sized jogging pants and oversized t-shirts. I was insulted, shoved, laughed at, had my hands slammed in lockers and much more torment.
In the summer before my Senior year in high school, I started to starve myself and began running. I ran three miles in the morning and spent the rest of the day fighting through hunger pangs until I passed out. I started dropping weight, but not quickly enough. However, with so little food intake, I didn’t have energy to work out more. And that’s where the pills came in. Pills to give me energy.
The first day, I only took half a pill. That was enough to get me through my three miles, but by the end of the week, I had to take two pills to achieve the same amount energy. Soon, it was three. Then four. They gave me so much energy that I decided to run three miles in the evenings, too. So, I was running six miles a day. Soon, it became eight miles a day, which required me to up the number of pills. Ten a day became twelve, which became fifteen.
By the time I finally weighed 140 pounds and fit into a size 10 pair of jeans, I was taking 22 pills a day.
My mom, worried at the dramatic weight loss, found my pill stash and put the kibosh on my destructive behavior. I still kept up with the running, and I started eating again, very healthy. But I was stalled. No matter what I did I could not get smaller than a size 10 nor lighter than 140 pounds. At the time, I thought it was because I needed the drugs and I was angry with my mom for finding them and “getting me help.”
Depression set in and I slowly crept back up to my old physical self: 180 pounds, size 16. Over the next eight years I stayed mostly there, with brief periods of weight loss done the right way – through diet and exercise, but I could never keep it off. And I could never get below 140 pounds, size 10.
Until I got pregnant with my son. I was sick during that entire pregnancy and lost a ton of weight. After giving birth, I got even more sick and ended up hospitalized. When I was released, I weighed in at 122 pounds at 5’7. I wore a size 6 jeans and size 4 dress.
And I loved it.
Even though I felt weak and in constant pain, I loved the way I looked. Once I got healthy again, I gained a little bit of the weight back, but I topped out at 135 and worked my ass off to maintain that weight for six years. There was no way in hell I was going to let my weight creep back up above 140, because I knew I’d never get it back below if it did.
I worked out constantly, ran, hiked, weight trained. I was fit, healthy and happy. SO, so happy. I felt great about myself, about my body, my looks. I loved wearing mini-shorts and cami tops in the summer, halter tops, maxi dresses. Jean skirts. For the first time in my life I owned a size 0 dress. I enjoyed that body and swore I’d never be “fat” again.
Then, I got pregnant with my daughter and gained 50 pounds. It didn’t matter that I ate healthier balanced meals because of my diabetes. It didn’t matter that I ran even up to my delivery. For some reason I will never understand, I gained 50 pounds. That was almost four years ago. And though I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to get below…..you guessed it…..140 pounds or size ten pants. But I’ve mostly plateaued at around 155 pounds and size 10.
I’m in that place I swore I’d never be again, where my weight is an everyday thought and concern, an everyday fight, where I study every roll or dimple or unflattering curve, where I feel ugly and fat in everything I put on. I’m that size I never, ever wanted to be again. And today, I finally gave in to the fear that this is the size I’ll always be. I’m always going to be fat. And yes…I cried. No matter how many more important things are going on in the world, I’m always going to care how I look. I know it’s vain, it’s shallow, and stupid. But it’s etched into my psyche, my personality. It might be different if I had never been thinner and fitter, if I had never had my dream body or had never known how much better life is when you’re happy with your body. And I really feel bad for my husband. He married a size 6 and is going to end up with a 10. (and yes, it matters)
If you can believe it, that’s the “short” version of my lifelong struggle with my weight, and that is why accepting defeat in the clearing of my closet was such an emotional experience for me.
The good news is that I’m a mature woman in my mid-30s, and while my weight issues are on my mind every day, they are certainly not the most important thoughts on my mind every day. I knew I had to turn this clearing-out-the-closet thing into a positive. So, as I sat staring at my nearly-empty closet, a memory sprang into my mind from fifteen years ago when I used to volunteer at a local shelter for battered and abused women and children. A lot of those women were unemployed and had been prisoners in their own homes. Finally on their own, they searched for respectable good-paying jobs and needed the wardrobes to go with. Suddenly, I knew where all my clothes would go.
As I drove into the heart of the poorest area of Las Vegas, the sidewalks, abandoned buildings and adjacent dirt lots were absolutely riddled with homeless people, makeshift shelters and cardboard lean-tos. I pulled up to the shelter and went in. Nothing had changed in the last fifteen years. The place was filled with the same fear as it had been the last time I was there, the same eyes widening when the door opened only to relax when it was me who walked in instead of the predators they’d escaped. Children huddled quietly, no playful glint in their eyes, no smiles. No trust. A lot of the women are foreign, mail-order brides from places like Ukraine or the Philippines.
In an instant, I was mad that I hadn’t brought more of my clothes, mad that I’d decided to hang on to a small handful that I have a greater chance of fitting into one day. I was mad that I don’t volunteer there anymore, that all of my charitable donations have somehow morphed over the years from giving my time to giving my money.
I know that was the right place to give those clothes away to those women. If it helps them land a good job or just even feel beautiful, it’s better than them sitting in my closet making me feel bad about my own appearance. There is no reducing the power of a good outfit. Like a good haircut, it can make a woman feel good. I know it did for me once.
And the experience has made me realize the need to work on my inner self. I need to give more of myself, and not just my money. Yes, I felt wonderful when my body was smaller. But I felt best when my heart was bigger.