I got the message from the time I was a kid: You’re a big person. Some girls are skinny, petite, delicate, or any combination of more “fine” descriptives. Equating big with tough happened pretty quickly. I was big, tough material from the start, losing my grip on the monkey bars and hitting every chunk of metal on the way down or launching head-first off my bike and smashing my head into a curb. I’ve required stitches enough times to realize my skin is like a fabric, my nonchalance during the process making physicians ask, “Can you feel anything?”
Over the years, my 5-10 frame carried various amounts of weight in nearly an 80 pound range. While I definitely struggled with self-worth and confidence at many points along the way, I never thought I dealt with body image issues.
Did thinking I was big save me from outlandish expectations of what I thought I should look like?
I assumed that perfect people, like the models on Seventeen magazine, were born that way and I was born big. This was the hand I was dealt; I would never look perfect, so why obsess about it?
Food wasn’t an issue growing up. There was always something to eat in our home and my mom was a home ec teacher who read labels and cooked meals. Diets weren’t something on which you went, diets were a combination of your overall food choices. We did have cookies, birthday cakes, and ice cream for treats. I don’t remember anyone at home ever making a comment about what I ate. We had family meals, so we were all eating the same things.
Moments of insanity and clarity came along the way.
Big backfired at times. Big people can drink more. The ability to drink 18 cans of beer in a night was something only a big person like me could do, right?
Drinking like that isn’t so great for the waist line, but when you’re big, it doesn’t really matter.
It all converged into this mess of one very unhappy young woman who yo-yoed up and down with her mood, her weight, and her consumption with a variety of substances.
Senior year of college was my heaviest point. When I would ride the wave of wanting to drink less, I would just substitute something else. Food was the easiest option—more socially acceptable than smoking and cheaper than drugs. There was a lot of eating in the car that year, secret drive-thru trips were the trade-off for a dozen gins.
Flash forward a couple years to standing by a pool table with some friends at Pappadox, a local bar, during my first real attempt at complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs. (“Real attempt” is said with complete sincerity, though I was still spending some time in bars—that’s where my people were.) I was thin at the time. I worked, worked out, smoked cigarettes, drank soda, and ate when I remembered.
A friend of a friend was checking me out, a rarity for a big girl like me, but I liked to wear short shorts and tank tops that summer since I’d lost some weight. I wasn’t the biggest anymore! The dude was maybe 5-7 and nothing to write home about, so I found the whole situation slightly amusing until he said, “You’d be about perfect if you lost 10 pounds,” and poked me in the side.
He awkwardly laughed as I stared at him.
Still in the business of worrying about being nice, I just stared at him.
I weighed 131 pounds and had visible ribs.
Lots of people told me I looked great that summer. I flirted with the idea that I might look okay, but I was scared shitless because I was trying to be sober, so alcohol, the go-to solution was out of the picture. Food, the second-tier solution, would make be bigger again.
And I was still big in my mind.
Reasoning that big was better than bigger, booze was back in a quick order that fall.
The fucked-up relationship wasn’t with booze, food, or any substance. It was with myself. For years, being big (and tough) was a shield to protect me from letting myself be vulnerable with any of you humans. To a certain degree, it still is. If we were in the Peanuts cartoon, I act like Lucy, but I am Charles all the way, overthinking everything with my best friend the dog at my side.