After 3 full days of wearing the same ensemble, I insisted that Miss J not only change her clothes, but also shower. After some mild but tricky negotiations, she finally submitted to my request (now an order) and returned with wet hair wrapped in a towel, wearing her fleece robe, the scent of body wash on her damp skin.
“Can I talk to you in private?” she asked in a quiet voice.
When we got to her room, she took a deep breath, burst into tears and said the four familiar words I’ve heard in my head for more than two decades and heard as friends complained out loud : I think I’m fat.
If you’re just recovering from pulling your jaw off the floor, you’re not alone. Not only is totally ridiculous from an objective standpoint as Miss J a healthy, growing, nearly 10-year old, but also because I had hoped that these inevitable critical shaming thoughts wouldn’t enter into our lives for at least another five years. I’d hoped. I was naively wrong.
I took a deep breath, stood very high on my imaginary soapbox and gave the speech. You are healthy. You have strong muscles. Strong bones. You are growing. It is your job to grow. That’s why we strive to eat healthy. That’s why we limit sugar. There are good kinds of fuel for your body, and not good kinds. You should be proud of your body and the things it can do….
And that’s when it hit me. I’m great at handing out advice – especially when it comes to self esteem issues – but not entirely great at taking it. So much of my satisfaction – and happiness – is tied to my confidence about how I’m feeling on the outside, not on the inside. And it’s been quite the roller coaster this year which after a grateful Stage 1 diagnosis, has largely focused on my outer appearance: I had lost weight before my CJ began, then had the bilateral mastectomy, then the delays and complications, hospitalizations, new medications which led to weight gain, then more surgeries, more nips and tucks, and ta-da 12 months later: I’m not only sporting two new breasts and two new nipples, but I’m also sporting some new pounds as well. Oh, goody!
And here’s the thing: my too-tight skinny jeans have been a constant and recurring reminder that I am, at present, Not in Shape. Like I needed a daily reminder! That voice in your head? The one that guides, instructs, warns, and validates? It also criticizes like a broken record: Must lose 15 lbs. Must unbutton top button of jeans. Must be grateful that yoga pants are an acceptable form of clothing out in the world.
[I’ll admit it – at first I showed signs of the ubiquitous yet bewildering phenomenon called Size Creep: That’s weird…these must have shrunk in the wash. I’ve never been this size before.]
Friends say to me: “Don’t be down on yourself, you’ve been through a lot,” and they’re right. I haven’t really been able to properly exercise for the last year, I’m still months away from returning to the tennis court, and now that I’ve nearly given up alcohol (my oncologist says no more than 2 drinks a week), I have very few vices left. There’s only one way to properly satisfy my need to self-medicate: through food.
[Hello Halloween candy!]
So when I Miss J shared her fears with me, (Turns out – that this was an insult that came from one of her brothers earlier in the day…I told her to relax, that they’d continue to insult her, and they’d only get more harsh with time….) a little part of my heart broke. How am I expected to give her advice? Me, the one with 6 surgeries and 7 hospital experiences in 12 months under her belt and a whole lot of unhappiness about The Way I Look Now. We are our own worst critics. I know that. But why?
So instead of making The Monday Diet Vow that I do every Sunday evening, I decided to make a different promise to myself this Sunday. I will try not to torture myself about the weight gain; I will try to show my daughter how to have a healthy attitude about her body; I will appreciate the things my body can do; I will be proud of my imperfections and battle scars.
And so while I’m talking the talk, I will be walking the walk – and taking the Intern with me, because after all, he likes walks.