In second grade, my class sold enough wrapping paper and trinkets to win a pool party at our local rec center. The evening after that announcement, I made my mom stop about a half mile from our house so I could walk home and hopefully lose enough weight to not feel so bad in my one piece. It didn’t work. I wore a t-shirt over my swimsuit, and I scouted a spot as close to the pool as possible so I could jump into and get out of the water without being seen. I was eight years old.
In fourth grade, one of my classmates threw away a pack of sour candy straws. I yelled across the room that it was a waste, he should have asked if anyone wanted them before tossing. My intentions were not to beg the straws away from him, simply to offer them to someone who might have wanted them. I remember his retort clearly: “Of course you’d want them. You’re fat.” My cousin, also a classmate, jumped into his face and told him to shut up. This was not the first (or the last) time my cousin would come to my rescue because of hurtful words said about my weight.
I have vivid memories of standing in line in elementary and middle school, waiting to be weighed. Mercifully, the PE instructors would let me go last so no one would be in the room to see my weight. In junior high, the instructor wasn’t so gracious. She announced my weight, a solid 50 pounds heavier than all the other girls, to everyone in the locker room. I can still feel the sting of whispers as those girls conferred with one another about this shocking number and, I assume, how happy they were to not be that heavy themselves. I also remember the sinking feeling I experienced as I realized just how heavy the shame of my weight was. I was 13 years old.
When you’ve been overweight your entire life (or at least the portion of your life you remember), feeling scared, embarrassed, ashamed, or disgusted come with the territory. At least they have for me. I’ve spent much of my life running from my weight, hiding behind jokes and jabs, trying to be one step ahead of everyone’s taunts.
The pain of those earlier experiences and others like them is so vivid I still get upset today when I recall them. I’ve felt that anxiety many times over since the walk home and the locker room shaming. It’s come when I’ve assumed a guy didn’t like me because of my size or a potential employer wouldn’t want to hire me as the face of their company. It’s happened when the stylist’s chair at my favorite salon was just a little too tight and when I had to lag behind my friends as we climbed to the top of a European cathedral. It’s pressed itself upon me as I stood in front of a mirror, examining and hating every square inch of my body, wishing for a magical potion or spell that could rid me of this fat that didn’t match the dream I had for myself. I’ve felt that anxiety as recently as today, while writing this post, fearful that the friends who read it will think my size is worthy of shame.
It isn’t that I’m still hurting from those experiences, though I am sure on some level I am. Instead, the anxiety is, I think, the result of wishing I could help the 8-, 10- and 13-year-old versions of me know that their self-worth is not tied up in a number on a scale or what people say about them.
What I wish I could tell those younger Kimberlys—and what I repeat to myself daily—is that the number on the scale is not who I am. That number isn’t a reflection of me as a person, and it certainly doesn’t determine my worth as a person who is worthy of love, friendship, admiration, and respect. Some days it sinks in. Some days it does not.
Instead, my weight is just a temporary fact about my life right now. That number is the result of everything I’ve done, good or bad. Lately, the number has made me feel good: I’ve lost 65 pounds in the last 20 months, 15 of those coming in the last 3 months after a long, drawn-out plateau.
Mixed in with those good days, though, are bad days—days the number creeps up despite all the hard work and effort I’m giving at the gym, all the meal planning and cooking I’m doing. Those days are hard, I won’t lie. But, as I said, those feelings and that number are just temporary facts in a much longer, much better story.
That’s the story I hope you’re reading today. Whether you’re looking to start a brand-new healthy-living plan or if you’re looking for inspiration to recommit to one you’ve found yourself sliding away from thanks to all the holiday temptations (seriously, someone get the peanut butter balls out of my house already!), I hope you know that the beauty of your story is that your weight is not your worth. Your weight does not determine who you are. Your weight does not define your days, good or bad. And when you find yourself sad or upset or frustrated, say these words to yourself, “This number is not my forever.” Then get back out there and make tomorrow better—for today you, for future you, and for the second grade version of you that doesn’t want anyone to see her in a swimsuit.
More of My Weight-Loss Journey:
- If You Hate Your Diet, You’re Doing It All Wrong
- I’m a Big Girl. I Run. So What?
- Whose Fault Is It That I’m Overweight?