I turned 40 last Thursday. And I realized that I've wasted half of my life.
Don't get me wrong-I'm not saying that my life has been a waste. I have been blessed beyond anything I could've dreamed. I'm married to a wonderful man who loves me in spite of my faults. We have two fabulous children who are walking miracles, and a loving extended family. I'm enjoying a second career as a writer, and I am still amazed by how fun it is. My husband works hard so that I can be home with our children and teach them myself. I have the dearest friends, a comfortable home, and while I may not live in the lap of luxury, I have all I need, and more. I have a really awesome life.
But what I have wasted time on, and what I hope to redeem in my remaining years on this planet, is a deep-seated hatred of my body. I know I'm not alone in this, because it's not only my thick girlfriends who share similar feelings about themselves. Young women with figures to envy have expressed sincere terror at the thought of wearing a swimsuit in public.
I cannot possibly, in this small space, delve into all the reasons that we do this to ourselves, or why this just shouldn't be. But I am using this forum to announce to everyone-most loudly to myself-that I am officially quitting the image game.
My 40th birthday present to myself is the decision to stop hating this well-padded, curvy, faithful body that has carried me well thus far. It never deserved such abuse.
There is a theory floating around that every woman has some type of eating disorder. I'm inclined to believe it based on what I've seen in the lives of the women I know.
I have never been free from issues with food. I was a chubby little girl who was given her first diet book at age 11. I became a thin adolescent only through the power of self-hatred-driven bulimia. But as adulthood dawned, genes and an endocrine disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome trumped the bulimic tendencies and the weight began to pile on.
There are no naturally thin branches on my family tree. My ancestors come from hearty stock, with every blood relative falling somewhere between "overweight" and "morbidly obese." The skinny folks are only there by marriage, reflected in my own husband and children. One child is thin because he inherited my husband's body type. The other is stocky because he inherited mine. Same household, same diet, often the same exact foods, portion sizes and activity level, and still-one boy gains weight while the other stays the same.
If shame, judgment and well-meaning diet advice were enough to make a person thin, I'd be a walking skeleton by now. Indeed, there would be no fat people anywhere if shaming people into thinness were all it took. I've lost count of all the ways that others have made me feel bad about myself. And I am tired of feeling embarrassed by who I am.
So, the second half of my life is not going to be spoiled by this fruitless pursuit of thinness as I fatten the pockets of every diet guru out there. It is going to be marked by the pursuit of health. If I happen to lose a few pounds along the way, fine. If not, I have finally reached the place where I am OK with that, too.
So when you see me happily digging into summer's bountiful produce, don't praise me for my "good food choices." There aren't many foods as delicious as crisp cucumbers and sweet, garden-fresh tomatoes. There is nothing virtuous about eating them. Likewise, when I decide I want a cheeseburger, don't "tsk-tsk" and assume that I am stupid, lazy or just don't care about myself. What goes into my mouth is my business, and sometimes a body craves the protein, iron and fat in a good hunk of beef.
I hate to say it, because women really like to talk about this stuff, but could we drop the incessant chatter about dieting? We are beautiful, multi-dimensional creatures who should define ourselves beyond what we did or didn't eat today, what diet we're on, or how great life could be if we had gastric bypass surgery.
And yes, I have researched weight loss surgery for myself. Every obese person I know has looked into it. People should respect the fact that what we've learned has given many of us very good reasons to run from the knife.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently printed an article entitled "You can be hefty but still healthy: New study reveals stereotypes about body size can be misleading." It provides evidence that overweight people can be healthier than their thin counterparts. Of course, this goes against all we've been taught.
I'm subscribing to the paradigm of "Health at Every Size" or HAES. It's about eating nourishing food in portions determined by natural hunger and fullness signals, enjoying the gift of exercise, getting enough rest, and celebrating life. It's a radical change of attitude from obsessing about weight, to the free pursuit of health and self-acceptance.
Because I refuse to continue internalizing society's message that we're worthless unless we're thin. Every soul housed in every body on this planet has immeasurable value. We only get one life, one body in which to live it. I say it's high time we begin to love what we've got.
Kari Apted may be reached at email@example.com.