“Tabitha, please don’t gain weight. I do not like fat women.” At the age of twenty-one, weighing 130lbs, soaking wet, the words of my fiancé seemed foreign and held no significance. I was unsure why, on a Saturday evening, on a long-distance call, my fiancé decided to warn me against something that did not exist. His words went into one ear and out the other.
Throughout the next few years, as I navigated through college courses and balancing a long-distance relationship, I steadily gained weight. And this message stated to me at 21-years old, was repeated several times, for several years thereafter.
I married young, with false beliefs and fantastical dreams about marriage. Living in the “day-to-day” and the “ins and outs” with my husband, I was rudely awakened by the truth. Marriage was not all roses, sweet dreams, and happily ever afters. It was hard work, dedication, commitment, and at times, disappointments, and pain. The revelation was an attack to my spirit and to my mental stability. I was not prepared for the arguments, silent rejection, and emotional distancing. I was not prepared for the loneliness and tears.
When my heart hurt and I needed comfort, I turned to food. I ate and cried. I ate and prayed. I ate and was soothed. Tears tempered and pain assuaged. It was for the moment because my marriage was permanent. 27 years later, more than a 100lbs heavier, through weight loss and gains, I still struggle.
I’ve struggled with extreme loneliness. Moments where the disconnect was so strong, my body ached for emotional and physical contact. I cried out for relief. Yet, the only immediate relief was food. It was satisfying and fulfilling. It provided an immediate gratification, but it was not a permanent gratification. And each day that I fed my loneliness with food, my waist grew, and my weight increased. Eventually I became consumed with guilt. Looking in the mirror I saw a stranger. Reflected in that stranger’s eyes was self-doubt and shame. And my first instinct was to reach for my old friend who provides me comfort-food.
I knew food was the cause for my weight gain. Something I viewed as my friend was actually my enemy. Every extra bite was an extra pound. And every extra tear, leads to an extra bite. I was on a vicious cycle, and I did not want to get off it. I knew logically that food was not the enemy; it was the overeating and the poor food choices that was the problem. Every time I decided to “cut back,” “eat healthier,” or go on a diet, I grew anxious, I became sad, and I mourned the possibility of the loss of my friend.
What is this juxtaposition? How can the very thing I see as my friend be my enemy? How can lifting the spoon to my mouth be the cause of my shame, my guilt, and my negative body image. How can so much emotional and mental agony come from the simple act of satisfying this endless ache in my heart?
Somewhere in between the arguments, disappointments, tears, and endless years, I lost touch with loving me. I lost touch with my inner beauty. Instead of seeking family and friends for support and understanding, I turned to quietly indulge in steak, potatoes, fries, grease, and sodas. And I still remain alone and lonely.
At 52 years old, I ask a modified version of a proverbial question as I stare at my reflection in the mirror, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who am I and am I loved?” Of course, the mirror does not respond but I smile, nonetheless. This time the answer is clear. I am loved just as I am.
It has taken years to understand that I don’t need food to feel good. Daily positive self-talk, positive affirmations, and prayer helps me build up my confidence and emotional strength. Each day I release the negative thoughts and recite positive affirmations. I have made new friends and gained added support and opened up my heart to share myself with others. I am no longer ashamed to admit that this is hard work, I am not perfect, but I am beautiful.
I leave you with this poem:
My Naked Glory
I stand before you in all my naked glory Here I am exposed to you Vulnerable and shameless I present myself with open arms for you To take me as I am Look at me and remember the journey of this body Trace the battle scars that show a life filled with victorious defeats of challenges confronted Kiss the wounds that have healed but represent a painful story Gaze upon the stretch marks that symbolize the many times I lost and gained weight and bore the children I have Gently touch the laugh lines that are etched deeply in my face representing the joy I’ve experienced throughout the years Use your hands to lift the heavy asymmetrical breasts that nourished my kids Lay your hands across the pudgy belly that carried my children for 10 months Trace the varicose veins that resemble a river up my legs Standing here arms open to you and for you I am no longer ashamed
I am beautiful and I am loved.
Written By - Tabitha Gaffney
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