“Wow, Alice! You look…different. I hardly recognized you!” exclaims high school acquaintance that I haven’t seen in 10 years. The snarky part of me wants to reply, “Oh, what looks different? Is it that my hair is turning gray, or THE FACT THAT I’M ALMOST 40 POUNDS HEAVIER SINCE THE LAST TIME YOU SAW ME?” But I don’t. I just ask about their job, their new baby, whatever to get the conversation off of my big ol’ booty.
Just like over half of the population, I’ve gained some weight since 17. I was 90 pounds when I graduated from high school, went down to 80 pounds when my friend died during my first year of college, and hit 100 when I graduated from college. I was a skinny Minnie.
My life has changed a lot since then. I’m not doing martial arts year-round anymore. I spend a ton of time at my desk doing graduate work, and I work a full time job. It is really hard to find time to go to the gym like I should. Sometimes all I want to do is come home from work and watch TV for hours. I can’t squeeze by thunder thighs and the aforementioned booty in my size 0 brand-name jeans. My face is rounder, my boobs are bigger, and my stomach is close to having stretch marks. I found my first gray hair at 25 and I’ve run out of fingers to count the ones I’ve found since then. My arms that used to be so thin now jiggle when I wave at people. They chafe if I don’t wear the right clothes to the gym. Lots of things chafe if I don’t wear the right clothes, period. My miniskirts and key-hole tank tops have been replaced with forgiving jeans and flowing shirts that flatter my new frame.
But here’s the thing – I’m so much happier and healthier.
The strange thing about gaining all of this weight is that I can run faster and longer than I could when I was training 6 days a week. I swim laps at the pool for longer than I ever could in my youth. When I go to Zumba, I might jiggle more than I did in my early 20’s. but I am more joyful when I dance. I have more stamina now than I did when I actually looked good in yoga pants. I exercise when the mood strikes me, and I have a lot more fun now than I did when I was in amazing shape.
And the best part is, I’m happier. I know that is so odd – I no longer have the cute little figure that used to attract the male gaze. Little gray hairs are mixed in with my curly brown hair. Sometimes, a student pats my stomach and asks, “There’s a baby in there, isn’t there, Mrs. Thompson?” and I have to reassure them that there is just pizza and chicken wings in my belly. Sometimes these things bother me, I am human, after all. Sometimes I cry when I can’t fit into something that fit 2 years ago. Sometimes I think about dyeing my hair. Sometimes I go through spells that I go to the gym 7 days a week, only to catch some kind of stomach bug that gets me out of the gym and I go back to the same old Alice. Sometimes I think about starving myself, sometimes I actually starve myself. Sometimes I sit on the dressing room floor and cry when it’s time to shop for a swimsuit (although I ROCK a one piece). I’m not there yet, but I’m trying really hard not to let these things get to me. Gaining weight and getting old has made me search for happiness in other things besides my appearance.
Overall, though, I’m mentally a better person. I’m more concerned with being a good wife, teacher, and human than I am with being sexy. While the old Alice used to look down on overweight people at the gym, the new Alice minds her beeswax unless it is to encourage someone else. The old Alice used to pass out when she wouldn’t eat for a few days because her clothes felt a little too tight. The new Alice is aware of her mental and physical state and seeks help when she needs it. The new Alice knows she has depression and does things to help herself. The old Alice used to think that being pretty was a substitute for being a mental basket case. I look for clothes that flatter the figure I have now, instead of looking back on what used to be. My husband loves my curves and has taught me to love them too. I’ve learned to take pleasure in swimming and running at my own pace than the likes my post-gym selfies got. I love knowing the pain I feel in my arms after doing laps for an hour and a half is because I worked hard. I don’t even look in the mirror when I put on my swimsuit anymore, because I know that even though the reflection in the mirror is going to be a chubby woman, the chubby woman in the mirror looking back at me is strong, kind, and has a beautiful heart.
I know the world tells me I need to be thin, that I need to lose some weight to be healthy. I just don’t care anymore. We needs to stop telling people they need to be a size 0 in order to be happy. We need to find peace in order to be happy. I’m working on finding mine, and sometimes, my happiness is at the bottom of a large bowl of peanut butter ice cream.