July 28, 2011
There’s an elephant in the room. It’s a pink elephant wearing a sparkling tiara, dancing a jig and doing everything it can to be noticed. It follows me everywhere I go 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It sleeps in my bed, sits at my table, and shares my office. I try to ignore it, yet it refuses to go away. My family ignores it too, probably because they are too used to it. Why? Well, because that pink elephant wearing a sparkling tiara and dancing a jig is me.
You see, once upon a time I was a chubby child. I was often reminded of my chubbiness by well-meaning people in my life who thought it was important to remind the painfully shy chubby child that she was not like the others. With puberty I grew slightly taller and my weight shifted and settled in nicely. But the chubby-child self-image that had been ingrained in me never went away. My weight stayed under control until I got married. A sedentary lifestyle and two children later I blinked and the weight crept up, and up, and out, and all about. Before I even realized what happened I was twice the size, literally, than I was on my wedding day. The ironic thing is now that I am truly overweight by every standard known to medical science and the government, my self-image is that of the slim, twenty-something college co-ed, wearing a sparkling tiara and dancing a jig. That is, until I look in a mirror and the chubby child returns and deflates my spirit like a fallen soufflé.
Reality set in a long time ago, but a recent trip to Ohio to visit my oldest friend and travelling partner shoved reality in my face. I haven’t been on a plane in about six years. Somewhere in that time did Delta make the seatbelts shorter? They must have because mine would not fit. I thought about sitting there quietly and covering the two loose ends with my hands to fool the flight attendant. Then I thought about what would happen if the plane crashed. Could I hold onto the seatbelt for dear life whilst plummeting to my fiery doom? The image of myself floating with my legs in the air and holding onto the two ends of the seatbelt was clear in my mind when the flight attendant came up to hand me an extender. Mortification, humiliation, degradation…these words cannot describe how low I felt at that moment. I was so troubled I wouldn’t even eat the tiny airplane pretzels and drank only water.
I have hidden myself away for the past fourteen plus years as my body grew to a plus, plus size. It was easier for me to fade into the background than to deal with what I had become. It was easier to skip the parties and reunions than to chance running into someone I had not seen in years. That’s the harshest part…seeing someone and have them not recognize me. And then the double-take, the literal step-back only to have them say something like, “oh, you changed your hair”. No thank you, I’d rather sit at home and hold onto the two ends of the seatbelt.
Somehow throughout all this time I have managed to stay out of most photographs. I try to be the one behind the camera whenever the occasion arises. But with the dawn of Facebook, this has become harder and harder. Any gathering of two or more people entices the snapping of photographs and mobile uploads. I choose pretty flowers or vintage photos of myself for profile pictures so old friends from the past can’t see the present me. Then someone will tag me! I quickly un-tag and hope it was not seen by too many.
This is not a pity party. I’m ready to come clean and say, “here I am, world, love me or leave me”. The truth is I don’t want to stay at home any longer. I want to get out there, have friends, and have a social life. I want to wear the sparkling tiara and dance a jig without huffing and puffing. More importantly, I want to be healthy. I don’t want to go into my next decade dragging my feet and moaning and groaning over back pain, foot pain, and joint pain. I am so ready to evict the pink elephant, steal her sparkling tiara and send her dancing away forever. I have just got to figure out how to do it. Surgery is out, I can’t afford it. No, this has to be something I do on my own for myself and for reasons that are pleasing to only me. One step at a time is all I can do. One step back from the pantry and baby steps around the walking track. A new adventure for me, I say. Anyone care to join me?