Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The History of a Body.

Women are strange. Let me explain. I am perfectly happy with who I am and what I have accomplished in my life so far. The things I still want to accomplish I am making confident strides in the right directions most of the time. I am confident and cool (in a highly dorky way) and intelligent.

Yet, none of this changes the fact that when I find out some girl I don't really like all that much is 20kgs lighter than me, I want to crawl under a rock and die.

I have resisted discussing weight at length on this blog. One reason is that it exposes you to all kinds of horrible personal attacks. Or worse, sounds like a plea for compliments. When I talk about it, I can be negative, and it usually puts me in a foul mood. Especially living in a country where if you're over 60kgs (or 132 lbs), you're expected to just give up on life until you are skinny again. What's a much-closer-to-80kg gal to do?

Ironically, Korea has been pretty good for my body image. Apart from taekwondo and the confidence that's building (and the weight it's caused me to lose), I've kind of accepted the fact that I'm just built exceptionally differently than Korean women. But it also just sort of toughens you up. I'm also really healthy here. Between dance, taekwondo, all the walking I do from not owning a vehicle, and now running, I get about 15 or more hours of activity a week. Apart from some ice cream or frothy coffee beverages here and there (that I'm trying to cut out now) I eat really healthy--lots of veggies and fruits and tofu and stuff.

However, I'd be lying if I said I was content with mere health (though I know I should be). Like any red-blooded American gal, a big part of me wants to be thin. I want to turn heads. I hate the girls who weigh half what I do and chow down on pizza and cupcakes and shit and never look at the gym and will never gain a pound. Even if I love them, I hate them.

Anyhow, so you can understand where all of these complicated, obnoxious, contradictory emotions come from, I will detail my struggle with weight through my life and where I am today:

Part One: The formative years.

My body was born to parents who cared more for ideas than for practicalities. Each nursed their own psychological and physiological experiences that led them to prize things of a more theoretical and scientific than physical and visceral nature. As such, though tiny and active, my young body developed monstrous eating habits, such as consuming an entire large cheese pizza in a single sitting (Dad quipped that I must have an "empty leg"). These habits would prove disastrous when my metabolism became less hyperactive.

(To be fair to my parents, who do both suffer serious health and weight problems that they address as best they can, their proclivity for the more cerebral nurtured my young self in intellectual and ethical ways that all the broccoli and treadmilling in the world could not replace--and I am ever grateful for it.)

Part Two: Puberty.

My body woke up one morning and none of the pants that fit the night before could slide over my now stretch-marked, wide-boned hips. Now, not only was I the weird social outcast of the fifth grade because I read and talked to the teachers and didn't know the latest music and clothing trends, but I was taller and curvier than all the other girls. I responded to this change (and the accompanying social ostracization) by slouching and eating. Eating a lot. Like a 20 piece chicken nugget order with super size fries from McDonald's as an after school snack kind of "lot." I stopped being as active because I was embarrassed by the way the new lumps on my chest flopped around and by how unused to my new form that I was. By the end of middle school, I was about 5'6" and a slightly chubby 150ish lbs.

Part Three: High school.

I decided that my body would not be permitted to begin high school that fat. That summer I limited my daily calorie intake to 500 and began to work out at the gym, requiring myself to burn a minimum of 500 calories according to the machines. This was not a diet--it was disordered eating. Over the summer I grew another inch and got down to 125 lbs. I have one picture from that time. I look sick and skeletal.

A few weeks before high school started, my mother said, "Wow, Diana! You've lost so much weight. If you lose that last 10 lbs, you'll really look incredible." I know she intended this as kindness. My mom also had disordered eating in high school. This back-handed compliment made me realize I was trying to please people that would never be pleased in this way. Ever. I gave up the "diet," though I tried not to pig out as much as I had in middle school. My body evened out to between 140-145lbs for the next two years.

Part Four: Psychotropic adventures and depression.

Sometime junior year of high school, my mental state went seriously downhill. I was put on some antidepressants and a bunch of other stuff happened that I don't care to share with you at this time. Needless to say I don't remember all that much from my last two years of high school, and quite frankly, I don't care to. I graduated 5'9" (my current height) and 235lbs. No kidding.

That summer I got back into exercise--yoga and walking, mostly, because they were about all I could manage at that weight--but I still ate like shit.

Part Five: College and vegetarianism.

My first year of college had ups and downs--as any good first year of college should. I hated being out of shape and fat, but it wasn't until that summer when I worked with my dad and saw the seriously negative ways that his lifestyle choices were wreaking havoc on his health that I got scared. Whoa--that could be me if I keep this shit up. So I got smart.

Actually, I had started considering vegetarianism during my senior year of high school when one of my friends did a huge research paper on factory farming. Once I took an ethics class in college where I was forced to reconcile the fact that as a limited human being, I do not practice my beliefs as actively as I would like. I decided to go for it. I started doing nutrition research and learned a whole lot that summer. I also started walking almost daily. During college I lost about 50 lbs and have pretty much kept it off since then.

Part Six: Post college, teaching and relationships.

Since college, I've noticed that my health is often an indicator of how happy I am--meaning that if I'm taking care of myself and closer to the lower end of the 170-190lbs I've vacillated between since graduation, then I'm probably pretty happy and regularly active. If I'm unhappy, I can swing a bit in the other direction.

However, what remains is this last 20lbs or so I have left to be truly "normal."

What has stopped me from losing it? Because I know I probably could if I focused on it.

When I lost the fifty, I went from invisible to noticed. And it was nice, but it was also scary. I spent a lot of time wondering if the same people who were now my "friends" (not to mention "boyfriends") would be if they had known me when there was a little more of me. I wasn't entirely sure. Especially about men (they are largely a fickle, shallow, superficial lot; easily swayed by the visual--sadly, this is often true of even the really good ones). I had one charming fellow explain that looks may only be 10% of the relationship, but they are the FIRST 10% for most guys.

In some ways these last 20lbs protect me. I know that if a guy likes me when I'm a little heavier than ideal, then he really likes ME, not some idealized image of my beauty.

The other reason is that it's taken me this long (yes, it's been about 9 years since I lost the weight) to realize I don't still weigh 230+ lbs. Once you classify yourself as fat, it's hard to think about yourself in any other light. And the closer I get to "normal" the more I feel like little differences in weight seem to be some kind of regular girl hierarchy (fat girls don't think "oh, she's 10lbs less fat than me, so I hate her" but skinny girls seem to. I don't get it, although I've started, I hate to admit, thinking this way sometimes--as noted above). I don't like the pettiness of all of it.

Plus, I think I'm scared. And I don't want to tell anyone I'm scared.

But I don't want to be anymore.

I like how I feel when I run and dance and jump, and I can do those things better if I lose the weight. And dammit, I want to be hot. Not just cute or pretty or funny or nice, but HOT.

So when I casually mention that I'm working on losing weight or I'm down a kilogram or two, know that there's a lot more at stake there than I'm writing about. But I'm guessing, if you're a woman, you already knew that without me having to tell you.


  1. word on the street is that i got into the foreign language high school. i hope you get in with me so we can be office neighbors.

    i will help you lose those last stubborn pounds. every time you eat, i'll yell at you, and after you eat something i'll shove you in a toilet stall. that's the way god intended for us to lose weight. get with the program.

    oh, and what's your summer schedule like?


  2. william-- I hope that's true; if so, congrats! I met the principal the other day--he's very sweet, though his English pretty much sucks.

    Oh, and I don't hate my body enough to be anorexic. I'd rather stay overweight than starve, but I will participate in healthy activities to promote weight loss!

    Summer--crazy schedule. Intensive classes in mornings, regular working to 10 at nights--hence why I'm switching out of the hakwon scene. However, Aug 15, 1, and July 30, 31 are holidays. Last day of work is Aug 21 or 22. Also I have weekends. Except this one b/c of Kirsty's wedding and my dance show. Call me or something.

    Thanks. Thought seriously about deleting it about five minutes after posting, but I think I'm gonna keep it.

  3. You're right!!!! I think a lot of us women feel the same way!!! Great job ;)



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