On Being Extra

I struggle with my weight. I always have. The first time I can remember thinking that I was fat was when I was nearly four years old. I was at K-Mart with my mom and she was thumbing though the sales rack of the children’s section, and I was hiding in between the circular display. I did this a lot as a kid. In fact, most of the memories I have of shopping with my mother involve her frantically looking for me, after I had wedged myself inside a self-made shelter of some kind. Clothing display racks, toilet paper piles, I even once hid for an entire shopping trip in the bottom of the cart under an empty box. I’m sure my therapist has some stuff to say about that, but let’s save that for another day.

So there I was, inside the actual rack of clothes, standing completely still, watching my mother’s feet go around and around the rack, when I heard a familiar voice approach. It was a woman who my mother knew. Not so much a friend, more like a friend of a friend. I knew her enough to recognize her voice, but still couldn’t remember her name. They exchanged pleasantries, then my mom remarked that she was looking for some new summer clothes for me. The woman offered to help and started thumbing through the rack too. A couple moments passed and she held up an outfit. This was the 80s, mind you, and outfits at K-Mart in the 80s came in two pieces. Shirts with matching shorts. How about this one, the woman asked my mother. My mother told the woman that it was too small. She went on to tell the woman that I was a size 6X. This was the first time that I heard a letter associated with a size of clothing. The woman gasped. She’s not even in preschool yet, right? The woman wondered aloud. Right, my mom said. She’s four this September. Then my mother politely excused herself and called for me. I emerged from my cocoon of clothes and the woman looked very surprised, but she smiled and waved us goodbye. That night I asked my much older, much cooler sister what the X meant in 6X. She said it meant “extra large,” and thus began my journey into being extra.

The thing is, I wasn’t always an extra large, but even when I wasn’t I still felt like it. In elementary school, for example, fifth grade, I was well into adult sizes, but not anywhere near extra large. Middle school, I was still clocking in at a medium or large. But compared to the other girls I was always Extra. Always. Even in high school, on the track team, working out five to seven days a week, limiting my calories, I was still an extra large compared to the other girls. Everything about me was just bigger. Except of course, my confidence.

By college, however, I was definitely into extra. A few years later, double extra. And now, here at this moment, the absolute most extra I have ever been, having just come off whacked-out hormones from a hysterectomy, pills that made me pack on the pounds, and a killer case of the blues. Extra, extra, extra.

I’m fat. I don’t try to hide it, how can I? It’s not like a mental illness that you can cover up with alcohol or self-sabotage. It’s a physical condition. I don’t need to tell people I’m fat, they meet me and can see it for themselves. What really chaps my ass though, is when people assume I like being fat, or that I am not actively trying. I’m trying. I’m always trying. And please don’t mistake me for one of those fat girls who feels good in her skin, because I am not. I LOVE Lizzo, I think she’s incredible and beautiful, but I don’t have her confidence. I don’t have her ability to feel comfortable at the weight I am at. I don’t have other talents that take the pressure off my appearence. I’m just a normal girl, in a normal fat-shaming world, trying to get by. (But I’m super grateful for the big girls out there shaping the way we talk about ourselves and see ourselves as women, because some days I really need it!) It’s just that I have always been extra large, and well, you do get used to it.

This isn’t a diatribe. This isn’t a “feel sorry for me post,” I don’t write those. Nor is this a “light a fire under my ass and start eating healthy” post. I eat healthy. That’s the thing. I have a kid, a kid who is genetically predisposed to being extra, so I work really hard to make sure he is not, and that includes leading by example. But something isn’t right in my body, it hasn’t been for many moons now, particularly after pregnancy, and trauma, and I’m working to get that worked out. It’s just a process, a really long, daunting process.

And the thing is, this isn’t a “fewer calories in, more calories out” fix. Believe me, I’ve tried that. This is deeper than “Keto” or a “30-day cleanse”, as it is for most of us who were always extra. It’s a process. You don’t got from the little girl who hides in clothing racks because she is afraid of people, to suddenly grown up one day and not having any issues. That’s not a thing. My mental health affects my physical health. That is true for all of us. And it can take decades to rectify.

I’m just here to say, don’t quit trying. That’s all. I see you. You are not lazy. You are educated on what you are putting into your body. You are trying to get your mental health under control. You are trying to figure out what makes you tic. How your hormones work. What insulin resistance looks like. How past trauma is holding you back. I see you, and I think you are doing a great job.

As for the little three year old who wore a 6X, she’s okay. She will be okay. One foot in front of the other.

❤️

M.

Hey, It’s Jackson!

Walking down the hall of my kid’s school with him, is like walking on stage with a rock star. Seriously. Since he was in kindergarten it has been this way. In kindergarten he was popular because he walked with an air of confidence. He was one of the few kids that went into school knowing how to read. He could read. He could write. He could color inside the lines. But above all else, my kid was confident. He didn’t cry on the first day like I did in kindergarten. He didn’t watch, misty-eyed as we walked out the door and left him behind with Ms. Gamble. Instead, he sat at attention. He helped the girl in front of him line up correctly. He volunteered to lead the line. He took Mrs. Turner’s hand and walked into the unknown with a smile on his face. And well, it is still the same today.

I was scared for a little while. When we moved him in the middle of third grade, I was terrified. We moved from a rural area in North Carolina into a school system that was very different than where we had been. He had been at a public school, an “A” public school, where 98% of the kids looked like him, and talked like him, and came from the upper ranks of the socioeconomic tiers. His new school was a STEM school. But it was also an urban charter school where he was a minority.

But by the end of third grade he had friends in every classroom. He knew all the teachers’ names. They all knew his. Fourth grade teachers already knew about him. Fifth grade teachers already knew about him. The Gifted teacher was eager to get her hands on him. In short, he did just fine with the transition. And then we moved in the middle of fourth grade.

We hadn’t planned on this, of course. Truth be told, we were hoping to stay in Charlotte until middle school at least. Hoping he would only know two elementary schools. Two I could deal with. But three? We scoped out his new elementary school the day we signed the papers on the new house. He wasn’t with us. Jerimiah and I came alone that day. We walked in not knowing what to expect. We hadn’t heard the best things about Atlanta’s schools, but then again, we were coming from Charlotte, so it kinda felt like home.

Turns out we made the right choice. His new school is a public school in DeKalb County. It isn’t an “A” school, but it doesn’t have to be, because it is an IB school. It is a STEM school. He isn’t a minority, but not all the kids look like him or speak like him. They have a Spanish immersion class. They have art, and music, and sports. It is a heck of a lot different than anything we have known, yet it’s exactly the same.

I walked Jackson to class yesterday to have a quick chat with is teacher. We are headed out of town tomorrow and he is going to miss a test. I wanted to make sure he would be allowed to make it up, and yes he will be. While we were walking down the halls of this fairly new school (this is his third week of classes) it all felt very familiar.

“Hey Jackson!” and “Jackson Goodnight!” and “Good morning, Jackson” rang out all around us. Teachers, administrators, second graders. They all know Jackson. The janitor gave him a high five. A kindergartener said, “Hey, it’s Jackson!” and pointed. To hear him tell the story, though, you’d think no one knows him, well until he digs in.

Jackson isn’t special just because he walks with an air of confidence, he’s special because he is friendly. He is kind. Turns out that kindergartner was wearing a shirt with a car on it one day, and Jackson walked up to him and said, “Wow, I like your shirt! I love cars too.” The kindergartner blushed and said, “Thanks.”

When Jackson meets the janitor in the hallways, he tells her “Thanks, you know, for picking up after us and keeping the bathrooms clean.”

When Jackson met the Assistant Principal he said, “I really like what you’ve done with the place.”

When Jackson met the STEM teacher he said, “I love STEM and am so excited about your class.”

When Jackson met the music teacher he said, “I’m not a very good singer, but one day I’ll probably have a record deal.” Well, he’s still a little confident.

The point is, Jackson notices people. He notices their hard work. Their dedication. Their cool style. And he says something, something nice. He gives a compliment. He doesn’t expect anything back. He just wants them to know he likes them, or he respects them, or they have crossed his mind. And that is what garners attention from people. From kids and adults. Kindness. Confidence. Vulnerability.

I guess today I am wishing to be a little more like my kid. A little more kind to everyone I meet. A little more confident. A little more vulnerable. To really put myself out there. I think maybe it would serve us all well to be this way from time to time. You never know, when you leave a room someone might just be saying your name in awe as well.

Here’s to being more like Jackson!

M.