Hi, I’m Sam and I am not happy with my body.
Big whoop. That makes me, what, 80% of the female population? What is weird I guess is how it started. I was not one of those teenagers with body issues. Nope. I happily sailed through teenage unaware of any weight issues whatsoever. I was never skinny, infact slightly on the rounder side of “just right”, and I was too busy coping with high school to spare a thought to how I looked. My Mother was a Science teacher in my all girls high school, famous as “strict”, and that kinda sums up my entire schooling experience. I even survived my first two years in a co-educational college during my higher secondary unscathed. It was just not something I thought about; my weight was the least of my concerns. My only bane was my chubby cheeks and my mother would keep insisting it was baby fat that would “fall off”. I now wish I was as self-confident as I was in college. I had boring long hair, wore glasses and was the only girl in the entire batch to wear a mekhela sador to class, and when I rode into the college on my sister’s hand me down scooter I felt unique and special rather than weird.
And then I moved out of my home to a hostel for my graduation and for the first time ever, I was on my own. I don’t really remember how it started or why it did, which means it was not a conscious effort, but within two months of living in the hostel I lost a lot of weight. The first time I went home from hostel everybody remarked at how slim I looked and if I had started dieting, and for the first time ever, I realised how good it felt when people noticed. From that moment on, I wasn’t the same. To keep up with my newly found slimness, I started consciously cutting back meals. I was never overweight to begin with, but after that trip I was obsessed with becoming skinny. From cutting back meals it moved on to skipping them altogether, until it came to the point where I had gone for three whole days without a proper meal. My system started revolting. Anytime I did eat anything, my tummy would ache and I would feel miserable and so I just stopped. Everyone around me asked me to eat, begged me to eat, made jokes about how it was a miracle anytime I ate but all I thought about was how my stomach was flatter than ever.
It never occurred to me that I might have a problem.
Things started changing when my Mother visited me in my hostel once, and met quite a few of my hostel mates who were actually waiting to tell her about my not eating. Mamma sat me down, looked me in the eye and made me promise I would eat. I did keep my promise, although the seed of being figure conscious had been planted by then. The damage had been done; irreparably so.
After my graduation, I went through what I now look back as the toughest year of my life. I took a break from studying and took a breather before deciding in which direction I wanted to move forward. For a year I stayed at home, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and it was during that time that my body issues were completely relegated to the background, with my emotional issues taking priority. I stopped obsessing about weight so much, and focused on the future.
I joined university for my post graduation and was still pretty confident about myself. I would look at pictures of myself during my higher secondary days and promise myself never to “let go” like that. Even though I lived in a hostel I ate almost regular meals, and took care of myself, and was physically quite fit. I would cycle to classes and sometimes even to home (a thirty minute ride) and back. When I got married at 25, I was a slim young bride who still had chubby cheeks (well Mamma, it was never baby fat, was it?)
Then, as if overnight, I started getting slightly round again. It was as if all the edges started melting into curves. My excuse was that all activity in my life had suddenly come to a halt. From being a student in a hustling bustling campus I was a housewife in a lonely apartment with nothing to do except cook. For the first time in a long time, I let go. The pizzas and the beer didn’t help either. Then we moved to Malaysia and even if I started working, my work place was a stone’s throw away from our condo and quite convenient. I no longer fit in certain S sizes (I used to wear XS during graduation and after) and my face definitely looked fuller. But it was our first trip to India after our marriage that again changed things.
From “Oh, you’re definitely looking healthier” to “Wow! You’ve put on!”, the comments started pouring. With slight variations but always on the same theme. And always the first thing they mentioned to me. I learned how to smile and shrug and almost sounded apologetic as I admitted that yes, I had put on some. My wedding blouses didn’t fit me anymore, and it had only been a year. I decided to take charge yet again. Once back in Malaysia, I started going to the gym for an hour every morning. And then I’d come back home and workout to videos for another hour. I pushed myself as hard as I could, knowing that I didn’t have metabolism on my side. I was one of those people who had to work extra hard to lose the tiniest bit of weight, and even though in the entire process I never weighed myself, I realised I was very slowly learning to like what I saw in the mirror. When we decided to leave Malaysia and move to Singapore, I was at my fittest, with flat abs and almost toned arms, and I promised to keep up with the regimen.
And then I fell pregnant. I think it was on my first visit to my ob that I weighed myself after a long long time and the figure was, well, discouraging. I mean, I felt good, I looked good, then how could I weigh this much? I tried not to gain too much during my pregnancy, but each trip to the ob’s seemed to mock me. I didn’t make a graceful pregnant woman. I didn’t have a cute bump. I bloated like a whale all over, and I felt humongous; as though I filled up all the space around me. I had people comment on how I looked like I was carrying twins, and how I must have gained more than 20 kgs. And yes, the day I walked in for my delivery (I NEVER waddled, despite my belly) I weighed a thumping 78 kgs, with only 2.7 kgs of it being baby weight (as I learned later that night).
They say breastfeeding helps you lose weight, but I belonged to that minority who never did. I probably belong to that unfortunate percentage of women who’s bodies store fat while breastfeeding so the baby always gets milk no mater what. And because I decided to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for six months, I didn’t remotely think of dieting. In my opinion, I was giving my baby the best, and was extremely proud of it.
Of course pride comes before a fall. On our next trip to India (our first with the baby) it was as though people around me couldn’t look beyond the fact that I was fat. I had known this would happen, had even prepared witty comebacks, but nothing prepared me for the sheer impact with which the comments hit me. To my “Oh but I am a Mother now!” they replied “So what? Haven’t we been mothers?” To my “I still breastfeed you see” they replied “So why aren’t you losing any?” They even blatantly asked me if I was eating a lot. It came from all directions, the pointing fingers and wide eyed looks of disbelief at just how fat I had become, and I know, I know I should not have let it affect me, but it did. These were people who I loved, had known since forever; not random acquaintances I could dismiss. And not one, not a single one asked me how it felt to be a mother.
I came back to Singapore feeling dejected, utterly crushed. It didn’t help that all around me I saw women bouncing back to their pre-pregnancy weights in seemingly the blink of an eye. It didn’t help that because I was still breastfeeding and co-sleeping, I was still not getting good sleep. I know this sounds like an excuse but having an attached baby meant I had no time to go out running, and neither did I have the energy. It probably didn’t help that after every restless night, I woke up craving a hearty breakfast, and after every restless day, I craved for chocolate to make myself feel better. Yes, I know; the cardinal mistake of eating away my tiredness. But it kept me sane, and in my eyes, being sane rated higher than being thin.
I can’t curse my genes, because they make me who I am, but I can’t help but lament the fat genes I have (it is a real term!) It is extremely easy for me to gain weight. But when I look back at all the times I have been truly happy, it was reflected on my weight. Like in Vietnam, when I was a newly wed oblivious to anything other than the bliss of marriage. I still remember the first day I felt my tummy jiggle while walking, and I remember laughing about it. And of course, the day I held my daughter for the first time ever. I was still on the wrong side of 70kgs, belly still bloated and triple chins wobbling away, but my weight didn’t even make it to the top hundred things on my mind. No. I felt complete, and invincible, and sang “Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar!!” aloud in my hospital room as I waited each night for the nurse to bring my baby to me for her midnight feedings. Over the next months, with my focus completely being shifted to the bundle of happiness that my daughter was (and still is) to me, it never occurred to me to worry about my weight.
Two whole years post partum, and although I am definitely nowhere near the 70 kg mark I am not near my pre-pregnancy weight either. I am still struggling with a no sugar, no caffeine and low carb diet, coupled with sleepless nights and running around an active toddler all day long. I go out for brisk walks whenever I get a chance. I have just recently started feeling better about the way I look, even though the weighing scale is something I am still not chummy with. And I realise that in the end, it is really not about how much you weigh, or what people say. It is about knowing yourself, and knowing what you are okay with and what you are not. It is about looking in the mirror and telling yourself you look good, and knowing what it is that you can do to look and feel better. It is about finding that perfect balance, where you push yourself but don’t hurt yourself in the process. It is about trusting your instincts, and being aware if the rigidity of a regimen is getting to you. It’s your body, your life, and definitely your choice. I know I started on the journey of weight loss the worst way possible: because of what others said. But now it is truly no longer about others anymore. It is about feeling good, being healthier, and yes, setting the right example for my daughter.
As for the people who could only ever see me as fat or thin…