Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Dress

Like many of you out there, I curse the days of my youth that I thought I was “fat” and decided I needed to do something about it. At 17 I had already failed at Weight Watchers once, and I became so distraught that I made my mom take me to the doctor, who essentially laughed at us and told me to eat more salads and get more exercise. Despite my belief that I was horribly fat at that time, over the past 13 years I’ve often looked back and been nostalgic about not only my weight, but also who I was back then.

At 17 I was fearless, much like I am now, and even though I had a poor body image I was a pretty confident person, and I liked who I was. I lost my way a bit when I went to college and moved out on my own. Not only did I gain over 60 pounds, but I also suffered mental and emotional setbacks like a lack of confidence and intense self-loathing. At the time I associated these symptoms with my ever growing waistline – because I was fat, I was unhappy. And, so, I attempted to fix the problem through this diet or that. From shakes and 87 different vitamins a day to meat, meat, and more meat, I tried everything I had heard worked for anyone else, and although I may have seen momentary successes, I always stalled and put the weight back on.

For many years I had a gold standard of success that manifested itself in my favorite dress that I had last fit into when I was 17. My mom called it “that horrible housecoat”, but I loved it more than anything else I owned. Better yet, I picked it up from a thrift store for less than $5 – an incredible find for even the shrewdest of shoppers such as myself! The dress was sleeveless and white with a vibrant blue flower print. Around the high neckline was what I used to refer to as “a doily” – really it was white flower appliqué, which was then repeated down the sides of the dress. It came below my knees when I bought it, but I quickly shook the old lady out of the dress by having my mom hem it into a mini-dress (against her will to put any additional effort into the housecoat). When I was 17, I wore it all summer long with 5” platform sandals whose platforms mimicked tree bark. I certainly thought I was the shit. How couldn’t I, wearing that getup?!

After 13 years of going up and down in size and packing and moving multiple times, that blue and white dress was the one thing from my youth that I kept and never threw away. Each time I switched over my clothes from winter to summer, I’d smile when I saw it, but I’d leave it in the box, hoping that maybe one day I would again be able to wear it. God, I loved that dress!

For one reason or another I had taken a bunch of ill-fitting clothes and placed them in a laundry basket in our guestroom – the room that essentially doubles as my own personal walk-in closet, not because I’ve made it into my own personal walk in closet, but because my clothes are simply everywhere and I don’t bother doing anything more about the mess than shutting the door. The dress had somehow made it out of its box and into the basket, which caused me to attempt to squeeze it over my ass several months ago, only to become depressed and long for the days in which I was able to wear cute quirky things. On top of the basket it has stayed since that depressing day.

Then, this past Saturday when unhappy with my current wardrobe and trying to decide what to wear to a 4th of July cookout, I again thought of the dress and how wonderful it would be if I could wear it. I had time, so I figured I’d try and squeeze into it, knowing I wouldn’t be able to, but at least seeing if I could pull it up over my ass this time. It was shortly after that when I started screaming from my upstairs hallway, unsuccessfully trying to get my boyfriend’s attention. The dress fucking fit!

Not knowing what else to do, but like any other tech-savvy red-blooded American, I immediately changed my Facebook status to reflect the fact that I was now wearing this 13-year old dress that had been my favorite dress in high school. Because, you know, I could only stay off Facebook for 3 days before I had to re-download the application for my phone and get back on to share the most intimate details of my life with the world. FAIL. I know…

Walking on air and with my head in the clouds, we finally made it to the cookout, and I instantly got asked about the dress and my earlier post on Facebook. As much as I love and am addicted to Facebook, I feel really weird when people I know refer to something I posted on Facebook in person. It’s the shy part of me that can still only express herself through her fingertips, I guess. In any event, I received a lot of praise and congratulations from people I’ve often talked to about weight.

Later that night I was sitting with a friend discussing a recent doctor’s visit she had attended. She was telling me that her doctor told her she needed to lose 30 pounds and how she didn’t know how he came up with that number, because even at 30-pounds lighter she would still be in the morbidly obese range on the BMI chart.

“I’m in the morbidly obese range on the BMI chart,” I told her. And it’s true. For my height, the government has labeled me morbidly obese. I’ve been in that range for the better part of my life! Yet, this time I thought about it and said it, I didn’t give a shit. Here I was wearing my favorite dress that I had kept for 13 years. I’ll be damned if I’m letting the man get me down today!

“Are you serious?!” she said. “But you’re wearing that dress!”

“Does weight really matter?” I asked.

“See,” she said, “I keep thinking back to what you said to me at the gym that time, ‘when you stop trying to lose weight is when it will happen’ ”.

Although I remember those words coming out of my mouth, I began to wonder if it is actually not doing anything that causes one to lose weight or if doing something for one's mental health causes one to lose weight. All these years I thought lack of self confidence and depression were symptoms of being fat, but now I wonder if being fat was a symptom of my poor mental health. This isn’t to say this is true in all cases and that if a person is 100% right in the head, she will be thin, but I think there is an association that exists between mental health and weight – at least for me.

When I tried to fix what I perceived as the problem all those times, I was really just temporarily masking the symptoms of something bigger. But when I gave up my all-consuming struggle to lose weight and started doing things for myself that made the core of who I am happy, my weight – to a certain extent – fell into place. There’s also a little something to say for the additional exercise you get when training as a member of your All Star derby team. The reason I fit into that dress (even though I’m now 7 pounds heavier than when I last tried it on and couldn’t get it over my ass) is because of the added activity and the increase in muscle mass.

And to think that I wasn’t even trying… That’s the best part of being able to wear the dress. If I wasn’t trying, then I must be living right, and really, that’s what that dress stands for now – living right. Mentally and physically, it feels great to be in a place where I’m confident and I like who I am again. Sure, we all have our bad days (in celebration of the dress I ate my face off at the cookout and have been in severe physical intestinal pain since), but as long as we learn from them and get back to remaining true to ourselves, we’ll be just fine.


Allie Gator said...

Rock on! Last month I bought new jeans in a size that I haven't fit into for at least 6-7 years.
I've found that "diets" don't work, making live-able modifications to your eating and living with moderation are usually the best things. because we're all going to pig out some days and we can't beat ourselves up about it. We just live with the gut rot and then have a salad the next day.

Also, the BMI is crap. It is based on one study of about 1,400 people and somehow the insurance companies and govt decided to make it the gold standard for health.
You should read "The Fat Girl's Guide to Life" by Wendy Shanker. Great book about being healthy and happy in a body that isn't a size 2.

Cindy Lop-her said...

Allie, I totally saw part of your Saturday game against KC at ECE - you go! It was awesome seeing you out there, and I just about peed my pants when one of the announcers started to say, "Allie Gator being on this team is really a great story..." and then a bunch of really notable things happened in the pack, and I never got to hear the story!

I hear you all are coming to scrimmage us in the not too distant future too? Very exciting!

Any KC tips for this weekend?

Allie Gator said...

I think you ladies did just fine! Congrats on the win!
I'm not sure if I'm going on the trip east (Saving $ for new skates), I really want to go though, it sounds like it's going to be a blast!