I dropped a fair bit of weight this summer. (If you saw me in person and didn't notice, that's ok. These things don't tend to be obvious when spread over six feet of me. And honestly? We're still not talking sylph-like dimensions here.)
It was weight that had hung around since Kid #1: nothing dramatic, and I certainly wouldn't have made it onto the opening lineup for The Biggest Loser. But it was a fair chunk of flesh that had over-stayed its welcome.
Without any real plan for Losing Weight (I am extremely anti-diet), I started running more. Working out more often. June and July were spent at the pool, and snacks were watermelon chunks, roasted almonds, and fresh raspberries. All of the sudden, my clothes started to fit differently. In fact, most of my wardrobe started to get really too big: as a running joke I would tally the number of shorts and skirts that I could pull off without unbuttoning or unzipping.
But here's the funny thing. I lost weight, and it didn't change my life, making me happy, successful, or, well, perfect. (I know. I was devastated to make this discovery. But there you are.) The goal weight that I'd fixated on for so long was nodded at on the way down the scale, and passing it didn't change my life one iota: my husband didn't love me more, my kids didn't find me a better mother, my writing didn't improve commensurately with the dropping numbers on the scale.
In one of those rare insights that Oprah calls an "a-ha! moment" and I call an instance of "well, duh" - I realized - so freaking late in life! - that the lifelong pursuit of the beautiful body, of the elusive 'perfect' body was so much emptiness. That having once been spectacularly fit, then not so fit, then outright chubby, and finally kinda-sorta-fit all means.... not much.
So what next? Do I just stop running? Do I give up, sit down with a bottle of wine, a slab of cheese and a half-kilo of good dark chocolate? Because, after all, what we're saying is that being fit doesn't change your life, right?
Au contraire. This fitness, the weight loss? It DID change my life. What changed my life was this: The outrageous sense of achievement when running five fast miles. Lifting weights whilst standing on one foot, knowing that my core was supporting me. Hoisting my 30 pound toddler up and down behind my head in a sneaky attempt at a triceps workout. Swimming laps for an hour and loving it.
Losing weight did not make me more interesting, more intelligent, or more loveable. But the path towards losing weight has changed my perspective entirely. What has changed is that once again I know I am strong. I am taking care of myself. I'm not giving up and rolling over and getting old. I'm taking time for me - even if that has to be at 5.30 in the morning.
When I came across this video on Facebook this week, my heart sank. Because what the speaker - Jean Kilbourne - is talking about here is the opposite of all the things I learned the hard way this summer. She's discussing the insidious idea that our girls continue to be sold: the idea that if pretty enough, if thin enough, they will BE enough.
It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that I never dress my girls in pretty clothes, or marvel at the way my 8 year old looks in skinny jeans (the girl's built like a grasshopper: she was meant to wear this particular trend, even if she hates 'em.) But daily I pray that I am doing enough to let them know how valuable - how significant they are, regardless of outfit, regardless of accessories, regardless of body type.
It may be the biggest gift I will ever give these girls.
Or indeed, myself.