It Doesn’t Get Better

The other day, I went to see my doctor. Just a routine appointment. I’ve gotten in the habit of not looking when nurses weigh me, not talking about the number. But the office now hands you a piece of paper when you leave, and on that paper is my Current Weight, along with my BMI, and something mysterious called IW. It took me a minute to realize that it means Ideal Weight.

In the reenactment of this moment, the role of me will be played by Adele.
In the reenactment of this moment, the role of me will be played by Adele.

Oh, how I laughed! The number was so ludicrously small, there was nothing to do but laugh. And besides the fact that this number was super tiny, it also made me laugh because of how silly it is to think that there is a single number (it was not even a range!) that someone of my height should weigh. So every woman who is 5’3″ should weigh this amount? Oh, doctor’s office, you’re so cute!

As I was walking to my car, holding that hilarious piece of paper, I couldn’t help but look at my Current Weight. Why did I look?! The number just makes me feel bad about myself. It cancels out everything I’ve done to accept my body. It erases the hard work I do in the gym. It makes me feel gross and unlovable.

But not this day. On this day… it didn’t do anything. It didn’t make me sad, or angry, or anxious. I looked at that number, at my Current Weight which is so, so much bigger than my supposed Ideal Weight, and I simply didn’t care. It was just a number. This was a really huge moment, you guys. Enormous.

I first remember being upset about my weight when I was in fifth grade. I had my first real crush that year, and the boy didn’t like me back. It had to be, I reasoned, because I was fat. If I was skinny like most of my friends, then Chris would like me! Why, why did I have to have this ugly body? Why couldn’t I be thin and pretty?

This actual me in fourth grade, but close enough. Sweet perm, Bethie!
This is actually me in fourth grade, but close enough.      Sweet perm, Bethie!

I have spent most of the last thirty years feeling those same feelings. Thirty years! For three-quarters of my life I have thought less about myself because of my weight. On the day I looked at my Current Weight, that changed. I realized that the number didn’t matter. It didn’t define me. It didn’t make me less good, less worthy, less lovable.

I wish I could go back and talk to fifth-grade me. I would tell her that it doesn’t get better. You read that right: It doesn’t. Thirty years later, fat people are still ridiculed, shamed, and discriminated against. We are still told that we are less good, less worthy, and less lovable. And now that our lives are saturated with media around the clock, it’s even worse than it was in 1985. It doesn’t get better, I’d tell that little girl with the perm and the Trapper Keeper and the first of many unrequited crushes.

It doesn’t get better, I’d tell her. But you do. 

One day, you’re going to realize that you are smart, and strong, and funny. You’re going to accomplish things you never thought you could do. You’re going to cross finish lines! And you’re going to be fat when you do.

The world is going to get bigger, but it’s going to feel smaller. You’re going to hear messages all the time about how wrong your body is. And you’re going to believe them for a really long time. But there is going to be a day when you stop listening to the world, and start listening to yourself, to the powerful sound of your own heart beat.

It doesn’t get better. But you do.