Where does this story start? Maybe with a very early memory of my mom telling me a lady always leaves a little bit of food on her plate. Which was counter to the “if you take it, you have to eat it” philosophy of my dad. To be fair, both were waste not, want not folks having lived through the Great Depression. But as they became more affluent, mom wanted to look a certain way. She smoked her ass off in small part to stay skinny. Well that plus the addiction to nicotine.
Little Jilly was always well … little. Toothpick thin. And I remember liking that. I felt special. Having people comment on my diminutive size pleased me.
With the exception of my mom and her sister, I was surrounded by big women who I loved fiercely. My Mamaw, Aunt Carol, Aunt Jo, Aunt Marie. I never saw them as too heavy. Quite the opposite. They were just my role models. Larger than life is an ethereal way. I felt their love, kindness, and genuine goodness.
Later in life, I put on quite a few pounds due to the antidepressant I took for a brief stint. But after I weaned off that, the weight came off. I’ve more or less maintained within a ‘normal’ weight range (whatever the fuck that is). Overweightness never impacted me until my own baby girl began to struggle with her weight towards the end of high school.
The specific details of what started her spiral will be left out. Only to say she had issues; she still does; we all do … even you judgy preachy. After Good Friday of her senior year, Lulu slowly but steadily ate herself into an oblivion, each year bigger than the year before. This went on for all four years that she was in college away at school.
I claimed her blossoming size didn’t bother me but it did. And somehow her size bothered the outside world too. I was concerned. I vehemently didn’t want her size to matter. I read every body shaming article I could. Justifying what should never need justification. Blamed the gain on her meds like me, etc… wanting desperately to know the reason … so that her being plus size would somehow be tolerable to others.
Like the elephant in the room, the subject of her weight was avoided. When we were together, anywhere, walking or whatever she stopped being able to keep up with me. What she termed the chafe sidelined her. She could no longer buy her clothes in store. I was scared and would talk to B who would say, “what do you want me to do? It’s hereditary”.
In March of 2020, the Rona ended everything. Being back home limited her ability to binge. Certain things like no pop in the house (yea sometimes I think I’m a midwesterner), slowly started to change things.
We still never talked about the elephant in the room. She is like her daddy. Stoic. Few words. In fact, talking is torture to her except to her person.
In May of 2020, when her graduation gown came in and it didn’t fit, we could tell she was devastated. She still wouldn’t admit she was hurting. Instead she found a weight loss app and began meal planning. Measured every morsel.
Again, I was worried. I hovered and watched silently. Ready to pounce if she went to the other extreme and quit eating. The weight slow dropped off, a pound or two each week. She adjusted her calorie count down never going below 1500 calories. She also never banned any specific food. If we ordered from Dairy Queen, she did too, just allotting for yummy ice cream. After a while, she started weighing herself multiple times daily. If the number of the scale didn’t move or heaven forbid, went up, she’d be upset. That’s when B stepped in and told her to stop. If she wanted to keep meal planning, she could but no more scale.
Before he took the scale away, she marked the loss of 100 pounds. Dropped from a size 26 to a size 16. People started commenting. Not realizing their praise stung. My quiet girl, began talking. Wondering out loud “mom what do you think they used to think about me?” “Do they think I lost enough already or should I keep going?” Easy for me to say “fuck em”; what they think doesn’t matter. Because it mattered … to her.
She recently told me she was finally proud of herself. And asked me if I was proud of her too. Because I never said anything. I remained zipped lips. Until I broke. I didn’t want to call attention to her weight loss because pride is a venial sin. And because I didn’t want her to think we hadn’t loved her all along exactly as she was even when she was heavy.
My relief over her transformation has nothing to do with her weight loss and everything to do with her loving herself. Maybe even for the first time. I’m proud that she took control all on her own for something she believed in. That she put in the work and even had she not lost a single pound, I’d still feel the same way.
Funny how one never really sees what is standing right in front of them. When I stop to look at her and really see her, she’s my baby at age 2 or 3, giggling. Then I flash to grade school, on a field trip to the zoo. She is polite and behaving. Then she’s older still and somehow I always remember her smiling with a willingness to help. I pass her office and hear the smile in her voice “yes, you’ve got it, I’ll help you with that”. She got my call center gene just like her brother. I love her wit, her sass, her easy spirit. Like my role models before her, I feel her love, kindness, and genuine goodness.
Alrighty, time to wrap this up. Before I go, a gentle suggestion if I may. Don’t tell someone they look good because they’ve lost weight. Don’t mention when someone puts on a few pounds. Trust me, they already know. Keep your opinions about appearance to yourselves. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Shakespeare expressed a similar sentiment:
Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,Love’s Labours Lost, 1588
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye,
Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongues
And another good one: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid blind.” from A Midsummer Nights Dream.
As always, more to come.