One Sunday afternoon of my freshman year, as I battled the Freshman Fifteen without much success, I had a conversation with my grandmother that I still remember word-for-word. I was living at home and spending a year at community college to save up some funds. Each week, my family and I went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for lunch after church, as we had done every week for as long as I could remember. This particular week, Grandma gave me a look, up-and-down, then looked at my younger sister next to me. She pointed at Ashley and said, “This one will always be thin. Like your mother and her mother. She was a model you know. You… you take after me. You will always battle your weight. But there are some benefits…”, as she grabbed her ample chest in demonstration.
I was mortified. I felt like a family curse had been spoken over me. How could I shake genetics? What made me think I could be better than the generations of women that came before me? Maybe this is just who I am.
Her words continued to ring in my ears for years, as my consciousness about my body (and my weight itself) ebbed and flowed. Sometimes I was happy, which usually meant active, and that translated to fit. Sometimes my work, my mood, or simply the season made me sedentary and my “winter weight” would stick. However, it was more than my physical form that concerned me. It was this mindset that I wanted to shake. Thinking of my body as a losing battle. I wanted to know that I wasn’t doomed to be “fluffy” in my later years, like my less-than-healthy grandmother. People say that when you are your fittest you feel energized and young. I wanted to find that.
I think every woman tries fad diets and exercise trends, and while I hear Zumba is a blast, I don’t know if it’s going to be the thing that turns around my identity. But how do you catalyze a major mentality shift? Seven years ago I decided to become (for all intents and purposes) a Pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats fish). I made this choice for a lot of reasons, mostly spiritual. (How is this spiritual? That’s for another blog, another time!) But since then it has become my identity. I am known by my friends and co-workers as a vegetarian. Not as a girl who ate a salad for her last meal… that’s an action. I’m a vegetarian. It defines who I am. There was a moment of commitment that came from a spiritual place, and then years of sticking to it that have made this a part of my DNA.
I also had a catalyzing moment in my fitness journey. I had been attending half marathons to cheer on my runner husband. He is about to run his 7th half marathon and these races are simply amazing. The expos before the race have all kinds of goodies and samples, but what I find overwhelming is the energy of all of these fit people, excited to be joining together and challenging themselves to run 13.1 miles. I would often cry at these expos, overwhelmed that I couldn’t accomplish what these runners have (okay, I’m a little emotional.) So I decided to run my first half marathon before my 30th birthday. That didn’t happen. Then my 31st birthday and my 32nd birthday passed without a race.
Finally I said, “Nick, I’m going to have to stop going to these races with you because they make me feel so badly about myself.” Then I stopped to consider my words. I realized that not attending the races meant accepting the identity of an unhealthy woman. To wallow in my failure to take care of myself. And God called me to be so much more than that. He gave me this body, which is an amazing gift! So I signed up for a race (and yes, there were tears as I filled out the form too.) I trained for 4 months, donned a tutu and I ran…
And it was amazing.
Since training for my race, I have put other efforts into place to make my journey one that involves both exercising and making healthier eating choices. I want to change my identity. To rewire the way my brain works. Does that mean that I talk ad nauseum about calorie counting? A little. And does my perspective become a little negative when I feel like I’m being deprived of all things carby? Yeah, sometimes. But I’m determined. My whole life has been waves of success and despair on this roller coaster of self-esteem and the fitness attempts that follow them. I think that’s true for all of us women. But I’m really finally starting to sense a shift in my identity. I no longer walk by Tutta Pasta Resturante in my hometown and sneer at all of those people blissfully enjoying their ziti with no concern for the caloric repercussions of their actions. (Fine. I no longer sneer much.)
Today, I am 100 days into my current journey of health (at least that’s what my calorie counting app tells me… I’m not counting the days myself). And I can confidently say I love my body and its imperfections. I do feel energetic and young. I am not at the lightest weight that I’ve ever been, but that’s not the point. The point is that, in spite of my occasional fear of becoming a plump momma and grandma someday, I know that my body is not a lost cause.
I want to raise my future daughters to love their bodies, too.
We don’t need to pass on the baggage that we were handed by those who came before us.
I want my girls (should I be lucky enough someday to have little girls of my own) to think of their genetics as a blessing and of their bodies as an amazing gift.
My family is made up of strong, German women. That part of my identity will never change, but I don’t want it to. We may have thick upper arms and need to occasionally bleach some facial hair, but that’s part of what makes us strong, German women.
I look up daily at my personalized calendar containing old photos of my Grandma, which I had made last year after she passed away. In some she is chubby and you can tell she doesn’t feel confident. (I wonder if her slim younger sister was a part of her inner voice, too.) In others, she has a Marilyn Monroe kind of curviness and she is beaming with beauty. I want to carry on her beauty. I love that I share her features. And my husband seems to appreciate the “benefits” she spoke of that traumatized me so much before.
Do you feel like your family history is a blessing or a burden? Do you sometimes hear your grandmother’s, mother’s or sister’s voice ringing in your ears? How do you address these issues with your daughter? Leave your comments below!