In the past week, I’ve been told my body is both too big and too small.
And it’s left my head spinning.
If you've been following my journey – which is sometimes about big changes in my family and sometimes about how I’m taking care of myself through those changes and sometimes about eating cookies – you know I lost a significant amount of weight two years ago.
After losing and maintaining that 55-pound loss through mindful eating and regular exercise, I’m still by no means a “small” person. Women’s clothing sizes are a bit of a joke, but let’s say I hang out around a 16 in most stores. Smaller up top, heavier on the bottom. (Hold tight. I’ll get to that in a minute.)
But weight loss is only a part of the changes I’ve experienced so far. I also strength train regularly, which has made me put on some muscle and has reshaped my body. So, while I haven’t lost more weight in the last year, I’ve lost some inches and gained a lot of energy. Also, I have sweet biceps now. I make everyone touch them.
Where has this left me? Well, it depends on who you ask. Or maybe you don’t ask them and they tell you anyway, because womanhood.
I have a lot of loose skin hanging around my abdomen these days. Not only because I lost a lot of weight, but because I carried three ten-pound babies, had two c-sections and a hernia repair (the kind you get cut open for, not with the teeny tiny incisions.)
I don’t hate my stomach, because I refuse to hate any part of me. But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t get in the way – a lot. It makes finding and wearing clothes more challenging. It just… hangs. Like a teenager you wish would go outside more. If I don’t dress right, including a body-shaping undergarment, my body looks unbalanced in a way I don’t like; it’s heavier at the bottom. That makes me a heavy-bottomed girl. There are songs about girls like me, and most of them are catchy.
So yesterday, I spoke with a plastic surgeon’s office about getting abdominoplasty – or, in laymen’s terms, a tummy tuck. I’m not 100% sure I want one, but I wanted to find out what my options are, and am happy to pay for a consultation so I can start planning and saving for the future, should I decide to go that route.
Except I didn’t get past a simple phone call with one of the surgeon’s employees. I was immediately asked my height and weight, and then told my BMI is too high for this surgery.
“You need a Body Mass Index of 30, at most, to qualify. According to your height and weight, you’re a 36.”
“In all fairness,” I said, “I do a lot of strength training. I’m not saying I’m a small person or that I don’t have any fat on me. But I am saying BMI alone is a terrible measurement of fat-to-muscle ratio.”
“We can give you a call in a few months and see where you’re at,” I was told. “Maybe you’ll have lost more weight by then?”
“I’m going to be honest with you,” I said, as politely as I could. “I will not have lost more weight. I like eating real food and I’m proud of the muscle I have on my body. Getting down to the weight you’re looking for is not realistic for me. I’m really disappointed that BMI is used as the standard to determine if someone qualifies for surgery without even knowing what they look like.”
The person on the phone was sympathetic, but firm. That’s the standard. That’s how it goes.
Having done a little digging since, I now understand that a tummy tuck might not get the results you want if there’s too much fat in the tissue they’re working with. So, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t be a good candidate.
But how you would you know that based on my BMI alone? I’m no medical professional, but I’m going to say you can’t.
I’ve known for a very long time that taking someone’s height and weight as the sole determination of how much fat they have on their body or how “healthy” they are is an outdated idea. That’s why I haven’t looked to see what my own BMI is in a long time.
So, just for fun, I looked. According to the chart, I’m not actually a 36. I’m a 35. But regardless, I am in the “obese” category. Category 1 Obese, to be exact.
Interesting fact: If you google “define obese” it says “Grossly Fat or Overweight.”
And if you type in “define grossly” the first of two definitions is: “In a very obvious or unacceptable manner; flagrantly.”
You know what’s wrong with that? Everything. The amount of fat-shaming going on in that medical term is enough to make me want to pull my hair out.
Anyway, this is a picture I took of me yesterday, after getting off the phone.
Based on the numbers, I am obese. Okay, that's fine. Lots of people fit into that category.
A few days ago, I posted this picture on my blog’s Facebook page:
It was a post about approaching my body and my health journey with love, rather than epic amounts of self-loathing, which used to be my jam. In the post, I happened to mention that I’m plus-size.
And then I got told I was not.
When I replied to that comment with, “I’m a size 16,” which definitely makes me a bigger person, I was told by someone else I’m not plus-size enough to deal with the discrimination people over a certain size deal with every single day.
Okay. Despite how I don't like when people make assumptions about other people's lives, that statement does has some truth to it. At my current size, I’m not dealing with a high level of discrimination (even though I’m clearly still dealing with some, as recently as yesterday). But I’ve had a lifetime of having lived those experiences, and that pain has stayed with me.
On the first date night Zoe and I had after our eldest was born – while I was struggling with postpartum depression and dealing with the first few months of life as a young mother – a woman yelled “fat cow!” at me out a car window while her friends laughed. We were just walking down the street on our way home after a perfect evening. It crushed me.
A few months later, taking my son to the beach for the first time, some dude bros openly pointed at me and said, “Check out the beached whale!” I avoided beaches for years after.
When I went in to repair a hernia along the incision line of my c-sections, I was told the reason I had the hernia was because I was overweight. Not because surgical wounds don’t always heal perfectly. Not because I might have overdone it with a new baby at a time when I needed to rest. But because I was fat. The surgeon made sure to tell me that a few times.
He also opened me up vertically, due to my “size”, leaving a big, ugly scar from my belly button to my pubic bone. “It will heal better this way” he said. This, of course, was after I told him my horizontal - and practically invisible - caesarean scar healed fine, without any infections. I now have two scars on the stomach I can’t seem to even get looked at.
I have countless stories like these. Public shaming. Medical shaming. Hot tears running down my embarrassed face. Crash diets to try and take the weight off. Fearing for my health after being told I would die young. Binge eating to deal with falling off a wagon that was impossible to stay on in the first place. Avoiding shopping trips with people smaller than me because I couldn’t shop in the same stores and felt ashamed. Feeling like everyone was looking at me in restaurants. Not being able to squeeze into a chair with arms. Breaking a plastic lawn chair and falling on my ass in our backyard, while our young neighbours giggled next door.
I’ve been there. It’s awful. The world is terrible to fat people, and the pain of that lasts a lifetime. I’ve had to fight really, really hard to get to a place where I treat myself gently, set realistic expectations that fly in the face of what the world says I should be, and love myself through it all.
But you know what I’ve learned? Being smaller doesn't make all that terribleness that stop.
People’s bodies – and especially women’s bodies – are policed all the time. I see it not only when it comes to fat women, but also trans women, gay women, disabled women, women of colour, and so many others. Whether it’s medical, fitness, nutrition, beauty, or parenting, we are often ignored, shamed, dismissed or forgotten altogether.
As a society, we need to start thinking outside the narrow views we’ve been taught, from schoolyard taunts to outdated medical teachings. Everyone, regardless of size, health, race, gender or ability has the right to be respected for the body they have, and to be seen as individuals, not numbers.
I was too fat and too thin in one week. Go figure. I’ll be thinking about that for a long time to come, and what I can do with my one, small voice to change how we talk about and treat people's bodies.
But for now, I’m going to find another surgeon to talk to, love myself extra hard this week, and go lift some weights so I can more easily shovel dirt on the grave of that grossly outdated BMI chart.
In this case, I think I used the word perfectly.
Here’s to bodies – all bodies – and the people who love them.