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Reflections of a Bigger Me

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Last night I was leaving Victoria’s Secret in the University Mall, tell-tale pink shopping bag filled with underwear smaller than I’d ever thought I’d wear again, when I caught sight of myself in a storefront window. I’m not a mirror-gazer, never have been, so lately when I catch glimpses of myself I am continually surprised by my smaller figure.  I walked away with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. These days there is an undercurrent of joy throughout my days and nights due to my recent and hard-won 43 pound weight loss. But in that moment a memory pushed its way into my thoughts, and the force of it made me sit down on the slatted wood benches in the mall’s center.

It must have been about a dozen years ago, my son Carlos was three or four years old. We had been shopping for clothes for him and had just left a child’s clothing store near Victoria’s Secret when I saw a huge woman in the store’s window. Oh, she was so big and looked so very tired.  It wasn’t until I saw the small, smiling boy beside her that I realized it was me.  

It was as if a massive, dark weight had slung itself around my shoulders and it was all I could do to stand upright. A moan caught in my throat and, still holding Carlos’ hand, I hobbled over to the same wooden benches and fell into them. Then I sat there, packages still clasped in one hand, my son’s in the other, and sobbed, my shoulders hunched, people furtively watching as they walked by. Carlos stared into my face, his eyes frightened, “Mommy? What’s wrong Mommy? Why are you crying?” I couldn’t answer him. What could I have said, anyway? It’s alright, Carlos, Mommy’s just sad because she can’t believe she allowed herself to get this big, this out of breath, this…out of control?

It would take me years of healing and therapy and personal exploration to figure out the answers to a toddler’s simple question: why was I crying? But on that day, the shame of crying in public was nothing compared to the fact that I was scaring my son, and it only made me cry harder.  

I stopped crying, eventually, and soothed myself with an Auntie Anne’s almond crunch pretzel, self-medicating with empty calories. As I sat in the same spot last night, taking up much less space on the mall bench, I felt shame wash over me all over again. But I’ve come so far, why does the memory still feel shameful? Wasn’t that large reflection, so many years ago, of someone who didn’t exist anymore?  Hasn’t she been replaced by the increasingly fit version I see in the window now? Though my lifestyle has changed dramatically over the past eight months, I know that keeping the smaller version will be something I have to work on every day for the rest of my life.

As I sat there, I watched a slim, 30-something woman shopper in skinny jeans pass by me and wondered what her relationship to food was. Did she have to work each day to keep herself in check? Did she sometimes wish she could lie in bed with a book instead of going to the gym? When she looks at her reflection, does she see how fabulous she looks in her True Religion jeans, or do her eyes go straight to the tiny amount of flesh that spills over the waistband?

The truth is, I don’t have a clue what “normal” women see when they look in the mirror. Actually, I don’t have a clue what “normal” is anymore. But I am sure it’s unlikely the majority of skinny women feel really satisfied about it, some probably see that 3 lb. of fat as  encumbering and unflattering as everything I’ve lost so far and more. Why are we so hard on our mirror image selves?

About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • Sara Haskins

    Once again I feel like you are writing just for me!! I was that woman this weekend, holding my 4 year olds hand.. Starring at the Victoria Secret window, so tired I could hardly stand up anymore and daring myself to walk in, but I just walked away…

  • Ann Cardinal

    Oh Sara, I feel you. The thing is, you have to make the effort to look good no matter what your weight or how you feel. It really does help sometimes to go through the motions. And you ARE beautiful holding those babies hands, in the way that really matters.

    Go into the store and buy yourself cute underwear and a good, supportive bra. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes. When I discovered there were actually comfortable and cute cotton ones, I was sold!

    Do it for yourself. I mean, why else do we working Moms in Morrisville get dressed up? To go to the Price Chopper? Hells yes, girl! :)

  • Sara Haskins

    Will have to make a special shopping trip just for me (and leave the 4 year old at home)… First might be belt shopping though to keep all these baggy pants from falling off!

  • Ann Cardinal

    Sara, sell them and buy new ones! Or go to Plato’s Closet and get cute jeans for $14. Stay sassy, my friend.

  • http://jpaloni.wordpress.com/ Jodi Paloni

    Another well-written honest piece about a woman in her body. Thanks for shedding in words.

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thank you for your kind words, Jodi. I have a love hate relationship with my body, but it’s becoming more love than hate!

  • Maitland McDonagh

    I have a friend whom I’ve met only a few times — she’s the wife of an old friend, and they don’t live in the us. She’s cute and slim — in fact, they met at a strip club when he bought a lapdance (contrary to dire predictions, they’ve been married for 14 years, have a child and seem really happy; I’m in touch with other friends who know them and live closer; they think the same). But I know from some very long facebook exchanges at very odd hours (ti,e difference) that she’s severely anorectic…. not constantly, but there are triggers– heavy duty ones — and she’s been hit with a couple recently. She says it’s a lifelong thing; even when she’s not actively fighting it, she’s monitoring subconciously it. I wouldn’t have known; I’ve seen lots of photos and her wait definitely fluctuates between normal and on the thin side, but not so scary thin that it said anorectic to me,and I’m pretty sensitized to the gradations of thin for reasons you know. I said as much to her and that I empathized, because I’m always on guard against my weight creeping up. To which she said, you’ve never looked heavy and in one of those eerie echos, when on, I’ve seen lots of pictures of you over the years and you always look normal. So more than anything, I think this is a reality check for anyone who wants to accept it. Not in the sense that we’re all irrational and incapable of seeing ourselves clearly, but it in the sense that it’s worth try to get out of your own head and see what other people see, including that the girl who’s never looked fat is as demon driven about her weight as you are and she never thought you looked fat, even when you did.

  • Ann Cardinal

    Whoa, powerful story, Maitland. Thank you for sharing it. It is interesting how we think everyone else is judging us and our bodies when really most are too busy judging themselves.

    Why don’t most of us see the image of ourselves clearly? I don’t know, but it saddens me. I think the older I’m getting, the less important it is. ironic, since it is now I am finally feeling I’ve made some progress against my extra weight.

    There was a great news piece today where Tyra Banks was talking about her juicy muffin top over the back edge of her jeans. I LOVE that she has allowed all those non-airbrushed images of herself out there. There is no perfection and that’s what makes bodies beautiful.