One of the bigger adjustments for Ian after returning from active duty in Iraq was figuring out when to exercise. When he’s home he is the in house parent, and cooking, grocery shopping, and shuttling kids around is not conducive to staying fit. My weight gain during his deployment when that was all my job is testament to that. So both of us have been trying harder in the past few months to make exercise and eating better a priority. In Ian’s case his weight and fitness level are literally part of his job as an Army Reservist, so when it’s not possible to make time for both of us to go to the Y his needs take precedence.
We try to head straight for the Y right after dropping the kids off
at school, and there is just enough time before picking up Quinn from
half day kindergarten for me to swim a mile
and for Ian to get in a run on the treadmill and use the weight
machines. In theory we should be getting out to exercise nearly every
day, but things come up. There are early morning meetings with
teachers, or one of the kids is sick, or there are dentist appointments, the frequent trips to Michigan
aren’t helping…. There are a million reasons why getting in that
little block of exercise time doesn’t happen because there just aren’t
always enough hours in a day, but we’ve at least been able to make sure
Ian can do some kind of exercise every day. He’s looking good and
feeling better and I’m proud of him. He’s doing better than I am.
Aside from the exercise part of the equation there is food. I have more trouble than I’d like with food. Part
of my struggle with watching what I eat is that I believe in family
dinners. They are short, but they are nice, and I like that time
together when we can share a meal and talk. But some days I shouldn’t
have all the same things the kids are having. They don’t really seem to
care or notice if I have vegetables on my spaghetti instead of
meatballs, but I want to make it seem that we’re all sort of having the
same thing. I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that Ian and I
are eating differently. Not that I want to be deceptive, but girls in
particular can develop body image issues so early anymore that I just
don’t want it on their radar screen if it can be avoided. What they are
eating is healthy and fine–for them. They can have a bagel. Most of
the time, I shouldn’t.
So the other night we were having hamburgers and green beans and
fruit and Ian and I decided we should have Boca Burgers for ourselves
instead because the caloric content is significantly less. I was kind
of hoping the kids wouldn’t notice, but Aden asked why dad’s burger
looked different. He innocently said what for him was the truth, “I’d
rather have what you’re having, but I’m eating this because I’m fat.”
I don’t normally think of myself as the kind of person who shoots her
spouse a LOOK, but my head snapped toward him so fast he looked
uncomfortable, and then I turned toward the girls and said, “We need to
eat different things from you sometimes because we want to be healthy.
You are still growing, but daddy and I aren’t, so sometimes we make
other choices that are better for us.” Which seemed to work fine, and
then the conversation turned to important things like lemurs and gym
class and rice scooping work.
It’s funny the things you assume another person knows just because
you are around each other. Simply because I’ve obsessed about a
particular topic doesn’t mean it’s something my husband thinks about at
all. How would he have any idea what my concerns for my kids and their
potential body image issues are if I don’t discuss them? He wouldn’t.
It reminds me of a Women’s Studies class I took in college where on
the first day we were asked to fill out a questionnaire that included
the question: “What do you think about when you walk alone at night?”
The few men in the class were completely mystified. They looked
puzzled, and said, “What does this question mean? You think about
whatever you think about.” And every woman in the class got wide-eyed
and said, “You get to think about whatever you want?” We went on to
explain that walking alone at night as a woman meant constantly
monitoring who else was in the vicinity, which places were open that
might be safe to run to, and being prepared to gouge someone in the eyes
with our keys if necessary. Letting your mind completely wander meant
putting yourself in danger. The men were stunned. But how would they
So for Ian, the word ‘fat’ is just a word. He certainly cares about
being in good shape and thinks about the work it takes to get there and
stay that way, but the word ‘fat’ is not used as a weapon in his world.
It’s just a blunt description. For girls and women, it’s something
else. Something as tricky to grapple with as walking alone at night.
‘Fat’ isn’t merely descriptive among women, it’s pejorative. It’s
painful. It’s wrapped up more deeply than it has any right to be in our
I explained to him later that I am very careful not to use the word
‘fat’ in front of the kids. When I go exercise I tell them it’s because
I want to be healthy and strong. Yes, it will be great if I can fit
into a smaller size more appropriate for my height at some point, but I
want my kids to know that I’m glad to have a body that works. It’s good
body, and I like it, even if it’s flabby in places. I don’t want to
convey that I think of my body as disgusting. I let my kids poke my
belly if it makes them giggle and I try to laugh about it too. There
are days I’m depressed about how I look and wish I could magically fix
it, but I don’t want my kids to see that. They love me. If they see me
being overly critical of my body they will very likely start looking at
their own bodies in a harsher light. The longer they can be spared
from that the better.
I wish I didn’t struggle with my own body image as much as I do.
Most days I think I do pretty well, because I do appreciate my health
and my overall endurance. I don’t want to look like someone else, I
just want to be a better version of myself. But it’s hard not to feel
like a failure when something that matters so much seems out of my own
control. I’m trying, though. I’m swimming my mile about two to six
times a week depending on how much disruption there is to my schedule.
My hopes for blogging while using my treadmill
have been thwarted in the past couple of months by a bad knee which
hurts if I walk on it too long, but I plan to get back to that as soon
as I heal.
The struggle is frustrating, and I’m annoyed by the fact that it
exists at all. It should not be this hard and it should not mean the
myriad of things it seems to mean. When I wonder what’s wrong with me
that I can’t just maintain the weight I should be, I remember that if
someone like Oprah Winfrey who can afford to pay someone to do nothing
but swat cookies out of her hand all day has the same problem, it’s not a
simple problem, and I try not to hate myself for it. But it’s hard.
I look at my kids and their perfect little bodies and want them to
not have to go through any of the ridiculous body image struggle I argue
with myself about every day of my life. And when I say their bodies
are perfect, I don’t mean that they are flawless, I mean that they are
unique and strong and functional and I love every dimple and toe and
freckle and there is nothing lacking or in need of change. Right now
they seem to like the bodies they are in and I’m glad, because they are
beautiful inside and out. Why is it so hard to see myself that way?