Skin Deep: Living in America

Earlier this sumer I introduced a series of posts touching on my weight issues and body image over the years. I have wanted to return to it for some time now. If you missed any of the previous posts they can be found below.

Skin Deep: Adolescence

Skin Deep: College Years

Skin Deep: Mozambique

I left off on the verge of leaving my life in Mozambique to return to the United States. I was newlywed and had been out of the country for nearly four years. Unfortunately student loan payments began calling and neither my husband or I could find stable employment in Mozambique. So back to the U.S. it was.

I looked and felt great the day I stepped off the plane. In the back of my head I was worried about the temptations that awaited me. I returned home first. Orlando arrived two months later. I lived with my mother while I began setting up our new life in the states. I got busy applying for jobs and while I waited for work I began substitute teaching in my hometown. However, I often found myself alone on days I didn’t work. It didn’t take long for my old habits to rear their ugly heads. I began to eat my old favorite processed foods I hadn’t eaten for the years I lived abroad. I didn’t just eat a little. I ate a lot and I ate most of it in private. As you can imagine it didn’t take me long to start gaining weight.

By the time I was reunited with my husband I had gained at least 10 pounds. With the weight came the old feelings, insecurity, self-consciousness and lack of confidence. I knew I was on a slippery slope and it didn’t end there. Despite being here with my husband I felt very lonely. Friendships had changed while I was away. My family was adjusting to my marriage particularly my mother who strongly disagreed with my decision. As my weight increased so did my defensive attitude. I became angry, frustrated and looking back I can now identify that I was also depressed.

A year earlier a very good college friend had asked me to be in her wedding. The wedding was 5 months after my return. I had been fitted for the bridesmaid dress a year earlier on a visit to the U.S. at a time when I was comfortable with my weight. The dress fit beautifully and looked quite nice. Cut to a year later as the wedding neared. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my body. The dress was beyond snug. It actually looked horrible.  I didn’t want to be in the wedding. Needless to say I was not the model of a supportive bridesmaid. I was resentful because of how I felt inside. I attended the wedding alone and though I did my best to be happy for my friend I clearly wasn’t happy to be there. After the wedding our communication waned. I haven’t seen my friend since. I did call her months later to apologize for my behavior but the damage had been done. This memory is cemented in my mind and thinking about it makes me feel terrible.

My husband began working within days of arriving for a swimming pool company. I was not so lucky. It turned out to be almost as difficult to find employment here in the U.S. It took me 4 months to get a full time job with health insurance. I finally took a position running a program for pregnant and parenting teens. The program was run through the state supported Department of Transitional Assistance as an alternative to traditional schooling. Since the girls were all receiving welfare they were required to attend school or obtain a GED. This program prepared the girls to take the GED. I also ran health workshops, parenting classes and life skills classes. I enjoyed the job and the day structure.

After a few months on the job I began to lose some weight and felt a bit better about myself. I began walking a lot for exercise. As I lost weight my mood improved, but I would get down 5-10 pounds and then gain again. It became a vicious cycle. My eating habits were terrible. I relied on frozen foods and convenience food for meals. My pantry was full of packages labeled fat free, low fat and light. I tricked myself into believing that I was eating healthy by eating less fat.

I also picked up some new damaging habits. This is difficult for me to write about because I haven’t readily admitted it before. I began eating in secret. I would buy a forbidden treat at the grocery store with the intent of finishing it in the car on the way home, quite a feat considering I lived about 3 minutes away. I would hide a bag of chips in the pantry and basically binge eat it when my husband was at work or asleep. Again rather risky given the fact that we lived in a small apartment. I didn’t do it all the time, but when I did I was left feeling confused, remorseful and regretful. I would instantly vow to embark on a drastic diet the following day. You can probably guess where that kind of thinking led me.

Between 2002 and 2004 my weight bounced up and down finally settling somewhere in the high 170s, a place I had been many times before. I squeezed into my familiar size 14s, did my best at hiding my body with baggie sweaters and used my go to defense mechanism of sarcasm to deal with the hurt and shame I felt. I was miserable inside.

Despite the weight I didn’t shy away from new opportunities or challenges in other aspects of my life. I had thought about becoming a nurse during my years in Mozambique because of the need for health care workers there. Also the demand for nurses here promised a decent paying career.  My job with the Young Parents Program was tenuous and budget cuts in the state forced the program to close temporarily in the beginning of 2003. When it reopened the program I ran did not so I was only offered a part-time position in another town. I declined because I had the foresight to register for a prerequisite nursing class at a local community college. At that point I decided to throw myself into preparing for nursing school full time so I signed up for more classes and began working at a pizza shop where my aunt worked for extra money.

My self-esteem was at a low. My weight was all over the place. In October of 2003 we had our U.S. wedding for my friends and family. It was a nice day, but I am disappointed looking back on it. I wanted to glow and feel my best, but instead I settled for mediocre. I didn’t feel like the beautiful bride. I was jealous of how thin my wedding party was and how great they looked in their dresses. Imagine the bride envious of her wedding party. The way I felt about myself definitely cast a shadow on my mood that day. I managed to put on a good face, but deep down I was mad at myself for once again allowing my weight to dictate my mood.

I’m aware that I may get comments about these photos. Remember that how one feels about their body is subjective. This is my story and these are my feelings. I have struggled with weight issues most of my life. While my weight in these photos may not be considered by some to be a problem, to me it was a problem.

Here comes the bride
Here comes the bride: My Dad and I walking down the aisle
I do...again!
I do…again!

After the wedding I threw myself into my studies, I joined a gym and I began waitressing full time. I was busy. My weight fluctuated and even dropped for a time, but not too low. I didn’t own a scale and didn’t weigh myself at the gym so I’m not quite sure what I weighed. My mood was often directly correlated to the current state of my weight and how I felt in my clothing.

This has been a very difficult and emotional post to write. This was a rather dark time in my life. It’s also important for me to write about this time period because it plays an important role in who I’ve become today. Disordered eating was accompanied by disordered thinking and both needed to be addressed before any real change could take place.

I realize this post is somewhat disjointed and unorganized. That reflects how I felt during this period of my life. To tie up some loose ends I will end with a list to make my thoughts more organized.

  • My marriage withstood my moods and frustrations with my weight primarily because I have a wonderful husband who has always loved me as I am.
  • My relationship with friends and family deteriorated because I was not a joy to be around most of the time.
  • I avoided family gatherings if possible.
  • Emotional eating was in full swing.
  • Nursing school allowed me an excuse to hide in some ways. It also provided me with added stress which led me to eat more.
  • I was unhappy and it showed most of the time.
  • I wanted to change but I wanted someone to help me. Essentially I wanted someone to do it for me.

8 thoughts on “Skin Deep: Living in America

  1. Without trying to undermine anything you said here or felt then, you were a beautiful bride! I completely understand that it’s not about how others see you, but how you see yourself, but as an objective outside voice, beautiful!

    And point one on your list is so amazing. Many men would not have done the same. Having someone who loves you through thick and thin (ahaha, I had to… sorry…) is one of the best things in the world I believe.

    I love reading this series, and knowing it’s brought you to where you are today.

  2. Hi Aimee! I’m reading this post and am reminded of the gut-o-meter, the waist gauge of how stressful life is going. To me, it seems like it was the craziness of the ups, downs, and jolts happening in this point of your life, with the correlating weight. This was a severely hard time of your life! I also think your bridal pictures are pretty, but that doesn’t mean that some disturbing thoughts are not attached. It is very hard to have a mother who disapproves of your marriage, especially when everything else is not going so well. In the end, it really matters more how we feel about ourselves than what we look like. Of all things, I hate having complete loss of control about eating because that doesn’t reflect the person I want to be. But you need to understand, almost anyone would feel severe strain in this situation you describe. And given all of this, you turned it around. 😀

    🙂 Marion

  3. Parts of this post could have been written by me – I was the queen of hiding food and eating alone. I’ve done much better over the years, but every once in a while I’ll be at the check out and look at a candy bar and think “I can eat that and put the wrapper in my purse before I get home.”

    I love how open you are to this – I know it takes guts, and for what it’s worth, you look beautiful . . . then and now! 😀

  4. Aimee…
    I love how brave you are to write this series.
    When I read parts of what you write, it’s like I’m reading my own life story, but just with different details. I too have eaten to (much) excess in private, even exactly as you have described (what can I eat from the grocery store to my home and where is there a trash that I can put the empty container before I get home). I have always hated myself after these episodes and wondered why I wasn’t strong enough to resist, or why all the “good food” made me gain weight, or why I was even born…it didn’t seem like I was anything important and my up and down eating pattern only confirmed my negative feelings. This doesn’t happen too much anymore, but I can’t say never, I don’t think this will ever not be a part of me…which makes me mad and sad at the same time. This is something that I’ve never even told Kimm about…I’m too ashamed.
    Sharing this part of your story and seeing where you are now gives me such hope. You have truly turned full circle…even though you may not know it, you are a strong source of inspiration to me.
    Reading this makes me think back to when I first met you, on south four…I never really had much interaction with you, I simply thought of you as the quiet nurse, but as I got to know you just a little bit better, I thought of you as very poised and thoughtful in your conversations. But I never would have ever thought that this story, so similar to mine, was in your past. It just goes to show you that you never really know other people…you can judge all you want and think their lives are so much better, but we are all battling our own selves, in different ways.
    I will say it again…I love the way you write and share your thoughts. I can’t wait to read the rest and see your transformation.
    Keep on keeping on Aimee!

  5. Thank you for sharing what I’m sure was a very difficult post to write. So many of us (including me) can relate to so much of what you wrote. Knowing that you made your way through to the other side is such an inspiration.

  6. Funny, the same day I read this post I was looking at my wedding picture and thinking how much I hate the way I look. Why didn’t i search harder for a dress with sleeves? (and of course i could’ve worked harder at losing weight). I don’t even like my hairdo that day. Can we get a do-over? You are so very brave to write this post Aimee – and to delve into the “ugly parts” to work towards a healthy body and self image. I know I sound like a broken record but you are an inspiration. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your journey. ❤

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