Like most women I know, I grew up in an era where skinny=beautiful. And the skinnier you were, the better. I spent my childhood days playing with my barbies, unaware that they had completely unrealistic measurements. I have fond memories of sitting on our fluffy brown carpet, legs folded under me, eyes fixed on the tiny TV screen as women paraded around in bathing suits and competed for the title of Miss America. I wanted to look just like them. I remember designing work outs as young as age 7 because I “didn’t want to get fat.”
When I became a teenager, I had this crazy notion that I might want to be a model. I looked through fashion magazines filled with impossibly thin girls and practiced my poses, only to be told at auditions that at 5’9 and 115 lbs, I could “stand to lose a few pounds.”
Luckily my modeling career was as brief as my interest in anything those days and I soon turned my teenage aspirations back to school and playing sports. Unfortunately, these distractions didn’t always stop the intrusive thoughts or unhealthy decisions that I made. And I wasn’t alone. How to lose weight was a daily discussion among my circle of friends. One friend, who always seemed to have the inside scoop on latest diet fads, heard that if you took large amounts of a certain vitamin that you would lose weight. All it did was cause her face to be bright red (a common side effect called the “niacin flush,” I later learned in nursing school). It didn’t help her shed any pounds but if it had been successful, I promise you there would have been a bunch of red-faced 10th graders walking the hallways of our school!
The years following high school continued cycles of unhealthy eating habits and compulsive exercise. I would have months where I felt okay but then stressors would pop up (nursing school, getting married, etc) and I would go back to old habits that included obsessively writing down everything I ate and feeling guilty if I wavered from my strict diet and exercise regimen.
When I had a daughter, I was determined for her to have a different experience growing up. My mom had always been encouraging and quick to reassure me when the negative thoughts came crashing down, but I decided to take it a step further and be proactive. ￼My daughter is 8 and we don’t discuss weight or comment on her body, unless it’s to tell her how strong she is or how fast she runs. The F word in our house is “fat,” and our kids are not allowed to say it, especially when describing someone’s body. We focus on healthy eating and looking at food as fuel. We encourage our kids to be active and find fun ways to exercise.
About 18 months ago I started doing CrossFit several days a week. It was different than any workout program I’d ever done, and I was hooked immediately. About 6 months in, I was shocked to see that I was gaining weight instead of losing it. All of that hard work was producing muscle I had never had before and muscle is heavy! Instead of freaking out, I regularly remind myself to step away from the scale. It’s an ongoing struggle, but I know that I have little eyes watching everything I do. Those eyes watch me push myself at the gym on days when I don’t even feel like getting out of bed, they watch my coach encourage me when I’m learning a new skill, they watch my friends cheer when I hit a new PR, and they watch me make healthy food choices so I can fuel my body to go do it again! Throughout this journey I’ve realized that I don’t want my daughter thinking I’m pretty or I’m skinny, I want her to think I’m a bada$$! After all, strong is the new skinny!