Body Issues

By Cari Oleskewicz

My daughter loves her body. She is almost six years old, tall and athletic, and weighs in at 48 pounds. She likes to dress up in princess costumes and my high heels, she likes to run and play, she twirls naked around the living room without a shred of self-consciousness or anxiety. She knows she is beautiful.

Please, God, let this healthy self-image stay with her, I pray silently.

Raising my daughter without body issues would be a lot easier if I did not cart around so many of my own.

I was a competitive gymnast when I was younger, so my weight was recorded, tracked, discussed, debated and ridiculed from the age of eight. The pressure to lose weight was intense. As adolescents, our bodies are supposed to be growing. But I was fighting to shrink mine. Only now, as an adult in a season of extreme self-analysis, have I realized that my attempts to diminish myself ran past my physical development, and worked their way into other parts of my life. My body issues made me socially awkward and emotionally damaged.

Obesity is in my genetic makeup. I come from a long line of large women. We are tall, with sturdy structures and large bones. Many of us gain and lose weight rapidly and frequently. We are like Oprah. We have done the low fat diets, the no carb diets, and every fast, cleanse and meal plan in between. We join gyms and Weight Watchers, and we get shots and take pills. Some things work, and some things do not. Even on our thin days, we are painfully aware of the struggle. We know the scales can tip back over to the other side when we least expect it.

Gymnastics taught me a lot about discipline, hard work and goal setting. I do not think the sport is bad, at least not if you are naturally petite.

I was about 13 years old and training for a state competition. I was also recovering from an unpleasant and week-long stomach virus. While I was practicing my bar routine, one of my coaches, we’ll call him Chuck, because that was his name, called to me from across the gym crowded with my teammates.

He asked if I was feeling better.

“Yes!” I hollered back, dismounting the uneven bars with a perfect landing.

“Did you lose any weight while you were sick?”

I felt myself blush. “Seven pounds,” I said.

“How much?”

“Seven pounds,” I repeated, louder.

“Well at least that puts you under a hundred, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” I answered, embarrassed but proud.

“Then let’s get sick more often!”

It did not even seem abnormal to me. No warning bells went off in my youthful mind when I would sneak food off to my bedroom at night because hunger pangs were keeping me awake. This is how I was raised. I absorbed my mother’s nickname for me – Crisco. She called me that because Crisco is “fat in the can.” Even now, she does not understand the hurt that came with that name. Even now, she claims that she was trying to help me – that I am just being sensitive. I grew up hiding the fact that I could not button my jeans by wearing baggy sweatshirts that hung almost to my knees. I could never bring myself to admit that it was time for a larger pants size.

When I finally gave up my gymnastics career at the age of 15, I was 5’ 4” and weighed about 116 pounds. I was too enormous to succeed. And then, I was turned loose upon the high school social world. I had been sheltered from the school dances and the football games and the movies because of my practice schedule and weekend competitions. Suddenly everything was available to me, including candy and milkshakes and buttery popcorn and nachos and soda and all the things normal people ate without thinking about it.

My mother had not wanted me to give up the sport, and one of her arguments was “you’ll get fat.” I did get fat. She was right. But I remember being pleased that she did not say “fatter.”

I am 38 years old and trying to get healthier. By healthier, I do not mean thinner. I mean, simply, less obsessed with trying to shrink myself. I am doing this not for myself, but for my daughter and the way I want her to grow up. Because of her, I do not agonize over ice cream on summer evenings. I do not cover myself up in layers at the beach. I do not use the f-word. Most of the time we eat healthy, fresh foods and snacks, but occasionally, we binge on pizza, and there is no hand-wringing about it.

It is very hard work.

Sometimes, I will notice things about my daughter’s body that cause an initial flutter of alarm. Those might be early love handles reaching out from her hips. I see the possibility of a pot belly or a double chin. But she is oblivious to these fears of her mother. Her reaction would likely be to shrug them off the way she does when I shriek in despair at her fondness for scooping up worms and crickets with her bare hands. She would shake her head and roll her eyes and say, “Oh, mommy. It’s no big deal.”

And for that, I am grateful.

About this writer

  • Cari Oleskewicz Cari Oleskewicz is a freelance writer who has relocated from Maryland to Myrtle Beach. Her nonfiction has been published in the Washington Post, New York Magazine and Italian Cooking and Living. She has recently completed writing a novel for which she is seeking representation. When not writing, Cari can be found chasing her five year old down the beach, reading, cooking and traveling!

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One Response to “Body Issues”

  1. Naomie says:

    I do accept as true with all of the concepts you’ve introduced in your post.

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