health

“You can’t be happy when you’re fat. No-one can.”

atruthA while back, Bella was getting dressed for school when she uttered words that broke my heart.

“Mama, I’m fat. But I want to be skinny like Kelly. See my tummy?” She pulled up her shirt to show me a beautiful belly that loves tickles.

And I looked at my five year old daughter – really looked at her. The pleading sadness in her big, brown eyes. The ‘yuck-face’ she made as she patted at her little-girl tummy. The discontent in the droop of her shoulders as she turned to look at her reflection in the mirror. It was a sadness and a ‘yuck-face’ and a discontent that I know all too well.

What have I done?

She didn’t stop there. She wanted to be smaller – ‘like my friend blah blah’. Less hairy – ‘like my friend blah blah’. I noted that all the friends she was aspiring to look like – were palagi. Very different physically from her Samoan girl self. They were fair-skinned, blonde and very petite. (Although, at five years old, is ‘petite’ even a real word?!)

It didn’t matter when I told Bella she was beautiful and strong and brave and funny and clever. That her body was shamaaahzing and could do wonderful things. She was still unhappy with her appearance because she was measuring it against an “ideal” that she didn’t fit, and so nothing else mattered.

What have I done?

Among other things, this conversation with Bella, led to my ‘awakening’, my own personal epiphany. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life, my every waking minute – obsessed with my appearance and in particular, with my weight. I grew up ‘gangly’ skinny and tall, flat on both sides – surrounded by girls who were Samoan-style curvaceous, with big and bold thighs, legs and breasts. A nice boy who had a way with words, called me Chicken-Legs. Another added, Skinny Owl-Face, to my name. But I didn’t need them to make me feel crap about my body because I already loathed it. Because it was too skinny, too tall, too flat.

Then I grew up and something called marriage, motherhood and madness happened.  I wasn’t skinny anymore. Now I was too fat, too squishy, too stretch-marked. I did diets. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Soup Starvation. No carbs. No dairy. High protein. High carb. I did fitness programs. Weight training, Extreme Challenge, aerobics, fun-runs. Heck, I did the 102km Perimeter Relay. TWICE. I embraced fitness so hard, me and the Hot Man organized community run/walk events for families. (Except I got so excited about motivating other people that I couldn’t do the races myself because somebody had to do all the registration, race times and refreshments.)

In and of themselves, none of those things were bad. Eating better and moving more are all good things we should do. They can make us feel great, have fun and live longer, better-quality lives. The problem though, was I did them hating my body. Hating what it looked like and what it felt like. A lot of that self-hatred came from being a sexual abuse survivor. Some of it came from simply being a woman in this often screwed-up world we live in. It didn’t matter that I had a partner who loved me and thought my ‘fat/squishy/stretchmarked’ body was beautiful and who always wanted to do wildly exciting things with my aforementioned squishy self. Because the truth is, you cant find self-worth in someone else’s love for you. No matter how Hot that someone else is…

It didn’t matter that I had babies who loved me and appreciated my nurturing, hugs, kisses and snuggles. No, that barely made a dent because I was too busy measuring…weighing…and despising the body my spirit lives in. Its been a miserable way to live and I cannot begin to comprehend the impact my body-hatred has had on my children, in particular, my daughters.

I am so done.

It’s not easy, it’s taken awhile, but with lots of help – I have let go of the body hate and am learning how to love. And live. Food is not my enemy, my friend, my excuse, or my escape. Its a delicious, essential part of life. I don’t stand on a scale anymore. When I’m having a bad day, I don’t blame it on my body and complain about being fat and ugly (especially in front of my children!)  Now, I own my emotions and name them – I am tired, angry, sad, stressed, afraid, nervous  – and food aint gonna fix any of it. When I go for a walk/run, its because I like how it feels, I like having a shot of fresh air and endorphins. Its not about how many calories I need to burn.

I look in the mirror and I rejoice in what I see there. In what I feel. In what I am. I am a thousand stories and countless more waiting to be told. Strength, scars, wisdom, laughter, tears, fears, courage, compassion, endurance, tenderness, faith, questions, passion, love – I am all these and more. It’s truly a joyous way to live each day.

I hadn’t realized how exhausting body-image obsession is, not until I stopped. Its so much nicer to be nice to myself! This has changed the way I view the women around me as well. I am no longer critical of how they dress or what they look like. Instead I can focus on what they say, what they do and how they treat the people around them.

And, I am able now to quietly expect others to give me and my body, the same respect. This isn’t easy… I was in Samoa this week and a dear friend of mine told me, very loudly, very emphatically, in front of a group of men and women – “You need to go on a diet. You have to lose weight.”

Her response, when I very nicely told her that I’m never dieting again and I don’t want to lose weight because “I’m happy with my body”? She told me off. Very loudly and emphatically.

“Don’t lie to yourself. You can’t be happy when you’re fat, when you look like that. Nobody can.”

The old Me would have been horribly hurt and ashamed – and would have agreed with her. The old Me would then have gone home, looked in the mirror at the curves, the rolls, the jiggly bits – and been disgusted. Then made 101 plans for how to try and stop being so ugly/disgusting.

But I am not the same Me. And so I wasn’t horribly hurt. And I didn’t agree with her. Was I embarrassed at being spoken to like that, especially in front of others? Yes. Was I disappointed that a friend would treat me that way? Yes. But I know what place she’s coming from. I’ve been there and it’s a miserable place to live in. So as she continued to reprimand me about ‘living in a fantasy land of lies because you just don’t want to face the truth of what you need to do…I’ve been fat and so I know how unhappy that is…‘ I didn’t get angry. Instead, I was able to say, “What is it about a big woman who likes her body that makes you feel so uncomfortable? So threatened? I’ve spent years hating my body and it had nothing to do with size because I wasn’t happy even when I was stick skinny…”

This is an example of how pervasive body shaming is – even your friends and family can try to do it to you and think its okay.

I am so done.

It’s taken me a lifetime, but I am finally able to say, (stealing a few lines here from some random character in some random book somewhere…)

“I am Lani, I was broken and now I am whole. I am Beloved.”

Beloved, by me – also means I am better able to love those around me. I only hope I can repair the damage I’ve already done with my daughters. I want Bella to be able to read this,

abella

– and believe it, with all of her strong, brave, funny, clever, talented, beloved self.

 

Helpful to Remember: (from Laura Bradley Rede on Pinterest.)

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Sex-Breasts VS Milk-Making Ones

In this week’s Samoa Observer column, I get to talk about breasts. Yay fun!

“if breastfeeding is so good for everyone involved, then why is there sometimes an air of indelicate shame and discomfort about it in the ‘modern’ palagi country I currently live in?…The reaction to a woman feeding her baby in public as opposed to skulking in a dark corner (or toilet block) can sometimes range from awkward shifty eyes, to irritated muttering about indecency…”

Read the full article here: Samoa Observer

Children are Dream-Killers

One woman. Running over 104km of scorching road…over jagged mountains and through expansive rainforest…can she endure? Can she summon the strength and will to battle onward?  (cue kickbutt powerful theme music here)

Can you see it? Can you hear it? Wouldn’t it be awesome?!

Last weekend, I went to support a friend of ours as he dared the impossible and ran 104km from one side of the main island in Samoa, to the other. Usually, the Samoa Perimeter Relay involves a team effort of six runners who pass a baton and take turns to traverse the full distance, each running 5k, four times. I’ve done the relay twice in my life and each time, as I have hobbled and staggered up Le Mafa Pass and been chased by rabid dogs,  I have cursed the idiot who organized our team and conned five other women into thinking, “Wouldn’t this be soooo much fun?!”  (That idiots name is Lani. Stupid woman…)

So I know how loooong that distance can be and how hot the Samoan sun can get when you’ve been on the road for far too long. Which is why I was in awe of Aunese Cureen (Setefano Mika) as he ran the entire distance solo. It took him 14 hours. At the finish line, he was greeted by 60+ year old Mark Moors who had succeeded in doing the same feat a year previously. It was an awe-inspiring sight to see these two warriors together.

Which got me thinking…WOULDNT IT BE SOOOO COOL IF A SAMOAN WOMAN DID THE 104KM SOLO? Like, super so cool? And like…(you just know where I’m going with this, don’t you?!)

Wouldn’t it be extra super so cool if that woman was ME? And heck, maybe I could even con persuade some fabulous woman warriors to do the entire distance with me? And it could be this this amazingly fabulous Woman Warrior thang?

I’m not stupid though, I didn’t think I would RUN the whole thing. No, I was much more sensible and imagined I would WALK the whole thing. Based on my estimations, it would take me a hairs-breadth under 24 hours to do it. I would walk from sun-down to the next day’s sun-down. What a glorious adventure it would be!

It was an exhilarating vision. I could hear the thundering theme music playing to a crescendo. (Maybe Chariots of Fire? Or the Star Wars theme song?) I could see me nobly traversing the isolated road…all trim and toned with rippling sweaty musculature ( because of course, I would train heaps beforehand and transform into this stunning athletic vision of fitness) I would listen to audio books on my iPod as I power walked…nothing trashy like paranormal romance set in Samoa, heck no. I would intone recitals of Shakespearean rhapsody. And Homer’s Illiad. In Latin. (Or Greek. Whatever the damn Iliad is written in.) When I reached the highest point of Le Mafa Pass, I would pause to survey the vista of wild beauty before me, I would be at one with nature. And the universe. And the stars. I am the road, the air, the earth…and the earth is me.

Oh yes, it was a stirring, awe-inspiring vision indeed.

And then I told my family.

The Hot Man loved me enough to make encouraging noises. “Ummm…anything is possible. Umm…I’m sure if you train hard enough, you can do it.”

But Big Son said, “Are you crazy? You’re going to die.”

And Big Daughter said, “But mum, you don’t even walk to the grocery store up the road, how are you supposed to walk for 104km?”

Then the Hot Man changed his tune. He called on his vast athlete experience to suggest that I try for ‘something less impossible…something more in your reach.”

Like what?

“Do a 5k fun-run,” they said.

“But I don’t want to do itsy-bitsy things that every body does!” I whined. “I want to do the IMPOSSIBLE. With the Star Wars soundtrack. A pathetic little 5k is only worthy of a Wiggles song.”

The family didn’t share my resounding vision of earth-shattering achievement. No, they just kept going, killing my dreams. Ripping them to shreds. “You sit at your desk allll day and only walk to the fridge for food. You cant just up and decide you want to run 104km. Or even walk 104km…You’re going to collapse and die out there. We’re not going to support this. You’re our mum and we don’t want you to DIE on the road in a sweaty, convulsing heap…That’s the stupidest thing we’ve ever heard, it’s like a person who’s never even climbed 30min hike to RLS grave before, but you want to start your climbing career by going up Mt Everest. So stupid!!!”

It didn’t matter that I was being sensible and only wanted to WALK 104km. It didn’t matter that I have one year to prepare. Or that I was going to find some other brave, Star Wars theme music warrior women to do it with me. Nope. My children remained unconvinced.

I can’t believe I gave these people LIFE and here they are stabbing and killing my dreams like this…

Horrible hateful dream-killer children.

So this is me – reporting that I will NOT be attempting to do the 104km next year. No. I am now going to walk to the fridge and get me some chocolate pudding to drown my sorrows in.