There’s an upside.
“Have you lost weight?”
If I was in a cheap romance novel I’m sure there’d be mention of coy blushing in delight at this question. I grin demurely to myself, cast my glance down to the ground and nod silently.
Actually I respond with a gruff and manly:
“Yeah I have shed a bit this year”.
“Well, good for you, Seamus”
And on the inside I am beaming at myself.
There’s a downside.
Each morning I sneak a look, it’s like I can’t help myself. I look up and down the doorway to make sure no one else is watching, especially not the kids, and I hop on. The springs creak and the needle settles on a number. What that number says sets my self-worth in that little instant of time. Have I lost more? Have I put anything on? Did I have a big breakfast?
I turn and gaze into the mirror before standing in the familiar profile. Pinching a fold of skin, slapping my bare belly I sigh at myself. I breathe out and slouch, letting my gut protrude, shake my head and say “tut tut” to myself.
Then I see little eyes on me. One of my children looking at me, taking it all in. They don’t understand, but they see, and that’s more than I’m comfortable with. I hide behind a dad-grin and walk away from the scales and the mirror. I don’t want them to see me like that.
I’ve got a long relationship with that mirror. I remember watching it expanding, and I remember watching it fall away. I would stand on scales and feeling good or bad about myself because of what number a needle pointed to. And I don’t want that for them, which of course means I should just stop doing it myself.
But it isn’t that simple, it’s a habit. I don’t remember exactly when I first cracked 100kg, but I was in my teens, and it was part of a twice yearly fitness test thing we did in PE. I knew I was fat. I’d appropriated that label and spent a lot of my time at school making a joke out of it. I figured that it wasn’t going to stop if I objected, so what was the point? Better to take it on and be known as a fat funny guy than a fat whinny guy – although I don’t remember ever making that choice consciously.
Then I was in my 20s, and moving. I mean really moving. I exercised, but didn’t do it intentionally. There were no “boot camps” or fitness challenges or any of that, there was just me, my bike and my obsession with rock climbing. And there were no scales. In fact I think I was donating blood when I discovered my weight had dropped back down to 2 figures. I felt great, I’d returned from a threshold that I thought was one way only.
Turns out it can be traversed multiple times. Uni finished and I found myself occupied with desk jobs, Friday night drinks, bought lunches…. Then came my 30s, and kids. I joined (and left) gyms here and there. I started and stopped jogging here and there. Well, in terms of my health and fitness I wasn’t doing myself any favours.
Some would see it as a list of excuses, and they might be right. But it’s what was going on for me at the time, and it’s the kind of stuff that goes on for a lot of men. And now, hopefully, I’ve reversed it.
But I still stand on those scales, still scold my reflection and still wonder if I look good. I still don’t feel like I’m winning at this.
But all of that is just context, stuff that’s happened that has set me up for where I am now, and it’s all my baggage. Baggage I don’t want to pass on to my kids.
Enough baggage about body image will be foisted on the pair of them by marketers and advertising the world over without them needing any extra from me. There’ll be the latest iteration of “Biggest Loser” or whatever viler fat-shaming advertorial circus replaces it in the future to give future generations of kids complexes about their body shape. They certainly don’t need this dad’s help.
I’ll encourage my kids to eat healthy without saying “It’ll make you fat!”. If my kids are hungry, they eat. We won’t boycott or demonise food, but we will tell the truth about it. And that doesn’t mean we always say “yes” when they ask for 15 chocolate bars either. It means guiding them, having healthy options available and ensuring that the multi-billion dollar messages of marketing firms are at least somewhat countered at home.
I’ll show them that what I eat is my choice, and I am trying to choose wisely. This year, especially, it’s meant my pants keep falling down, and punching new holes in my belts. But that’s not the point. The point hasn’t been to lose weight or look good. Something I have to remind myself. The point’s been to feel healthier and live long enough to see grand children. A new shape is just a side-effect.
But what i need to work on is forgiving that man I see in the mirror and doing my best to abandon “weigh-ins” in the morning. I think that will be harder than dropping a few stone, but I hope that by sharing the story I’ll make it a bit easier for myself, and maybe for others out there too.