We had some memorable moments during the book tour of Knowing Pains. Our first reading, surrounded by local friends and family. A later reading, with a sea of empty chairs, wondering if it was worth actually reading aloud to the two lone souls who came to hear us. Fortunately others were standing room only, which evened things out. The most memorable reading for my writer, Esther Gulli, was in San Francisco, where her father-in-law was in the audience. Esther's story of weight loss, complete with a revolutionary new bra fitting and the discovery of Hanky Pankies, might have included more detail than her father-in-law wanted to hear. But the women in the room loved it and I hope you do too! Molly
My thirties were exceptionally difficult for me – three miscarriages, the death of my brother John from a drug overdose, a cross country move to a new city with no friends, a major career change and subsequent layoff, two complicated (but thankfully successful) pregnancies, and motherhood. And through it all, food was my constant companion, my drug of choice, seeing me through the emotional meat grinder that had become my life.
As I entered my 40s, I felt as if I was crawling out of a dark cave. All the drama of my 30s was behind me. I had a wonderful husband and two amazing daughters, and I was no longer burdened with the dual mental tortures of trying to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy. I also had a job I liked, and had managed to find some great friends to stand in for the sister and girlfriends I’d left behind on the East Coast. With all the darkness of my 30s behind me, I was incredibly optimistic about my 40s, and appreciative of the quiet, happy life I was finally living. There was only one cloud hanging over this utopia – the final frontier, my weight.
When I went through grief therapy after my brother’s death, which came two days after miscarriage number two, I remember this being the one issue that was absolutely off limits. I told my therapist I wasn’t interested in talking about it, and could we just stick to the real issues like death and infertility, blindly oblivious to the interconnectedness of my pain, my grief and my ever-expanding waistline. In retrospect, I expect that it was obvious to him that I was self-medicating with food.
To be sure, I didn’t gain all my weight in California. After all, I was born in Tennessee, and spent most of my youthful summers in Mississippi feasting on Aunt Millie’s cornbread, black-eyed peas cooked in bacon fat, steak fried up in the black skillet, caramel cake and homemade ice cream – and that was just lunch! My life has been a series of trips up and down that digital scale. But somehow, after moving to the Bay Area – the fit capital of the world – home of organic food, great weather and perfect-bodied people, I managed to gain even more weight and become my largest, most slovenly self.
On or around my 40th birthday in the spring of 2006, I had a conversation with my older sister Elizabeth about how much more difficult it is to lose weight once you hit that mile marker. I also vaguely recall some vow I made about getting down to 140 when I’m 40. It was, of course, an empty promise I had absolutely no intention of keeping.
I think every fat girl has her aha moment. That moment when you first see yourself as others must, but somehow you’ve managed never to let yourself see – through such tricks as well positioned mirrors that either tilt to minimize your hips, or are placed high so as to only show the top (aka good) half of your body.
For me, my stunning moment of recognition came later on that year, when I saw a video of my backside square dancing at family camp with my kids. Now, you’d have to know me to appreciate the utter hilarity of that statement – camping and square dancing are not really two activities that I engage in with any regularity.
But I can still remember the pants I was wearing, how they looked in the video, and how shocking that was for me to see. When I saw that image, all I could think of was how I had so carefully selected those pants that morning because of their “slimming” effect. Clearly, I had stopped living in reality a long time ago. There just aren’t a whole lot of places to hide 208 pounds on a frame that’s 5’2.
It was horrific. I think there may have even been an audible gasp upon my viewing of this home movie, and to add insult to injury, I knew that my thoughtful friend Eric, who had so lovingly captured this and other sentimental moments from the weekend, had also thoughtfully distributed copies of this creature feature to many of my closest friends.
And there it was, my defining moment. It was quite humbling and effective. The next week, I rejoined Weight Watchers. Like many of the folks around the room, it wasn’t the first time I’d been a member. Sadly, I’d been doing this drill since adolescence. I can remember the utter agony of being sent there when I was in junior high. I was the only one under 50 I think, or so I felt. (And that was back in the day when they MADE you eat liver. Could anything be more vile and disgusting?)
Thankfully, just as I have had a series of reinventions throughout my life, so has Weight Watchers. It’s come a long way in the last three decades… liver is no longer mandatory, and the leader who told me “bread is your friend” in the ‘90s has also been corrected. Now they’ve got that hot, hip, former Duchess to inspire us – hey, I got dumped by a Prince and the whole world knows it, but look how hot I am now! I came back to the fat girl club because I knew it was the only way to get me to focus on learning the fundamentals of a healthy relationship with food.
This time, it’s been a little different. For starters, I’m still going after a year, when before I think my record may have been four months. I’m there almost every Saturday morning at 7 am. Our leader, Mia, rocks – how else could she get folks there at that God-forsaken hour. And the group itself is an eclectic and inspiring lot. I see recognition in their eyes – even though we’re not all in the same place on the journey, we share a lot of the same pains, and we are genuinely happy for each other’s successes.
This time, although vanity may have gotten me in the door, I’ve been more inspired by the prospect of getting healthy so I can be an active mother and do things with my kids like run, hike, and swim. I want to live a long and healthy life so I can see what kind of people my two daughters will grow up to be.
Now, in all honesty, once the weight started coming off, I sure didn’t mind that I was looking a lot better. I’ve started caring more about my appearance. I get my roots done more regularly, to avoid that “continental divide” look. And for the first time in my life, I actually enjoy shopping. Amazing how going from a size 18 to a size 8 can do that for you.
About 30 pounds in to my weight loss journey, I met a blessed angel at Nordstrom, the expert bra fitter, Erica. She gave me my first fitting in probably 25 years, not counting the nursing bra which absolutely does not qualify as anything remotely close to an uplifting experience. God bless Erica…she took me out of a 38C and landed my girls in a 34D, taking fifteen years off my saggy rack. It’s amazing how much better your clothes look with breasts that aren’t hanging down to your elbows.
And with the top half conquered, I turned my focus to the bottom half and went WAY outside my comfort zone in an attempt to rid myself of the dreaded VPLs (visible panty lines). Acting on a tip from some of my more stylish girlfriends, I finally worked up the nerve to purchase my first thong, a pair of Hanky Pankies. I regret that I was in my fortieth year of life before I learned about these little miracles. The next day, I was back at the store buying eight more. These little lace ditties have transformed my wardrobe. And just last month, I bought my first pair of hip-hugging jeans. I don’t even recognize myself anymore.
So yes, there have been some great benefits to losing 48 pounds. I have never felt more healthy and alive. And without a doubt, I love that I look and feel better at 41 than I did at 35. Turning 40 was actually a great and wonderful thing. It inspired me to finally take on the challenge of dealing with my most dysfunctional relationship – the relationship with my oldest lover and friend, food. After more than 40 years together, we’ve finally discovered a way to peacefully co-exist for a long and healthy ever-after.
Are you happy with your weight? Any success stories you want to share?
Esther Gulli (42) works in Student Affairs at a major university. Originally from Tennessee, she set out for Washington DC after college with no job and four cardboard boxes containing all her worldly belongings. She worked in politics for 12 years, including the Clinton White House, and traveled extensively throughout five continents before heading west in 2000. She is married with two kids, and stays in touch with her fabulous network of women. She recommends that all women get a bra-fitting and a pair of Hanky-Pankies as a rite of passage into their 40s.