‘I can do this, right?’ I scanned the faces around me, absolutely mortified. ‘Of course. Just take your shirt off!’ Peopled waved, said hello. Where were the looks of disgust?!’ Mom embraces plus-size beach body to set example for daughter

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“For most of my 34 years on earth, I have struggled with my weight and overall appearance. Growing up, I was always a bit overweight. My dinner usually consisted of hamburger helper or spaghetti, and lunches were always canned ravioli, spaghetti o’s, or spaghetti and meatballs (which I still love today and eat way more often than I should). It was the late 80’s/early 90’s and there was not a lot of focus on super healthy meals for kids, nor would we willingly eat healthy things. All moms have that point where they just give their kids the food they will eat and save the fight for something else later. I’m pretty sure my mom was at that point regularly with my sister and me.

I remember the exact day where I realized I was the ‘Chubby Kid’. I was in fifth grade. Let that sink in for a minute. I was TEN years old! A popular girl in my class who was friends with some of my friends announced I could not hang out with them. No ‘Free Willies’ (a whale) allowed. On the playground, I would hear her yell, ‘FREEEE WILLY!!!’ On that day, I lost all of my 5th grade friends. Of course they were going to stick with the popular girl. I ran home to my mom in tears. I begged her to let me go back to the private church school I had attended from K-4th grade. We had a falling out with the pastor and his family, but upon hearing what was happening to me in the public school, they let me back in with arms wide open. I felt safe. I was safe to be me, and to eat whatever I wanted without judgement.

I stayed in that school until my 9th grade year. My mom put me in a large Christian school, and we hoped for the best. I met some great friends, one of whom is the godmother of my children to this day. I enjoyed most of that year. I was the largest girl in my grade (size 14-16 at that time). I worried about the flab on my arms while playing the flute. I couldn’t fit in the Abercrombie and Aeropostale clothes. I was large chested, so I didn’t look the same as all the other girls. I decided to go on a diet. I would bring a nice salad every day for lunch. The skinny girls ate salad, so I would too! I was proud of myself for making a healthy choice.

One day at lunch, I was sitting with my friend group, and some other girls sat at the table that did not usually sit with us. One of them exclaimed, ‘WOW! Are you going to eat that whole salad? That is the biggest salad I’ve ever seen in my life! There is like NO WAY you can eat that whole thing!’ I was absolutely mortified. I ate a few bites of my salad and said, ‘Yeah, it’s way too much. I don’t know what my mom was thinking!’

I left lunch still hungry and went to the bathroom where I cried for the remainder of the lunch period. The next day for lunch, I brought just a couple pieces of lunch meat. Unlucky for me, those girls sat with us again. ‘Do you know how bad lunch meat is for you? It’s like, straight fat.’ In typical teenager fashion, I decided that if I couldn’t eat the right thing no matter what I tried, I just wouldn’t eat anything. This destructive thought started my short but dangerous stint with anorexia. I would not eat breakfast or lunch, and just a little bit for dinner. I went quickly from a size 16 to a size 10-12 during that summer. It did not take long for my sister to realize what was going on and force me to eat what she put on my plate.

I started eating again and it felt so good. My weight shot up higher than before. In 11th grade, I met the man of my dreams. I quickly became pregnant and ended up having to leave that school. Shortly after leaving school, I lost the little baby I had been carrying. To my family, it was considered a huge blessing that I would not be a teen mom. I was devastated! Since it was already clear that I had premarital sex, my mom gave me permission to marry my boyfriend. It would save appearances.

On July 12, 2003, at age 17, I married my boyfriend of 5 months. After being married for a few months, we decided to try for a baby and were instantly successful. During my pregnancy, I was very sick and lost a lot of weight. When she was born, I was 3 pounds lighter than the day I got pregnant. We joked that having a baby was a good diet for me! I stayed home with her for a few months and then went to work at a bakery. Bakery + weight struggles = disaster. I went from a size 16 when my daughter was born to a size 20 in 10 months. 10 months after our daughter was born brought another huge life change. I was expecting her sister.

Courtesy of Amber

I was not nearly as sick with her and gained a solid 20 pounds during my pregnancy. As a busy mom of 2, who never really learned how to cook healthy food, we ate a lot of junk food. I ballooned to a size 22. At that size, here came our surprise baby #3. As a stay at home mom of 3 kids 3.5 years and younger, I spiraled. I suffered severe postpartum depression and let everything go. Finally, I decided to diet and exercise. But I never made any progress no matter what I tried, so I just stopped trying.

The proverbial nail in my obesity coffin happened in December of 2011. I woke up one morning covered in blood. It looked like a massacre in my bed. A frantic trip to the gynecologist later, and I was set to have a hysterectomy ASAP. On December 23rd, at 26 years old, I underwent a complete hysterectomy. I had major muscle damage and bladder damage where my uterus had adhered to everything in my abdomen through my weak c-section scar. Every single muscle was cut, and detached from my uterus. Along with the major damage, keeping me from even being able to sit myself up unassisted, I had the instantaneous loss of hormones. I gained 150 pounds in a year. This brought me to my heaviest weight. 325 pounds. I wore a size 28. I started working out and lost some of the weight, but it quickly plateaued and I gave up once again.

Courtesy of Amber

As my kids got older, I decided to go back to school. I wanted a career that would fulfill me. I wanted to do something that mattered and so I chose to become a Certified Medical Assistant. I had way too much anxiety over my appearance to go to a traditional brick and mortar college. As damaged as I was from my school experiences, I knew I could not sit in a classroom. What would the girls say about me? How can that huge girl possibly lug her body around a doctor’s office all day? I found one of the only online accredited medical assisting programs in the country and signed up. I soaked in every word of every lecture and graduated with a 4.0. After school, I felt terrified to go to job interviews. What would they think of someone my size? It was hard to go to an interview, but I did and landed a great job, in spite of the constant anxiety that somebody would bring my weight up in conversation.

Now diabetic, morbidly obese, depressed and hopeless, my mental health spiraled out of control. I could not handle my size. Everything hurt and I did not want to do anything. I hated myself. I became obsessed with hating my body. Day after day I would tell myself how terrible I looked. How nasty, disgusting, fat I was. I would try getting my family to agree with me. Despite my husband telling me constantly that I was beautiful and that he loved me just how I was, I didn’t believe it. I spent a few years trying to sabotage my marriage, in hopes that he would just leave me and find someone who was skinny. Someone who had some self-control. This has been such a struggle for me, and I’m so thankful that he has refused to quit on me, and has never stopped loving and supporting me.

Courtesy of Amber
Courtesy of Amber

I had no idea little ears had been listening, soaking in my self-hate, and turning it to herself. Cue major mom guilt. My gorgeous daughter would start saying how fat she was. How ugly. How she hates herself because she is overweight. I was horrified, and that put it mildly. I could not possibly understand how she could see herself that way! I mean, of course its not true! Where could she have learned this behavior? Yet, in the same day I would make comments when needing help off the couch (no lower abdominal muscles), like ‘Raise the titanic!’ or ‘Better grab a crane!’ This went on for years, up until this past year.

I realized how toxic my self-hate was to my oldest, beautiful daughter. No matter how many people tell her how beautiful she is, she doesn’t believe them. My behavior affected her greatly, and she thinks now that is how normal people feel about their bodies. Oh, how I wish I had seen this. I wish I had been able to stop this before it started. Mama’s, please watch how you talk about yourself in front of your impressionable daughters. It feels horrible to know that she feels how I have always felt. I know how terrible it has felt for me to hate my body and feel disgusting.

My daughter sees me struggle to do normal things. She sees me exhausted at the end of every day from carrying around 315 pounds. She’s seen me hide my body in oversized clothing and bathing suits that could double as an outfit in a pinch. She’s seen me in the water pulling down my tankini and hoping that nobody saw my nasty flab. Knowing that I have let her down, I knew that I needed to make a change. I had to start loving myself and hope I can teach her to love herself, too. That is where the idea for the bikini top came in. I saw a bikini top that has a high neck and lacing down the chest at the store. I was completely shocked when I saw they had it in my size. I thought if they made it in my size, they wanted someone my size to wear it.

I bought it and put it on and showed my husband. His eyes bugged out of his head, which was honestly pretty cute! A little spark of confidence started. I decided to show my kids and my daughter’s friend who was over next. They all thought it was super cute on me. I started asking all of the typical self-destructive questions. ‘Is it nasty with my tummy hanging out?’ NO. ‘Will you be embarrassed to be seen at the pool with me?’ NO. ‘Do you think people are going to be disgusted?’ With that question my 13-year-old daughter sighed and said, ‘No. And if they do, who cares? What matters is that you are beautiful and you are my mom, and you are happy!’ Cue more sparks of confidence.

Courtesy of Amber

I decided to give my bikini top a little test run. I’m an avid kayaker because it is something I can do that my size does not seem to affect. My husband and I got to the boat ramp where we were launching our kayaks, and there were just a few people there. ‘I can do this right?’ I asked him. ‘Of course. Just take your shirt off and own it.’ I took off my shirt. I immediately scanned the faces of the people around me and nobody was even paying attention. Where were my looks of disgust? Where were the people vomiting at the sight of the stretch marks, scars, and fat rolls? We launched the kayaks and paddled along the lake. People waved, said hello from their kayaks. Never did I see any staring, or disgusted faces. Confidence started to soar! People really didn’t care!

On top of the world, and rocking my bikini top, I took the kids swimming at the beach. I did ask if they saw anyone laughing at me or staring and they didn’t. I looked around at the hundred people at the beach, of all shapes and sizes, and saw they were just having fun, and nobody cared! Next, we tackled a water park. I didn’t even look at other people. I was so confident in my body. For the first time my body wasn’t defining me. My weight wasn’t holding me back. I felt free. Free of this ‘cover it up’ stigma that surrounds obese people. Free of feeling disgusting. Free of feeling like I am not enough because of my weight.

I weigh 315 pounds. Size 24. Flab for as far as the eye can see. Am I working on it? Yes. Am I letting it define me? No. Am I rocking the hell out of a bikini top now? Absolutely! It all hangs out because this is MY body. I’m nobody’s beach decoration. I spent way too long ashamed…no more!

Courtesy of Amber

I hope, I pray that one day my daughter will feel this way too. I strive to help her before she goes through her whole life the way I have. I hope that my confidence can show other people that it is okay to look how you look. You are a valuable human being. You may carry scars, or stretch marks, or 150 extra pounds, but you are beautiful! No two people look the same. No two people have the same story. Our bodies tell our story. Maybe your story is trauma, abuse, surgery, bad decisions, or the love of Blue Bunny loaded Sundaes. It is your truth. Own it. Be proud of it. You never know who is watching and learning from you.”

Courtesy of Amber

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amber of Southeast Iowa. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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