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Chipping Away at the Stone

I have been struggling to write about the 70 pounds I gained during pregnancy. And a little bit about the 10 pounds I gained in school before that. I tried not writing about it, and maybe writing about literally anything else, but it sits there like a stone at the front of my mind. I can’t seem to get around it or over it, so I’m just gonna have to break the stone apart bit by bit so that I can stop trying to work around it

I want to parse the thing — to look it in the eye and accept the facts for what they are — but it’s hard. When the decision and action of losing weight is seen as a success, gaining weight can only be a failure. When I spent the last several years doing so many awesome things, like building a great baby and raising a kid and doing well in my classes, I am loath to look at any of the side-effects as universal failures.

I also don’t want to further stigmatize other bodies like mine by using my own as a public punching bag. I recognize the axis of privilege I represent, and in many ways even at my current weight and even at my highest weight, I do not have it as bad as others. That’s a fine line to walk, for me, I usually walk it by just not putting Words to Paper about my body, and saving it for private conversations with my comfortable people.

I also don’t necessarily want to look it in the eye. Because despite what I know logically, there’s a part of my brain that says, “You knew this was happening and you didn’t work hard enough to stop it.” That’s somewhat true, while also being entirely bereft of the reality of how I deal with stress. It’s half a fact, and one that acts as though the weight I’ve gained is the worst thing that could have happened as a result of my schooling and pregnancy.

Anyway, all the intense thinking I’ve spent the last several weeks doing have brought me to a simple conclusion: there’s no way to win. To discuss my weight loss at all is a sin to the fat communities I’ve spent almost my entire life a part of, and to have gained the weight back is a failure to the weight loss communities that I oddly thrived in. I’ve constantly felt torn between those poles — that has not changed.

Consider, by the way, how fucked up it is to exist in a society where half of it demands an apology for your fat body, and half of it demands that you demure about choosing to change that body. It is draining to feel like any decision was the wrong one.

Briefly, on Losing Weight

Fat- and body-positive communities left me feeling like I had to be apologetic about my weight loss if I was going to be so gauche as to stick around. I’m supposed to start everything with knowing that weight loss statistically isn’t permanent, that most people will gain back more than they lost, etc — and I refused to do that up to a point. I did my very best to respect spaces where weight loss talk wasn’t welcome, and tried to be neutral about it overall when discussing it publically. I know that it’s a hard topic in a world that demonizes fat bodies, and I genuinely don’t want to contribute to that.

I also feel like I’m supposed to say that losing weight didn’t make my life better — but that would be a lie. Losing weight didn’t change anything about my life, but it gave me a sense of control. It helped me address an unhealthy relationship with food. It helped me overcome the anxiety about taking up space in the world. As I took up less physical space, I worried so much less about the social space I took up. I worried less about how I looked and cared more about how I wanted to look. I gained the confidence to take up space just because I fucking wanted to and am as allowed to as any other human.

Losing weight was a very powerful thing for me. I don’t regret it.

I’d say I continue to carry about 60% of that confidence with me back at higher weights — the things weight loss improved about my life weren’t erased. For one thing, I have an aesthetic now, and I didn’t magically unlearn everything I learned about managing that. But I also slipped back into the anxieties that I was taught to carry with my fat body, because I don’t know how to have one without the other. They were always hand-in-hand for me.

On Gaining Weight Back

I was never thin, and my peers and adults constantly reinforced in me that my weight was a problem. I was certainly fatter than every other girl I knew. I was fatter than my sister. I was fatter than my aunt. I continued to gain weight throughout puberty and into my twenties. I never felt any differently about my body from 11-year-old Ashley to 25-year-old Ashley. Both were fat. So I do not know how a person who has always been thin or average sized would feel about gaining weight.

Gaining weight back, on the other hand, I get that now. I can look at the graph of where my weight has been in the last five years and tell you exactly what life events are represented in every stall and gain:

A weight loss graph, with annotations where weight was gained.

I’m not precious about my numbers; I just didn’t want to risk arguing about the fuzzy math I did in my opening line.

I cope with life by eating, a bad habit I thought I had conquered in the three years between 300 and 200 pounds. The last two years have disabused me of this notion.

With school, it was a small amount of weight. My clothes were a bit tight, I saw my scale number creeping up, and did my best to mitigate and maintain. I recognized that I only had so much mental energy, and my schooling needed the bits that I used to devote to thinking about eating all the time. (I did, and still do; I am never entirely unaware of my eating and don’t suspect I’ll have the privilege of ever just not thinking about it.) I only had so many hours, and I didn’t want to spend very many of them exercising when I already had work and homework and class that kept me away from my family.

Getting pregnant was a whole different ballgame, especially in the first trimester while I was working a summer gig commuting. Because whereas when it was just me I could sort of balance out, when I had a passenger on board I worried to much about how I would accidentally break it. When I was pregnant with my son, I never really worried about something going wrong. With my daughter, I was constantly thinking about what might go wrong.

Every fucking cell in my body was tired. I got winded easily. I felt like shit, physically and mentally. I was annoyed because I wished to look a certain way while pregnant, and I just felt like I looked like my old fat self. I knew I was gaining weight too fast. By the end of the first trimester, I felt like I’d utterly lost control of my body. Intense apathy set it; when there wasn’t apathy to contend with, it was a pretty healthy dose of loathing. I am very familiar with these emotions. They make up a huge swath of how I relate to the world.

I am not productive during apathy/loathing, and the respites were short — and I was still in school during this. What productivity I could manage had to go to that, and it was hard to manage both my senioritis and my own stupid brain. I watched my weight gain, week by week until I literally couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore and stopped weighing myself.

I had a midwife who made me feel weird about my weight like I should have cared more (probably) and like I was doing something wrong by being fat and pregnant (nah) — all while almost never talking to me directly about my weight. It eventually culminates at the end of my second trimester in a weird late-evening phone call on Friday night from the midwife about my weight gain, followed by an impersonal dumping and transfer of care via phone the following Monday because my weight made me too risky for midwife care. As much as I hated that at the time — and am still annoyed by how I was handled in that regard — getting moved was the best possible thing because my OB is cool as fuck, was always straight with us about what was going on, and I never dreaded seeing her. So that worked out.

Eventually, I started to look noticeably pregnant, chilled out a small amount, reached the end of the semester, and decided to just parse it all out after the baby came and I knew how much of my weight was onion rings and how much was baby.

About twenty pounds of it was baby. I had a number, a definitive new starting spot, and after the several weeks I gave myself to recover, I just… balked.

On Figuring Out What’s Left

So, you’re not supposed to compare yourself to others, and I’ve made conscious work of not doing so in the last five years. But then there’s comparing yourself to yourself.

I don’t worry about losing weight again, necessarily — I don’t doubt that I want to, I don’t doubt that I can, and I don’t feel bad about choosing to do so. I also, honestly, don’t regret the weight I gained. It sucks that my body was a casualty of my bad coping mechanisms, but so much fucking good has come out of the last two years that I cannot for one second regret any part of it.

Ashley Baker & family

So much good.

But it’s a worn road for me. I know the route, and I also know how long it is, how tiresome and uphill it becomes, what things have to be sacrificed. And now I am also intimately familiar with how life is tricky and there is no static spot wherein my body stops changing. Weight is always to come, and it will probably always go, and it’s daunting. I don’t like fitting into someone’s gleeful dire statistic about why one ought not to try to lose weight at all. I also don’t like fitting the example of why one should be endlessly diligent about their weight.

I want what I have always wanted: to be at a point in my life where I don’t think about my weight. And I am more and more exhausted by the realization that not thinking about it is probably the only weight-related goal I can’t attain.