I’ve been doing some retail therapy lately and been so thrilled to be able to buy decent tops in Tokyo. A few years ago, even after my weight loss, my choices of blouses in Japan were limited to a handful. These days, though, I have found more shops carrying wonderful Large size tops. What I find remarkable is the fact that I’m now comfortable asking, “Do you have this in Large?”
I used to constantly bemoan the fact that I typically wore Large and depending on the cut Extra Large, or whatever are their equivalents in the dizzyingly diverse numbering systems in different countries. I also used to secretly dream of one day comfortably slipping on a Medium and perhaps a Small fitted shirt. For a few years, when I signed up for road races, the temptation to tick the box for “ladies, Medium T-shirt” on the application form was almost irresistible. The only thing that stopped me from checking that option is the lesson learned from doing it the first time – I received a Medium running shirt that painfully cut into my armpits and threatened to cut off my circulation.
“Eh? What’s wrong with wearing a Large anyway?” Nothing, except that I’ve always equated Large with being overweight and a shameful body size. It’s an attitude ingrained in me since I was a child.
I was never the dainty child or teen-ager, unlike many of my cousins. Looking at some of my old photos, though, I wouldn’t consider myself hugely overweight either. But an aunt and a couple of uncles thought that I was a proper target for taunting for wearing Large or Extra Large. I was categorized as the girl with a healthy appetite or the healthy and big-boned niece (all said with mockery, I assure you). That aunt even called me a glutton, to my face, more than once. As a recipient of these disparaging sneers and jeers from people who should have been the adults in the equation, I became very mindful of my appearance, especially my weight, and the feeling of shame that came with that mindfulness.
Things became worse when I started working. Truth be told, I did let go of my health and weight and made bad dietary decisions in the name of building a career. But eventually I came to my senses and decided that I did not want to hand over all my hard-earned money to the medical profession to treat me of conditions that I could possibly avoid if I paid attention to my health. So, I focused on my well-being and lost a tremendous amount of weight in the process. I was and am extremely proud of that achievement.
But my weight loss and newfound confidence did not immediately shift my “I’m a large girl” mindset. While my blouses shrank from XXL to XL to L, my size generally got stuck at L, although if it’s a loose design, I can sometimes get into a Medium. Not being able to move past L frustrated me. Living in a country where the average person stands below my ears or looks half my healthy size did not help. Being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which media paint as the punishment for gluttony, made things worse for a while. I wanted so badly to fit into a Medium top fitted for a petite woman.
For a long time, in my mind, I was still that large, healthy, big-boned girl who was the butt of my cruel aunt’s and uncles’ jokes. I was afraid of stepping on manhole covers, glass floors or wooden planks on ropeways for fear that I would fall straight through them. If I got onto a boat and it rocked, my immediate thought was that my heavy weight would capsize it. When I hurt my knee skiing, I was worried that the first aid guy who carried me would break his back.
It took me a very long time to accept that, even if I starve myself, most of my clothes will be at least a Large. I am not built to wear a Medium, and definitely not a Small, unless I am willing to be uncomfortable at the armpits, risk a button across my chest popping open every few minutes, forego the ability to raise my arms, or perish from vanity-imposed respiratory constraints. This is so obvious that you’d think I would have come to this realization much sooner and spared myself some misery.
To me, losing the weight physically is easier (not easy but easier) than losing the big girl mentally. It took much longer to build a non-overweight psyche but I got there, eventually. There was no aha! moment. I don’t even remember the first step or first decision I took that got me to start shedding my “I’m still big” thinking into “I’m no longer big” thinking. Finally, I have acknowledged to myself that I am most comfortable wearing Large or even Extra Large, and that I can blame my broad shoulders and ample frontage (if you know what I mean), not my weight, for that.
So, yes, I am large, I am healthy and I am big-boned, but now those words no longer conjure bad childhood memories or feelings of guilt or shame. Because there’s no shame in wearing an L or even an XL. I’m a Large and that’s that, unless of course I wear my husband’s old comfortable Medium size shirts.