I wasn’t a particularly fat child. Although, I felt huge compared to my friends. I was a “normal” size baby. I was an average sized toddler and so on. Then around 6 I started to gain weight. Not massive amounts but I started to become a chubby child. At 9 I weighed 112. I remember that was an embarrassing day when the entire 4th grade class got weighed and I weighed so much more than the other kids. Of course, when I look back on pictures I just don’t look that big. Yes, definitely bigger than most but not “grossly obese.” Wow, I don’t like that term.
Growing up I was always a gamer though. Sure my weight stopped me from some things. I sucked at PE. I hated the Presidential Fitness BS we had to do every year. The stupid long jump was cruel for me. I was short and fat and there wasn’t a chance I was going to get anywhere close to where the President said I should be able to jump at my age. (Have I just aged myself by mentioning Presidential Fitness? Do they even still do that? Ack, maybe I should check before people think I went to school while we were doing our homework on stone tablets.) By High School I gave up on PE. I hated it. I hated the stupid shorts. I hated running around the field feeling so much bigger than the other girls. I didn’t feel coached by the coach in the, “come on you can do it kind of way.” I felt like he felt I was just taking up space…which I was.
As a child I wanted to be an entertainer. I loved being on stage. When I was young I took ballet and loved it! It was so freeing. There was an unfortunate incident with my tights splitting during a recital that definitely marked me for life. At that point I knew I was too fat to be a ballerina. One thing was checked off the list. Then in elementary school I loved being in the little plays we did. But as I got older I had the feeling that because I was fat no one would want to see me so I decided to become a marine biologist when I got older because the whales and dolphins wouldn’t care about my size. (I hadn’t factored in getting a wet suit over my copious body nor did I imagine the anchor I would have to wear to actually submerge myself…)
There certainly have been times in my life when my weight has stopped me. But I always am willing to try. Save for the embarrassment of not fitting I am always willing to give it a shot. I don’t often try to fit into restaurant booths anymore. Not that I won’t necessarily fit but I had an experience at a great diner in Chicago where I ruined a shirt from sitting in a booth. I slid into the booth and then sat there for hours with friends drinking coffee and having a great time. When I slid back out my shirt was covered in gum. Yes, gum. The warmth of my belly had melted the gum that people had stuck up under the table leaving me covered in strands of sticky chewed gum.
I remember years ago some friends and I got the opportunity to fly over to Catalina Island. I was ready to do it. Sure I had some apprehension about getting into an aluminum can and flying 26 miles over the Pacific to a tiny island but it sounded like a blast. Then the question came, “How much do you weigh?” Uh, really!? Because of my weight I counted as two people so, I could go if someone else didn’t. I didn’t go.
I don’t have those experiences often in life. You would think that after living as a large person most of my life I would be prepared. But it still is always a surprise to me. Maybe, in part, because I just don’t think of myself as “that” big. I see BIG people living life all the time…people much bigger than I am. At least, I think they are bigger. They say your body image is established in your teen years. Clearly my body image is skewed.
So, when I was waiting last week at Cedars-Sinai to have dye injected into my shoulder joint before an MRI I was caught off guard when the MRI tech came in and said, “I have a concern! Before we inject you I want to make sure you will fit in the tube of the MRI. I am concerned you aren’t going to fit. Also, you aren’t claustrophobic are you?!” He checked me out. He had me lift the gown so he could check out my size. He put both hands on my shoulders as if to measure my girth. Then I took the walk of shame out of the fluoroscopy room down the hall to the elevator to the basement where they keep the MRI machines. I asked what the weight limit was and was pleased to know I was 50 pounds lighter than the limit. (But as my ex-boyfriend used to say, “You have the ass of a 500 pound woman.” Yeah, EX boyfriend.) I was certainly nervous. As I stood there looking through the window as this slight woman was being taken out of the machine I was shocked at how narrow the opening was. “Wow! It is a small opening,” I said to the tech. He agreed. I asked about larger patients and he said they either use an open MRI machine that isn’t as efficient or they don’t get one. I told him I was surprised that the technology didn’t allow for taking care of larger patients since statistically there are so many people who are larger. Plus with all the bariatric surgeries being done and then redone these days I was very surprised. Of course, my surprise wasn’t going to make the opening any larger. They got me onto the table and strapped me in. I had to put my good arm up over my head to make me less wide at the shoulder. They slid me in no problem. As I found myself inside the tech yells, so I could hear him, don’t open your eyes. Of course, I did and promptly FREAKED OUT!! Instantly I felt claustrophobic and terrified. I had to get out of the machine. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “Uh, you need to get me out now!!!” I yelled. They slid me out. I sat up. The tech then asked me if I could do this. They didn’t want to inject me if I wasn’t going to follow through. I thought for a minute and thought about the pain I experience and the lack of mobility etc. “I can do this. I have to,” I said. Back up I went for the injection.
I won’t bore you with the injection part. Suffice it to say it hurt like a mother!!! I was stunned at how much it hurt. They had my arm outstretched with some kind of weight on it so I couldn’t move. At one point I felt the assistants keys dangling off his neck into my hand. The pain was bizarrely awful. I said, “if you don’t stop I am going to yank your keys off your neck.” It doesn’t seem as funny in the retelling. In the moment, it’s what got me through.
Before I flew to Amsterdam, I asked my doctor for some anti-anxiety meds to get me through the flight…just in case I got nervous. He gave me 10. I never took them. So, as I went back down to the basement to wait for the MRI I thought, “now would be a good time to break out the calming pills.” I popped half of one and waited. About a half hour later it hit and I took another 1/4 of one juat to be sure. I was now ready for anything. Hell, I should have taken it before the injection but who knew? As the MRI tech started to strap me down to the table he said, “I have concern…” “You and your concerns!!!” I said. Turns out I was now “too relaxed.” He was “concerned” that my breathing would be too heavy in the machine because I was so relaxed and I would move. First, I was wearing that machine like a sausage casing or a pair of skinny jeans on, well, me. There wasn’t a chance I was going to move. I then asked if they would put my Glee CD in. I figured happy goofy music would ease any lingering anxiety the meds hadn’t covered. He then tells me he’s “concerned” about adding the cords for the headset as it will make the machine tighter etc. Man, he needs one of those relaxing pills to calm all of his “concerns.” I was fine. At first I asked about the bad techno music I was hearing. Turns out the thumps and bumps of the machine sounds like bad techno music. It didn’t bother me at all. 45 minutes later they pulled me out. Then they wanted me to go back in with my bad shoulder up over my head. If I could put my right arm over my head I wouldn’t have had to do that.
My life has been amazing so far. I would think that while my size has certainly impeded me in some ways it has made me stronger and wiser in others. I don’t feel like I have missed out on anything. As a child I felt like I could do anything and even though the truth of it was I had some minor limitations that were usually discovered in the moment, I have lived and continue to live an exciting and fabulous life. Sure I’m too fat to be a ballerina and I doubt I would pass the tests to be an astronaut (not just because of my size but because if I freaked out in an MRI I doubt they would let me drug up to go into space) and I am not that keen on being a scuba diver. I don’t feel like I am compromising by living my fantastic life at all!