Fighting the past

Guideposts|June/July 2020

Fighting the past
How I turned my negative body image into a positive one
STEPHANIE THOMPSON

I PULLED INTO THE GOLD’S GYM parking lot, but I didn’t get out of the car. Michelle, a mom from my daughter’s middle school, had invited me to spin class. “Come as my guest,” she said. “Grab a bike. See if you like it.”

No big deal, right? Except I hadn’t been to a gym in more than 15 years and was terribly out of shape. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to exercise and take better care of my body. But every time I thought about it, something kept me from taking that first step. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

A perky gal in her thirties sashayed past my car, wearing fluorescent purple leggings with a matching print top. She looked as if she’d stepped off the cover of Shape magazine. I slunk down in my seat and pulled my ball cap over my eyes. Scowled at my baggy gray sweatpants. She’s everything I’m not, I thought. Slender. Beautiful. Confident. Not to mention 20 years younger.

Everything in me wanted to throw the car in reverse and return to the comfort of my home. But Michelle had texted that she was on her way.

I’d actually been thinking about going to the gym ever since last Thanksgiving, when someone posted a photo of me on Facebook. I stared in disbelief at my thick waist and thighs. The extra folds around my jawline. Dear God, is that really what I look like? I quickly untagged myself from the post.

The truth was, I’d hated my body ever since I hit puberty. I was curvy when the models in all the magazines were flat-chested and Twiggy-thin. It didn’t help that appearances were everything to my father. He worked out regularly and was proud that he cut a fine figure with his narrow hips and broad, muscular upper body. When I was little, back before he and Mom divorced, Daddy liked to flex his arms like a weight lifter and bid my younger sister and me to hang from his biceps.

AS A SALES REP FOR A CLOTHING line, Daddy went to fashion shows and rubbed shoulders with gorgeous models. He made no secret of the fact that I didn’t measure up. When I went away to college, he sent me notes pushing me to lose weight, telling me how unattractive it was to be a size 12. Once he even offered me $500 (a lot of money in 1980) if I lost 40 pounds. His note explaining the bribe ended with “Size 8 bottoms are best.”

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June/July 2020