The Brood: My Body, My Self?

by Holly Mohr

I hate talking about weight.

I mean, really, really, in a big way. I did not want to write about this. But I think it’s time. Several (painful) conversations in the last week have pushed me to realize that I need to actually say something about this.

During the pandemic shutdown, I lost a pretty significant bit of weight. While the shutdown was undoubtedly the most stressful time in our lives in many ways (trying to teach my son math, for instance, both of us crying and screaming, while reporting for work meetings, all while nursing a baby crawling on my body, did not feel like a tenable way of doing life), there were some ways in which the shutdown did open some new avenues. For instance, I was able to carefully decide what I would eat and when, and honestly, I wasn’t chasing kids and meetings from place to bloody place all day every day. Working from home meant I could moderate my energy levels to some extent and eat dinner at, say, 7, instead of 10pm.

Okay, before I go on, let me repeat that I really, really don’t like to talk about this. Ask me to talk about most facets of emotional vulnerability? Fine. Family skeletons? Whatever. Existential crises and stumbling blocks in my faith life? Bring it. But weight? I feel my body closing in on itself. My mind starts to wander and I look for an escape valve. I have procrastinated on writing my column this week, because I knew this would be my topic.

But sure, let’s move into this space too.

By January 2020, I wasn’t feeling at home in my body anymore. After my third baby, I didn’t fully recognize all the contours of my shape, and I felt ready to see if a change were possible. I had never been “skinny” (at literally any point of my life), and while I was occasionally frustrated with my body, I was a healthy person in many ways. And to be honest, until around January 2020, it wasn’t my actual body that bothered me. It was the exhaustion of imbibing the barrage of cultural expectations regarding (female) bodies that really caused me stress. Throughout my adulthood, I have loved fresh food, have been a disciplined and consistent (if slow) runner and yoga practitioner. I pray, I meditate, I go to therapy. I take care of myself, and for decades, I have joyfully seen health through a multifaceted and holistic lens.

Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible for me to lose weight. I had always only heard (even from doctors) the frustratingly vague exhortations to “eat well and exercise.” Well, no shit. In many ways, I was doing those things (I mean, I genuinely like quinoa and kale, and have for years). So I thought, “All right, this is my body. That’s that.” And, having grown up in a family where a family member had suffered from anorexia and nearly died, counting calories never felt like a safe practice for me to take up on my own.

That being said, again, I eventually wasn’t satisfied, and honestly, I enjoy a challenging project. I had heard ads for a “healthy living” (and yes, weight loss) app on NPR, and I thought, hell, I trust NPR. If there’s any chance for something pertaining to weight to honor more of my whole being and not feel reductionistic, this might be it. So I decided to try it. And lo and behold, apparently it is possible for me to lose weight.

But holy fuck, my weight does not define me, and it never has. My weight does not even define whether or not I’m healthy (or was). Yes, there are some importantly measurable health factors that have improved. But honestly, there are others I’m concerned about. I’m a perfectionistic person in many respects, and I hate that I feel compelled to know how much I weigh every day now. I hate that body image is just as much in my head now as it was three years ago (maybe even more so now) because people fucking comment on my body all the time. It makes me feel as though people are watching and waiting for when I may gain some weight, as though that will suddenly catapult me into “unhealthiness” in their estimation again, as though it changes my ontological status. I’m not sure I would care what people thought if it weren’t so exhausting to hear their thoughts out loud.

Now, listen, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the people who have simply, kindly, discreetly said something to the effect of “you look good!” Or “you look really healthy!”

I’m less excited about the conversations wherein people demand details about my life and body, or how I lost weight (with the exception of those people who want to discuss it in private because they’re struggling and want to talk about it with a sympathetic soul). I am not happy when people ask if I’ve “started” to run or eat well (yeah, man, I started to run twenty-two years ago. My personal hero is Alice Waters and I breastfeed each of my children for four years at a time—you want to talk nutrition)?

I have often wished bodies were invisible unless we chose to reveal them. I guess maybe that’s part of the point of clothes, but boy, that’s not working as intended, is it? Since my body taking on a new shape two years ago, so many people act as though because I look differently, I owe them something. It’s like when people pat your belly when you’re pregnant, assuming that because you are now protruding into the world, your body becomes common property.

There seems to be an attitude of, “Well, if you don’t want to draw attention to yourself and the fact that you’ve lost weight, then why did you do it?”

To which I would like to respond: “I did not lose weight for you! I do not owe you a body that looks any particular way at all. Neither did I ‘just become’ healthy. I have been healthy, and this is one more way to manifest that.

Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. I’d like to add a benediction: blessed are those who don’t say a damn thing about it at all. Blessed also are those who looked at me three years ago and just saw . . . me. Blessed are those who look at me today and see me, too.

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