When I was fat, that fat defined my world. Emotionally, I filtered everything around me through my sticky web of fat-shame, believing it was the only thing about me that other people saw. Physically, years of obesity had taken quite a toll on my knees—nine surgeries there—and my back. It seemed as if every day I took another baby step towards a limited, joyless life. My memories of wonderful trips—to Disney World, to Washington, D.C.—were encased in the pain and exhaustion I experienced as we walked around to take in the sights. I have very distinct memories of looking down at a sidewalk and willing myself to just put one foot in front of another until I didn’t have to anymore. We had such wonderful times with our kids, but more often than not, I just endured. Wonderful had its price.
Last April, Marc and I went to the Cincinnati Zoo on a beautiful spring day. We hadn’t been there since our sons had grown to adulthood and it seemed like a nice way to enjoy the softening of the breezes and the warmth of the sun. I was optimistic that I would be able to handle all the walking. I was twenty-five pounds away from my goal weight and had been exercising for just over a year. It felt good to see if I was up for a little mini-challenge in my day!
We walked along with all the young families, took in the delighted exclamations and toddler-speak flowing around us. I was dazzled by the flowers—a rainbow of tulips everywhere we looked. Sassy yellow daffodils, blossoming trees, all preening under the bright blue of the sky. We talked, we laughed, we held hands a time or two.
The animals were such fun. Of course, we had to see Fiona the hippo. She was full size but still with the same adorable face and personality that won the hearts of everyone in our city. There was also a baby rhinoceros, looking as if his head was just a little too big to hold up easily. Two baby giraffes came close to us with their mother, all of their eyes adorned with ridiculously long lashes.
I took it all in. The world, the day, the sheer joy of it, I just took it all in. Breathed in the world I hadn’t seen before without my layer of filters. I wasn’t thinking about being able to walk without pain. I wasn’t thinking about my energy. When I got stronger, I didn’t focus on what I could do—I focused on the world I could experience.
Losing weight and getting fit isn’t about getting to a certain size, or even about being able to do more. All that is just the overture to the amazing world playing around you that you can finally see and experience. It is about ripping away the filters, everything that limits your experience, until you can see everything with a child’s delighted eyes.
Several people have asked me about the picture of me on my home page. Marc took it on that day at the zoo: me surrounded by tulips in popsicle colors rioting around me. If you look at my eyes, you can see my joy.