Yesterday, in addition to being my 47th birthday, also marked 6 months since my breast cancer diagnosis. Since I started this blog on that same day, it also marked six months of of blogging. I’ve accumulated quite a number of posts, two hundred something and counting. As part of my own recovery, I look back at them from time to time. I’ve decided to re-post one of my favorites, about once a week, starting with my oldest posts. So, this is the kick off Best of Blog!!!!!

I wrote this post on 5/27/12, three days after learning about my breast cancer. I had started back on Weight Watchers at the beginning of May and had quickly decided to keep working on weight loss. As you may know, I have since lost a considerable amount of weight and changed to a much healthier lifestyle. This post is called “My Other Project.” It’s about more than weight loss and health, as you will read.

So my other project is Weight Watchers. As some of you know, I have had trouble maintaining a healthy weight since I was a teen. Sometimes I dread going in for my annual physical because if I’m overweight, I know my internist will ask me about my weight loss plans. Even though it is totally her job to talk to me about this and she does it in the kindest way possible, I still feel dread. Just last Friday, I was weighed at the beginning of my consultation with the surgeon. I was slightly surprised as I had asked the day before whether I would be given a medical exam and the woman whom I had spoke with told me that it was just a consultation. So, the nurse escorted me from the waiting room with the first stop being the scale. I quipped, “Ugh, getting weighed is worse than having cancer.” Crickets. I am known for my gallows humor under extreme stress. After all, I was the the person that upon opening a letter at work informing me that I was one of the people being let go in a round of lay offs who stood in the hallway, waved the letter, and exclaimed, “I thought this was a bonus check!” People laughed then but not this time. And perhaps I was imagining things but I thought I even saw a bit of a pained look on the face of one of the RN’s that passed me so I lamely said for all to hear, “I really don’t think it is worse to be weighed than having cancer.”

There are periods in my life when I’ve been overweight and periods when I have been at a healthy weight. I also have a long history of a poor body image. I didn’t really believe that I could possibly be good looking until I was an older teen and even that was a tenuous realization. There were also periods when I viewed myself as downright ugly. I used to get bullied about the way I looked, too. NOT HELPFUL. I remember when I was a 5th grader, there was this 6th grader who purposely sat on the bus with me for what seemed like days on end to tell me how ugly I was. He once said, “You’re so ugly, you don’t deserve to live.” Now this was not one of the popular kids, he was, objectively speaking, a pretty homely kid with a lot of problems and not many friends. Nonetheless, I can still remember the way my face burned and my stomach turned, just listening to him. In the 7th grade, some of the 8th grade boys used to tease me by pretending they liked me by derisively flirting with me. They also gave off the impression that they thought I didn’t know they were insincere.

When I was in the 8th grade, I lost about 25 pounds and grew a number of inches. I also started wearing make-up and stylish clothes. When I wasn’t wearing my velour top, white painter’s pants, and high heel Candie’s slides, I was wearing my Brittania’s with my blue Nike swoosh running shoes. I got my hair professionally cut into a Farrah-esque mane, except with more curl and brunette hair. Anyway, you get the picture. The world changed for me. Some of my old friends were no longer friends and then some kids who wouldn’t have previously given me the time of day, acted like they wanted to make friends. I pretty much stuck with the friends in the third group, the ones who stayed my friends throughout my physical transformation.

When I got to high school, some of those former 8th grade boys did not recognize me because I had changed while they were high school freshman. One of them actually tried to ask me out a few years later and our band teacher was even trying to be his wing man. I did not explain myself. As it turned out, I actually didn’t end up dating a lot in high school. I was loud and a good student. I was considered a “brain” and in adolescent black-and-white thinking, if you fit in one category, it was hard to be in another category like “pretty” or “fun.” I remember, too thinking that I would have a better dating life if I weren’t doing as well at school. As much as I wanted a boyfriend and doubted whether I was attractive or not, I knew that if I worked hard at school I would have a lot more choices later in my life. I also remember having a strong sense of financial responsibility for supporting myself someday. (This was more than a little unusual as I was 1) thinking far ahead into the future and 2) there were still a lot of stay at home moms back then, including my own.

By the time I got to college, I got a lot of attention for my looks. I had never really experienced a lot of positive attention like this. Men I didn’t know would see me walking up the steps to U.W. buildings and open the door for me! I have to admit, it was pretty cool. I remember during one week of my sophomore year, I had two young men asking for dates. I thought, “Why shouldn’t I be able to date two men?” So I went out to lunch with one and out to dinner with the other all in the same week. SCANDALOUS! This will sound ridiculous but the idea of dating two guys felt like juggling 100 items at once and like I was doing something wrong. I liked both of them. After a week I chose one of them for a stupid reason, too (he lived closer to me.) Ironically, this boyfriend was also one that when mad at me, complained that I was too fat and not pretty enough. This is a lesson to you, young ladies out there. It is perfectly okay to casually date more than one guy especially if you are simply eating meals with them. And don’t pick boyfriends based solely on convenience.

My husband and I met when I was 20. He’s a dear and has always sincerely complimented my looks no matter my age or weight, which has fluctuated quite a bit over the past 25 years. It was with ample embarrassment and some shame that I recently admitted to him that even now during the overweight periods of my middle aged life, I think negative thoughts about my weight and appearance several times a day. I am extremely careful to avoid saying these things aloud, especially in front of my daughter. But despite the fact that I have a wonderful husband, career, and family as well as the fact that I am a pretty happy person, I have yet to eliminate the negative self-comments from my head.

It is easy to say that this is ALL the doing of the media or our culture for it’s ridiculous emphasis on beauty, sex appeal, and youth in women in defining their value to society. And although I was hardly immune to this influence, I was able to counter so many other cultural influences. I didn’t take drugs, smoke, or drink. I did well in school. I was very ambitious in my schooling and career. Further, I have experienced myself as being valued for so many substantive characteristics, for being intelligent, for being kind, for being smart and fun. I know there are other ways to be valued as a woman than for beauty. I am a happy and outgoing person. When I walk down the street, people often smile or say, “hello.” My experience with the world, even of people I don’t know is so overwhelmingly positive. Why do I still have these thoughts of being less than? Is it really so important to me that I be valued specifically for beauty? Or is this voice in my head just an old tape that plays when I am feeling the negative physical and emotional effects of not eating right or exercising? Maybe it is really closer to the latter and I am not so superficial deep down after all. I’ve never thought about it that way before. Thanks again, Mom this blog was a great idea!

Some of you may read this and be tempted to provide me with reassurance, to tell me, “Don’t be ridiculous, you are beautiful.” I’m not looking for reassurance. Whether I am beautiful or not is beside the point. Whether I am physically beautiful to others is irrelevant. All of us know women who are breathtakingly beautiful and even make money at least in part for being breathtakingly beautiful and are still horribly unhappy about their looks. (I’m looking at you Uma Thurman.) No amount of outside reassurance is going to fix those insecurities and doubts.

Finally, I may never fully rid myself of that negative body image tape. But maybe I need to stopped feeling so embarrassed and ashamed by it. I will never be perfect so I don’t need to beat myself up for beating myself up. The tape is one of the things about my life I would like to be different. I’ve already proven that I can live with it and be a happy, well-adjusted person. And yes, I know that my project is bigger than Weight Watchers. But the Weight Watchers project is helping me be physically healthier and there’s no shame in that.