Picture it: New York City, March of 2000. There I am in the Hearst Building, otherwise known as the beehive of American magazine publishing. Clutching my reporter’s notebook and a brand-new pen, I stride into the marbled lobby, all 330 pounds of me. I’m coiffed, immaculately accessorized, city-chic in all-black, and I’m heading into the offices of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Not the offices of Cosmo, but you get the picture…
That’s right. Cosmo. The home of wispy-thin cover models and pages of sage monthly sex tips on ‘how to make your hot sex life even hotter!’ Deep stuff sells. And Cosmo is certainly proof of that. For anyone who doesn’t know, Cosmopolitan is all about women aspiring to be FAB-U-LUUUS. And that starts with looking flawless.
Did I mention that my destination on the 37th floor was the inner lair of this shrine to female perfection? Yes, I was about 200 pounds over the acceptable weight limit by Cosmo-standards, but the other truth at play in this scenario is, after a lifetime of berating myself, I’d decided I’d had enough. So why not embrace the polaric opposite of wispy-thin and not simply accept myself, but CELEBRATE who I am in all it’s glory? I’m bigger than most women, so what? Is that a reason to cower in shame? For years I believed it was. Then one day I realized how ridiculous that was. I put the car of my mind chatter in reverse and did a 180. That sort of “Chappy Chutzpah” is how I got the gig to interview the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Which is why on that magical day 17 years ago, I was being escorted by a polite assistant to Kate White’s corner office for what turned out to be a voluptuous and very interesting interview…for both parties.
There’s something about being looked at as handicapped or less-than that makes one want, or perhaps need to try harder, do better, achieve greater heights. I knew full well that I was judged by my appearance. Lazy, less-than-competent, dull-minded were some of the misconceptions people put on me because of my largeness. So, (and this turned out to be a gift) I had to work a little harder than the average reporter. I did whatever it took to prove that a fat woman can be searingly insightful. Also intelligent. Also hard working. And quick on her feet.
“Stacey, I want to tell you something,” Kate White said when our 3 hours was up and she walked me back to the elevator. “This is the best interview I’ve ever had. You asked great questions….better than The Today Show, which I was just on.” I stood there stunned, elated, and grateful. Ms. White was not only a gracious interview subject, she freely gave praise and credit when it was due. I thanked her profusely and as she waved goodbye, she made a promise to send off a note of praise to my boss. Which she did. But he ended up hiding it from me. And that’s another show, Oprah, but my ensuing verbal scuffle with the boss was just another glowingly-won battle in the war I waged to repair my self-esteem and stick up for myself in a world that said I wasn’t worth a heck of a lot.
I share all this with you to make a point: The diet industry misses the mark in ways that are too numerous to enumerate. But one of them is this: manipulating calories and losing weight won’t cause a life-changing breakthrough for most people. For emotional eaters and escape artists like myself, focusing on getting the weight off is putting the cart before the horse. It was a far more urgent matter for me to address the non-existent self-esteem and start buttressing it from the subterranean on up. And that place happened to be at a weight that exceeded most NFL linebackers. So what? I didn’t murder anyone, or steal money, or hurt someone’s children. In my estimation, those are the three valid reasons for bearing shame. Weight just isn’t in that category and it never should have been to begin with.
On the way to the theater in Williamstown, Mass. Always accessorized. Always.
Many of you who have read my cookbook-memoir “Clean Comfort” know the denouement of my life story. I continue on as a 300-pound woman for nearly 20 years. One snowy day in January 2009, life gives me a series of wake-up calls. I’m ready to listen. And back up that listening with taking sane and measured action on the wake-up calls. In the process, I give 180 pounds the pink slip.
I didn’t just wake up one day and decided this should happen. It took years of steady work, healing my wounds, and honoring myself in a world that said I had no right to be honored. These are the brass tacks of transformation. They have nothing to do with sweating at a gym or adhering to a particular food plan. Those are simply ancillary mechanics that aid with the calories in-calories out equation.
Solid change from within is what it takes for an emotional eater to spring herself from the hamster wheel. And that requires all those wonderful intangibles most weight loss gurus don’t go near because, well, it simply isn’t profitable for them. But that’s the good news-bad news moral of the story. The answers are within you. And only you can decide that the time has finally come to believe in yourself.
Oh yes, and PS, it’s going to feel really weird at first. Please don’t let that deter you.