Hot and Then Not

Frenchwomen don’t get fat, but I am not French.

by Veronica Chambers
Gaining the happy weight
Photograph: iStock photo

I have excuses, including what Lemony Snicket would call a series of unfortunate events. But this is the straight, no-chaser version. I gained 10 pounds of happy weight when I got married at 31. I gained another five because he makes the most killer margaritas. Then we moved to France.

Frenchwomen don’t get fat, but I am not French. When I left Paris after one chocolate-croissant-stoked year, I was also pregnant. By the time I became a mom, I had more than happy weight and more than baby weight; I had “my ass is the size of a billboard” weight.

I hadn’t been thin when I met my husband, but I was very fit. I ran 20 miles a week. I boxed. I did Spinning. I also drank wine and ate bread and dessert with every meal. On our first date, I told him, “I never eat cute,” and then I ordered up a storm. But after the baby, after Paris, after seven years of marriage, my metabolism smacked me upside the head. It said, “You no longer run every day. You box or Spin once a week. You eat like every day is your birthday.” I had a newborn and I worked from home as a freelance writer. If I was going to change my body, I was going to have to do the thing I dreaded: talk to my husband honestly about my weight.

It took weeks. Jason is the picture of kindness, but I was afraid my confession would bring out a nasty side. Would he throw my weight in my face when we had a fight? Or would he gently swat my hand when I reached for the bread plate? Either scenario seemed like a fresh slice of hell. Above all, I feared that saying the words aloud—“I’ve gained a lot of weight, and I don’t know what to do about it”—would blow away the fairy dust. Almost every morning, my husband said to me, “I don’t know what you did last night, but you’re more beautiful today than you were yesterday.”

He said it when I was running 10-milers. He still said it when my thighs rubbed together and my waist disappeared. If I named and claimed all the pounds, would we finally stop treating each other with the blind generosity of newlyweds? I found the words, and he got the memo. He stopped heaping food on my plate. And he babysat our daughter so I could work out six times a week, because that was what it took to roll this boulder back up the hill.

A year later, I’ve lost more than 25 pounds. That’s not reality-show impressive, but I’ve struggled over every ounce. While I don’t feel like I’m done, I do feel like myself again. More than the actual weight loss, though, it was the act of talking about weight that was transformative. I realized that there was a part of me, even in this most intimate of relationships, that really took pride in being unflappable, too cool for school. I’m not that girl anymore. I’ve learned to stop hiding emotionally. Last fall when the stock market crashed and I realized we’d lost a huge percentage of our nest egg because I’d screwed up—invested aggressively and not paid attention—I not only told Jason the facts but also confided how scared and embarrassed and frustrated I felt. I talk to him now about all the pressure I put on myself to be a perfect mother and how raising my daughter brings up memories of my own painful childhood.

I know that the ability to rewrite the story of my body isn’t infinite. I have seen more than one friend get buff at 40, then give it up at 50. But I also know that the real gift of my experience isn’t about the number on the scale. It’s about learning, as I reach for more wisdom and authority, to be more honest, more real.

First published in the November 2009 issue

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