“And now we flow into downward dog. Get those butts in the air, press your heels down, and don’t forget to breathe!”
Breathe, she tells me. How can I breathe when my boobs are blocking all pathways to my lungs and my wrists are screaming with the pressure I’m putting on them? It’s all in the name of inner peace, and I know I’ll feel great afterwards, but right now my inner fat kid is screaming for cheesecake and sweatpants. The offer is tempting as my thighs burn and muscles strain, but just a few seconds more and the world will be right side up again.
“And…up we go!”
I let out my breath, jump forward until both feet are planted firmly, then straighten and bring my folded hands in front of my heart. Thank God. As I stand, I shift and let her voice lull me into quiet meditation. I press my toes into the mat and move my feet just another inch apart until the balance is perfect. It’s scary, the hyper-awareness of my body that I’ve felt since I began to practice yoga. Then again, if I’m perfectly honest, I’ve always been hyper aware of my body, but that started when there was a lot more of it to be aware of.
My name is Maggie Rapier, and I have Former Fat Kid Syndrome. I think the first time I became aware of the fact that I was built like an oompa-loompa was when I was about four, and my dad could swing my big sisters up with ease, but never did the same for me. Or maybe it was when I was eight, and as I went into the kitchen to sneak another brownie, I heard one of my aunts loudly declare, “Kathryn! Do you even know how many brownies she’s eaten? She’s getting so big.”
I can’t quite remember the first time I looked in the mirror, clothes off, and felt a quiet shame in the way I curved out instead of in. I remember a time when I was free of inhibitions and harsh realities, and I would run and play like the best of them. I also remember going to middle school and learning to suck in, dress in loose shirts, and do anything to avoid running as I could feel the pounds of McDonalds, Chikfila, and Guthries bouncing up and down with each step. It’s a funny feeling, looking back and seeing the moments when I started to lose myself and wear shame like a worn-in sweater.
None of this compared to the absolute hell that was middle school, though. Every day without fail, boys on the school bus would poke at my middle and refer to me as “cow,” “fat a—,” or “beluga whale.” Their words, not mine. I learned to don armor that consisted of an oversized hoodie, baggy sweatpants, and a scowl to ward their comments off, but it was no use. At least once a month, I would decide that day was different and dress in something that made me feel pretty, put a smile on, and try to see the world in a different way. Those days turned out to be the worst.
“Now class, take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly extend your leg back into the air. Catch it with your hand, breathe…now arch your back and enter into Lord of the Dance.”
Right. Inner peace. I struggle to find my balance again before pushing into the pose until my body aches with it. Oh, what a beautiful ache it is. Two years ago, I never would’ve had the confidence to do this. Things weren’t quite so bad past middle school, but they were no picnic either. Luckily for me, some of the extra poundage shifted around so I got boobs and hips to balance things out and give me some shape besides round. I switched schools and met some nice people. That didn’t stop me from looking around and realizing that I was the biggest girl in class though, or that just about every other girl was built like the petite Disney princess I’d always admired and felt I should be.
As I relax from the Lord of the Dance pose for a moment before attempting it with my other leg, I can’t help but remember this bitc—sorry, right, inner peace. This manipulative, snakish, horror of a “friend” from high school, who would put her tiny hand against mine and coo over how small and ladylike hers was. She would stand next to me in front of a mirror and compare everything, pointing out how broad my shoulders were and the fact that my thighs were about twice the size of hers. I blame F.F.K.S. for the fact that I ever put up with any of it, and for the general total lack of confidence in myself for most of my life. And for the record, I saw the light halfway through junior year and ditched her flat.
Really though, F.F.K.S. has had a lot of really crappy effects on my life. It contributes to depression—breathe. Shift poses. It made me crazy vulnerable to this complete douchebag who took full advantage, though I can’t be too mad at him. He actually helped open my eyes to the fact that my body isn’t grotesque or horribly unattractive like I'd always kind of seen it before...Then again, he did kind of cheat on me and manipulate the crap out of me. But that's another story.
“Maggie, I’m noticing some tension in your shoulders. Take a breath and do a flow.”
Can she also tell that my teeth are grinding against one another? I nod and start to do as she instructed. Being a former fat kid is weird. While I haven’t turned into a kale-loving, juice-cleansing health maniac, I have lost a ton of the weight that held me back, and it’s opened my eyes to a whole new world and a revamped version of myself. I started yoga when I was at my biggest and most vulnerable, and it’s crazy how much of a difference I saw after a month or two on the mat.
Before doing yoga, I was hyper-aware of my body, but not in any way helpful to me. I was aware of each jiggle and rub of my thighs. I could feel the slight pull of my belly on my back, the feeling that I was swelling out in all directions and needed to be contained somehow, some way, lest I disgust everyone in the nearby vicinity. With this practice, though, I learned to appreciate every part of myself. My thighs have become stronger, my calves defined. I am aware of my spine and what it takes to keep it aligned, of how powerful my core must be to lift my body up and move it about each day. It is amazing, this new awareness of how powerful and beautiful the human body can be.
I’ve watched as my body has transformed from a blobby pudding shape into something I can rely on and respect. F.F.K.S. now just serves as a reminder of how sad I used to be, and how I must never be again. There are certainly days when a craving gets the better of me and before I know it, I’ve shot-gunned five cookies, two bags of chips, and a doughnut for good measure. There are also days when I look into the mirror and all I see is the sad fat kid staring back. For the most part though, I’ve learned to love my body for what it is and to treat it as best I can.
This means getting up in the mornings when all I want to do is hide away forever. It means respecting myself enough to watch out for manipulative, throwaway compliments in future given by douchebags, and to hold out for the real deal who actually deserves what I have to give. It also means ignoring the little rolls and extra inches, and focusing on what progress I have made: to remember what I’m capable of instead. I could be all cheesy here and quote some verse of poetry about moving forward and loving yourself, but my body is shaking with the good kind of exhaustion that comes after working it extra hard, and I smell like a wet dog. I think I’ll treat myself to a piece of cheesecake after all.