My youngest son played soccer from the age of 7 and up until he was 12.
During that time, I was at my heaviest weight of 293 pounds. I was fat.
Walking out across the soccer fields to watch games or practices while carrying two chairs, a bag full of snacks and dragging a cooler was physically taxing- and I dreaded it. By the time we all got out there and set everything up, I would be huffing and puffing and sweating quite profusely.
Most of what I recall from those years, stems from memories of feeling like an outcast. I have several vivid memories of feeling shunned and pushed aside. I never seem to fit in with all the other moms, and I could never quite put my finger on the reason why.
At one point they held a scrimmage between the parents and the kids. It was embarrassing and awkward, because I’m pretty sure everyone knew that I wasn’t going to go out there and play on the parent’s team. But I still made up an excuse about a bad knee, and remember the look on my son’s face, when he realized that he would need one the other parents to step up and play in my stead, while I sat on the sidelines.
No reindeer games for me.
There was one soccer mom in particular that was somewhat stand-offish and unfriendly to me over those years, and I always silently felt like it was because I was obese.
She seemed, from the get go, to have a somewhat low opinion of me, and never made an effort to get to know me, even though I did feel like I tried to befriend her on several occassions. She would avert my gaze, and when forced to interact would smile politely, and quickly disappear.
For some reason, this one particular woman stuck out in my mind, and seeing myself through her eyes amplified every insecurity I had about myself.
I thought she was stuck up. I was convinced that she considered herself to be better than me, because she was skinny and perfect, and judging me silently in her tiny little tennis outfit with her superior attitude.
In one particular incident, she was in charge of coordinating an end of the season party for all of the boys on the team. We had all signed up to pitch in and bring something, and my contribution was to bring a healthy snack to the party.
She then made a point of taking me aside and “suggesting” some healthy snacks that she deemed to be “appropriate”. And of course, I took it to mean, that since I was fat, I must not have known what healthy snack was. Like, if she did not intervene, I was going to bring Ding Dong’s and Twinkies, and Juevenille Diabetes to the party. At the time, I remember feeling surprised that she did not draw an elaborately detailed picture of an apple, and then procede to demonstrate how to cut it into “healthy” slices.
Socially, it was a hard time for me, and looking back, I’m sure I was imagining a lot of it. It’s only now, that I have begun to suspect, that maybe a lot of my bad feelings about myself, were what actually clouded my social interactions back then.
Cut to a couple of years later (while at my goal weight), when both of our boys were in the eighth grade, and I ran into her at a graduation party.
I recognized her right away, and noticed that she was staring at me quite strangely.
I smiled, and approached her to say hello.
As I waved, she squinted and responded, “You so look familiar, have we met?”
To which I replied “Yes, our boys played soccer together couple of years ago.”
She seemed puzzled, and could not place me. So I told her my son’s name, and watched her think about it for a moment.
I explained that my son was the goalkeeper, and mentioned his nickname (they called him ‘The Wall’) which she recognized.
Then, the look on her face, when she put two and two together, and realized who I was…was priceless.
She gasped and took a step back and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness,”and paused, “I do remember you. And I remember your hat”. She pointed up at my head.
I reached up, and was reminded that my favorite white hat that I had been wearing that night, was the same one that had been a frequently worn article on many a chilly Northwest morning.
“Yes”, I smiled, and patted the hat, “it’s still my favorite”.
She said, “You look so……so different.”
I replied, “Yes, I used to wear glasses.”
She shook her head, and said, “No, that’s not it.”
“Well”, I said, “I also used to have darker hair”. To which she again replied “no …. no that’s not it.”
I then continued, “My hair is a bit longer now than it was before.”
She shook her head again. “No……..that’s not it either.”
So I offered another explanation.
“Well, I did lose 150 pounds.”
Her eyes widened, she gasped again, jumped back, then smiled and exclaimed, “Yes! Yes! That is definitely it!”
She pointed at my head again. “I’m not sure I would have recognized you at all if it were not for that hat.”
I showed her an old picture on my phone of my son and I (and the hat) with his soccer trophy from that year.
“It’s the same hat”, I said, “but a different me”…
She wanted to know everything.
How did I do it? How long did it take me? Did I have gastric bypass surgery? (Answers: Hard work/ Weight Watchers, 19 months, and no ). And she spoke to me in a way that made me feel like she genuinely wanted to be friends.
I’ve often thought about that conversation over the last couple of years. And every time I wear that hat, I am reminded of that phrase, “Same Hat, Different Me”. It eventually came to symbolize the culmination of my journey, and became an obvious choice for the blog where in which I would recount all of my experiences.
Now, when she sees me at the grocery store, she smiles and waves. And after talking to her a few more times, l have come to realize a few things.
The reason why, I suspect, that she is friendly to me now, is not because I am no longer obese…
It’s because I no longer present myself as if I am LESS…obese or not.
People will treat you according to how you treat yourself.
And one of the many things I have learned across this experience, is that, heavy or thin, it’s about how you treat yourself first and foremost that shows others how to treat you.
And no matter where you are in this process, if you appreciate your beauty in all its forms, you will allow the best version of yourself to come forward and surprise you.
You are strong, and amazing, and capable of many wonderful things…
And you ARE the first person who needs to know it.