One size does not fit all.
Whomever decided that particular description was an accurate size determination, was clearly never a size that was more ample than the norm.
Over the years, I had grown wary of the one- size-fits-all label, because when you don’t even fit into a one-size-fits-all, you begin to question whether or not there is some alternate subspecies outside of “all” that you fall into.
Like one size fits everyone… but me.
I had worked really hard towards earning my Design degree during the three years that I spent going back to college after my divorce. I had thrown myself into my college education with 100% of my effort. And now I was graduating with honors and distinction, and finally getting my much sought after, formerly elusive, college degree.
Initially, I had gone to college right out of high school up in northern Arizona with the idea of becoming a nurse. But after being out on my own and deciding that nursing school was not for me, I had spent the rest of that first year aimless and floundering, with no direction or course of study. I had partied a little bit too much, and pushed the limits of my self-discipline (or lack there of) to the point to where, after only a year, I had given up, dropped out, and moved back home to “find myself”.
But all I found, it seems, was a part-time job at Jack-in-the-Box, and a whole lot of yearning for something more.
I eventually ran away to the beach in California to follow my bliss, and left my college aspirations in the dust.
Life happened, and after a while, I just forgot about my foray into higher education, and accepted my current circumstances as “a choice that I had made”.
After that, I got married, had two children, and worked as a nanny, a barista, and as a video store employee for minimum wage.
I made due.
It wasn’t until I got divorced, and became a single parent, that I realized that I really needed a college degree in order to give myself the best chance possible to provide for my two little boys. My job at Starbucks was not enough to build the life for us that I had wanted.
So I packed up my pride, transferred my job, and moved back to my childhood home in Arizona. Into my old bedroom, where my Scott Baio posters still hung on the closet door, in the hopes that my parents would help me to get back on my feet, and also, so that I could return to school to finish what I started so many years before.
During those three years back in Arizona after my divorce, my weight went up to my highest on record of 293 pounds.
Those were three very stressful and difficult years while simultaneously juggling single parenthood, work, and school… but I did it.
I worked really hard, and surpassed all of the expectations that I had for myself academically.
But still, here I was, on the verge of graduation, staring at a box that held my cap and gown, and my Phi Theta Kappa sashes, and feeling nothing but dread when I noticed the tag on the commencement gown…
My heart sank.
I hadn’t tried it on yet, but it made me nervous, and here we were, on the very day of graduation.
I started to feel uneasy.
I pulled out and looked at it. It looked big enough, so I began to put it on…
But alas, it did not fit.
The armholes were too tight under the armpits, and it had a zipper in the front that I could only get up to about my hips. In order to zip it completely, I had to take a deep breath and suck it all in….hard.
Then, once I zipped it up, I was too scared to exhale. I was afraid that if I kept it zipped up all the way, the zipper might actually rip, or I might bust a seam in the back.
This was not how I wanted to feel on my big day.
My mind started reeling with ways that I could alleviate the problem.
Should I call the office of the school to ask if I could wear it unzipped?
I thought to myself, I cannot be the only person who’s ever had this problem.
Maybe I should just pretend that the zipper was broken….
It was kind of that same feeling that I used to get when I would have to ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extender, because it was a polite humiliation.
I knew I was fat…and I knew that the flight attendant I was asking also knew that I was fat….but somehow saying it out loud called unwanted attention to the very thing that I was trying to hide. Somehow, asking for an altered accommodation, like a bigger seat belt or a “zipper amendment” was just enough of a trigger to make me feel the shame.
It was awkward.
And of course I was angry at myself as well, because I always seemed to end up back here, in this uncomfortable situation, bemoaning my circumstances. And instead of focusing on my amazing achievement, and just having one day to feel good about myself, I kept lingering on the one negative thing that had presented itself.
When I called the office, the lady I spoke to sounded sympathetic. She said that although it was not ideal to have the gown unzipped, she completely understood my predicament.
She went on to suggest that maybe I could zip it right before I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, and then unzip it before I sat down.
I decided to wear a black or a brown shirt so it would be less obvious that it was left unzipped.
I was disgruntled.
It was like every time I turned around my obesity was sucking all of the joy out of me.
I felt like I was continually having to make allowances for my “special circumstances”. I always felt like a hot mess. I was forever “managing” an uncomfortable situation.
I could try to dress it up, and try to hide it, but ultimately, it was always the rain on my parade.
It was that feeling of “why bother”.
Why bother doing something with my hair, fussing over my appearance, or taking the time to apply make up?
Why bother trying to find something pretty to wear, because it always ended in disappointment.
What was wrong with me?
Why couldn’t I just be happy and enjoy my moment?
It was just the inevitable mindset, that no matter how much frosting I put on the cake, it wasn’t going to make me feel delicious.
No one had even taken any pictures yet, but I already knew I would hate them.
A routine visit to my doctor for my annual check up the week prior to my graduation had revealed pre-diabetes, and my now infamous high weight of 293 pounds. He had given me the speech about “the point of no return”, and the urgency to lose the weight, because I was “pushing 300 pounds”, and with the history of diabetes in my family, I was staring down the barrel of a gun loaded with insulin.
And as you can imagine, none of this was helping me feel excited about my big day at graduation.
I wish that I could say that all of that had been enough.
That going through that experience was “the last straw”.
That hearing that news was more than enough to bring me to a turning point, and give me the push that I needed to be a better version of myself.
But sadly, it was still another seven years until I hit my real breaking point, and that my final epiphany came about. It took an extremely serious medical crisis to finally flip that switch, and send me running (literally) in the right direction.
And although I wish that I had acted sooner in regards to gaining control of my obesity, something else, something unknown to me back then, had also happened on that graduation day.
Walking across that stage, and receiving that diploma (even with my gut sucked in and holding my breath the entire time) gave me back some of my fragile self worth.
The notion that I could expect more from myself was planted within me that day.
It was the very first time, since I had originally dropped out of college, that I could remember completing something that I had set my mind to. Following through with something that had required hard work and determination to accomplish.
Heavy or not, receiving that diploma instilled in me, the very first stirrings of my potential.
The very first hint that I was capable of more than I had realized.
I had never thought that I would go back to school and get my degree, and actually complete that task.
Accepting those honors and being recognized for my achievement was the very first evidence that I could tackle anything that I set my mind to.
Holding that diploma in my hand was the proof, that despite all of those obstacles and challenges that I had faced, I could still get the job done.
And that was the feeling that I needed to remember, and to hold on to, so seven years later when the time finally came, I could muster the strength I needed to finally make those life altering changes.
The groundwork for my eventual weight loss success was already there, inside of me, gathering momentum, on that day that I walked across that stage, with my gut sucked in, hoping that the zipper wouldn’t bust on my graduation gown.
That day, whether I knew it then or not, I had shown myself, that I was capable of great things.
The was the day that I had my very first inkling that I was stronger than I knew.
I remember the commencement song [Pomp and Circumstance] that they had played when all of us graduates had come down the aisle to take our seats.
I remember sarcastically renaming it “Plump and Circumstance” as an ode to my perceived disenchantment with the whole affair.
I wish now, that I had not focused so much on the unfortunate gown, and it’s negative symbolism.
Because it was not about the gown, or the zipper, or the size of my body.
It was about the achievement, the hard work, and the size of my accomplishment.
Sometimes when we see ourselves through the lens of low self-esteem, we can unknowingly negate the positivity that is right in front of us. Kind of like that saying “you can’t see the forest through the trees”.
That day, I didn’t just earn a valuable college degree, I also earned back a little bit of my own value and self respect.
I earned pride and a sense of accomplishment in myself.
And that, was the start of something even more important than a degree…
It was the start of something that proved to be infinitely more invaluable to me in the long run.