I usually enjoy a good purge of the house. But even with today’s perfect conditions—a quiet house, just me and my daughter, who won’t dare make eye contact with me for fear I enlist her to purge along with me—I can’t seem to rally.

Standing in my closet, I take inventory. If I purged everything that didn’t fit I wouldn’t have anything to wear. Well, that’s not entirely true, but still depresses me. I ignore the truth and start throwing clothes into three piles on the bed.

This stack is a maybe, this is to donate, and these are for Cate, I think.  Cate, a new friend, who is now on her way to my house after receiving my ridiculous text, COME OVER AND GET THESE JEANS BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND!

No questions asked, she understands the urgency of the situation – a woman purging her closet.

I throw another pair of jeans on Cate’s pile.  I certainly don’t need reminders of what doesn’t work for me, right?

I pick the jeans back up from the pile and hesitate. Two years old, they still have the tags attached. And they taunt me every time I see them.

I should keep these, I tell myself, they’re just a little bit tight. I’ll fit into them soon.

I should keep them.

No, I shouldn’t. They don’t fit. I put them down on the bed, pick them up, and put them back on the pile. That doesn’t feel right either. I pick them up one last time, clutch them to my chest, and walk out of the bedroom. They don’t fit, and that’s okay. Then why do I feel like a failure? Why do I feel embarrassed?

 Just because I’m giving these away doesn’t mean I’ll never be that size again. There will be another pair when I’m ready for them.

Walking down the hallway, I relax my shoulders and loosen my grip on the heckling jeans. I feel good about this, and then I hear words, echoes of sentiments that have been swirling around in my head, thoughts that are suddenly out in the open, loud and clear.

I hate being a size 16. 

But it’s not me confessing. It’s Cate, who is now standing in our living room, waiting for my they-don’t-fit-but-they-almost-fit-you-can-have-them-no-you-can’t jeans.

Cate, a friend who shares the same struggle: learning how to embrace the body we have, while working towards the body we want, pulls the jeans out of my hands as if they weighed a hundred pounds, and slams them against her legs.

She looks me straight in the eyes and snorts, I’m not kidding. I do. I hate being a size 16. It’s SO big.

I look over at my 12-year-old daughter sitting on the couch, unfazed by the conversation being had. Thank god she has her ear buds in. 

In the near past—like three weeks ago—I would have chimed in and encouraged the conversation with a simple Me too, I hate being a size 16.

We would have laughed, joked about our thighs, probably sharing cookies while talking about how we’re tired of trying to lose weight.

But not today.

Today I am left speechless. I have no witty comeback, no words connecting us to a sisterhood of weight loss. I just stand there, staring at her, holding a pair of jeans that didn’t fit me. Never fit me. Jeans that are a size she hated.

As my mind sifted through thoughts of how Cate hated a size that I didn’t even fit into anymore, all I could think about was my girl. I do not want her to inherit this language that keeps me stuck in one place.

How many times has she has heard me say I need to lose weight, I hate my hips, I can’t eat that I’m trying to lose weight, I can’t go I don’t have anything to wear, I’m too big? How many times has she listened to this soundtrack of her mom, in constant turmoil over her size?

Standing there, caught between protecting my daughter and commiserating with Cate, I am left wondering where it all started. I have a pretty good idea—and I was just a year older than my daughter is now.

The teenage years — when I was still trying to figure out what to do with my arms — and my hair.

When I was thirteen and staying with my grandparents for a few days during the summer, my grandma, who prided herself on her good looks and an active lifestyle, kept pestering me to go for a walk with her. I couldn’t be bothered. It was summer after all.

Plus, walking? Really? Walking was what old people did after dinner.

She somehow talked me into it. I can still feel the heat of summer bouncing off the pavement as we walked around her neighborhood. She pointed out neighbors’ homes, talking about their landscaping—or lack thereof.

I was ready to head back to her house and beeline to their basement freezer for some ice cream when she pulled my arm to keep going. “No, we’re not going back yet, you need to work on those hips,” she said. I slowed my stride. My hips? I thought, What is she talking about? Then, as if she could read my mind, she answered my question out loud, “If you walk more often your hips would be smaller, you don’t want to get fatter.”

Wait, fatter? Who said I was fat?

We kept walking and she continued to educate me on the benefits of walking and how quickly my hips would shrink if I kept it up.

Finally arriving back at their driveway, the blacktop was still hot, soft under our soles. I lifted the latch on the gate leading to their backyard, my eyes catching a glimpse of their pool in which I floated around earlier today, while trying to figure out how to make summer last longer.

Now I wondered if I would be brave enough to wear a swimsuit. The screen door felt heavy, resisting my entrance, whispering, don’t come in, it’s not safe. I opened it and entered the same house I left just an hour ago.
The only difference? Before the walk, I felt safe and loved. Now I felt confused and less than. Because now I’m fat.

Back in my own living room, I don’t really respond to Cate. I wish I had the confidence to respond with something like, It’s the size of your heart—not your hips—that matters.

I wish I had the confidence to say, You have no idea how words can linger. Linger for decades after somebody has said them, linger for years after that somebody has passed.

Every time I see my hips, I still hear my grandmother, your hips are too big, keep walking, and don’t be lazy. 

I stay quiet, but I remind myself how powerful words are. How anybody who hears them soaks them up in their own individual way. Even though my words about my body are never aimed at my daughter, she has already soaked up enough of them to last a lifetime. It’s time to stop.

Because when I hear Cate say, I hate being a size 16, all I hear is I’m not enough, you’re not enough, she’s not enough.