By Lauren Duffy
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha
After contributing this blog since just after Emily started it, I’ve mentioned in a few of my articles that I used to be quite heavy before I lost a good amount of weight due to changing some of my bad habits and ultimately changing my entire lifestyle. I’ve always wanted to share my whole story with all of you, but I never really knew where to begin it. In fact, I’ve been staring at this computer screen for over an hour trying to find a good place to start. I guess I’ll be cliche about this and start right at the beginning; right when the problems began. I hope that as you read this you’ll perhaps be inspired to change your life, or maybe you’ll be thankful for the life you have; but ultimately I hope that if you have a body image issue, you’ll finish reading this knowing that you’re not now nor have you ever been alone in the battle for accepting yourself for who you are.
Let me begin by clarifying what this story is about… No, let me explain what this story is not about: This is not a story about a girl who was terribly obese then suddenly lost all of her excess weight and lived happily ever after. I was never obese and I never will be; but undeniably, I used to have a weight problem. I needed to lose weight for health reasons and personal sanity reasons, and I did so after a long battle with self-image issues, ridicule, and health struggles. It’s a long story, but it’s time to share it. So here goes nothing…
It all began when I was in the first grade. I remember how old I was because I’ve moved a bunch of times in my life and I can remember my age and what grade I was in by recalling what town I lived in at that time. I remember looking down at my toes during recess at Framingham Elementary School in Framingham, Massachusetts and asking my friend why I couldn’t see my knees without leaning forward a little bit while she could see her knees by just looking down. (My tummy was in the way when I looked down). She looked back at me and said “My mommy says you’re fat, so maybe that’s why?”
There it was: the first time I was referred to as “fat”. I was always a chubby kid, and I knew that height-wise that I was bigger than most kids my age, but I had never been referred to as “fat”. But all it took was one person to put the idea that I was a fat kid in my head for me to believe it. From then on, I considered myself a fat, gross and ugly child. Then the bullying began.
I was teased and ridiculed by cruel kids my age all throughout my elementary and middle school years. I moved from Framingham in the second grade to Walpole, Massachusetts, partially to escape bullies. I forgave and forgot most of the kids that called me names to tease me for my looks, but the worst insults are still burned in my brain:
Third grade: My class was watching the teacher do a science experiment as we crowded around a small table. I had a spot right in the front and I was watching the teacher in awe. Then from the back of the crowd, one of the kids in my class yelled “Lauren Duffy can you move?! You’re like huge and no one can see around you!” My class laughed hysterically, and I cried in the bathroom for an hour.
Fourth grade: I was playing basketball by myself at the school playground that was across the street from my house. Some of the kids in the neighborhood would stand behind the fence and make fun of me, but I tried to tune them out. Then they started singing: “U-G-L-Y you ain’t got no alibi you ugly! Yeah, yeah you ugly! AND FAT!”
Seventh grade: Girls in my class were coming up with a dance in my homeroom before the bell, and I asked if I could join. They didn’t want to let me, but the teacher told them they had to. Then a kid said “But she’s wayyyy too fat to be a dancer!” The kids laughed, the teacher yelled, and I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.
Why are kids so mean? If you’ve ever been bullied you understand how heartbreaking it can be to have someone your own age tell you that you’re not as good as the rest. You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re not worth it. Soon enough, you believe it; you believe it whether or not it’s true… and I believed every word they said. I truly hated myself. I used to stare at myself in the mirror as a I tried to suck in my stomach and I just loathed what I was staring at. Sometimes as I would stare at myself while I brushed my teeth I would start crying because of my looks and how heavy I was. I hid my pain from my parents because I knew they couldn’t bare to see me so hurt, but the pain was there and damn it was strong.
But the problem wasn’t baby fat and the problem wasn’t my height. The problem was that I was heavier because I ate.. and ate.. and ate.. then ate some more. I just didn’t know any better. I remember in middle school I would come home from school and literally eat until dinner was ready, then eat dinner and dessert and a bedtime snack.. or two. I was a master at hiding food from my parents because they, like any parent, would have freaked out if they saw how much I was consuming. But for some reason I just couldn’t help myself; I would eat when I was bored, sad or stressed. The irony of it all was that I would eat so much because I was unhappy with myself, and I was unhappy with myself because I ate so much. When I finally realized that working out was the secret to losing weight, I would eat a ton, do 50 crunches, then eat even more because I thought those crunches negated what I had previously eaten. In my tween mind it all made sense, but clearly that was not how weight loss worked.
Finally in the seventh grade my mom and I moved to Wrentham, Massachusetts to fulfill my mother’s dream of living on a lake. I decided at that point in my life that I was going to change. That Summer I was driven by crazy determination to lose weight so that I would not enter a new school as “the fat new girl”. I ate tons of fruit, counted calories, swam, ran, and ultimately trimmed down significantly. I entered my new school in the eighth grade with my head held high and feeling proud of how much I had accomplished. For once, I really liked the way that I looked and I was comfortable with myself. That’s when the problems began all over again…
Once you lose weight, it’s easy to get too comfortable with your new appearance and to stop putting in the effort to continue healthy habits. Also, when you get complimented for that lost weight you tend to believe that you don’t “need” to continue being healthy because you look good. That’s exactly what happened to me. Suddenly cheating on my diet or skipping a workout day didn’t seem like so much of a sin because I had lost the drive to continue. Before I knew it, I put the weight that I had lost right back on… and then some.
Through elementary school and middle school I played basketball on my town’s teams, so at least I was somewhat active. But my in my freshman year of high school I quit basketball and stopped any and all activity in my life except for tap dancing. I gained a bundle of weight that year because of this. While my freshman year was pretty bad for me, sophomore year was the absolute worst; I gained so much weight. Luckily, my high school didn’t have the bullies like the ones I faced in elementary and middle school, and I had (and still have) an amazing group of friends that accepted me for who I was and not how I looked. But those bullies from years past had completely convinced me that I was worthless when I was heavy, so I felt absolutely horrible about myself when I ballooned. I was back to avoiding mirrors, wearing huge tee shirts and sweatshirts as much as possible to hide myself, and snacking constantly.
Freshman Year (High School)
I was a huge theater dork in high school, and during my sophomore year I was in a production of Anything Goes. As the costume director was preparing my outfits for the show, he asked for my weight. I told him that I weighed 150lbs because I was unsure of my actual weight due to my avoidance of scales and I thought that 150 was a good ballpark guess. He said to his assistant “Uh.. I’m not sure if that’s right… put her down for a buck seventy five”. Meaning, he thought I weighed 175lbs. I was absolutely humiliated by this. I couldn’t weigh that much!!!! Could I?!? Out of horror that someone could actually think that I looked like I weighed that much, I went home and jumped on the scale to prove him wrong. I was right, he was wrong… I did not weigh 175lbs. I weighed over 200lbs. This was reality check number one.
Sophomore Year (High School)
That was it! I was done! No more fat. No more hating myself. Over 200?!? What?!?! No. No. No. No. No. NO. NO. NO! That was the final straw. I was going to make a change and I was going to love myself. I began running again, doing insane amounts of crunches, and counting calories in a desperate attempt to never feel fat again. In my junior year of high school, I had made a decent change in my look and in my life. I was a little trimmer and a little more toned, but nowhere near where I needed to be. I tried a weird thing called Zumba a few times because my friend Leslie told me she was obsessed with it and I figured I would give it a shot. I felt a little out of place because I was the youngest one in the class, but I had fun nonetheless.
Junior Year (High School)
So I continued to work and fight for a new life through my senior year in hopes of achieving my goal and finding happiness with myself. It was a painfully slow process, but I was determined. When senior prom came along, I went shopping with my best friend Liz for a dress and to my surprise I found that the only dresses that would fit were sizes 14-16. What? After all this time and effort I am stillthis big? This was reality check number two. It was on that shopping trip that I realized that I clearly could not achieve my goal on my own. I needed someone or something to help me…
Senior Year (High School)
That Summer I got a personal trainer to help me slim down for college. His name was Carmine and he was absolutely amazing. I learned how to eat right, I learned how to lift, I learned how to execute a proper exercise, and I felt so good about myself and the changes I was making. Two other women who worked at the gym I was training at, Melissa and Jamie, also inspired me immensely. I realized that I wanted to be just like them: fit and happy. So I took my personal training seriously, I ran on days that I didn’t train, and I did that Zumba thing all the time. “That Zumba thing” turned into the best part of my week; I felt like I could do anything after leaving a class. One of my family friends owned a gym, so I signed up to get my Zumba Instructor certification that coming fall in hopes of teaching when I was home for the summer and winter. Loving to work out was a weird and new feeling but it was an amazing concept that I wanted to stick with.
During that summer and when I finally went off college I actually felt pretty good about how I was looking and more importantly how I was feeling. It felt good to feel good… if that makes sense? But when I got to college and began my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I stopped working out so much and eating healthy because I suddenly didn’t have my Zumba and personal trainer, and the Dining Commons were irresistible. As soon as I noticed a little weight gain, I realized that I couldn’t let what happened in eighth grade happen again, so I tried to pick running and eating healthy back up. Then about a month later, a girl in my dorm building told me that the UMass Campus Recreation Center offered Zumba classes and I’m pretty sure I jumped for joy. After that revelation, I took Zumba with Emily three times a week and got my certification in November. I felt damn good.
Freshman Year (College)
That Winter break, I taught some Zumba classes back home and continued to push myself to eat right and keep exercising. I noticed that for the first time, I was excited to dress up for the holidays because I felt so good about how I looked. It was amazing!! When school resumed I took a Hip Hop class with an instructor named Tracy at the Recreation Center and I spoke to her after the class about how I loved her class and how it inspired me to continue teaching. She told me that UMass Campus Recreation was actually looking to hire another Zumba instructor, so I immediately got in contact with the Fitness/Wellness Director and set up an audition with her.
One week later I went in to the audition as an absolute nervous wreck. Teaching my favorite class ever at my favorite school ever? It seemed like a dream and I was so nervous to lose it. I barely told anyone that I was auditioning just in case it didn’t go well. I wanted it more than anything in the world, so when I heard the words “you’re hired” I almost collapsed. I kept my cool in front of my new boss, but afterwards I jumped up and down screaming with two of my best friends. AHHHHH!!!!! Best day ever? Yes.
One week after that, I started teaching at the Recreation Center and my life was changed forever. I love my job. I absolutely love my job. I began teaching four times a week on top of taking Emily’s class two times a week and I watched myself shrink. My new boss at the Rec Center (who is still my boss) became one of the biggest inspirations in my life and kept me wanting to fight for happiness and healthiness. So many good things were happening to me and I felt absolutely amazing. On top of that, I had made an incredible and supportive group of friends in college. I remember putting on my favorite pair of jeans from high school and swimming in them because they were huge on me and my new body. That was awesome. But it’s not about looking good, it’s about feeling good; and fit feels good. It feels good to run up a the stairs without getting winded, it feels good to eat healthy foods, and it feels good to know that you’re going to live a long and happy life.
Sophomore Year (College)
I continued to teach through that summer, my sophomore year of college, this past summer, and now I’m still teaching in my junior year here at UMass… and I’ve loved every single moment of it. On top of learning to love to sweat and exercise, I’ve also learned to absolutely love the art of healthy eating. It’s not just a quick diet or exercise plan, it’s a new lifestyle that I intend to keep until the day I die. Because I am human, I have hit a few rough spots and frustrating weight plateaus in this new lifestyle, and I still have moments where I am not happy with the image that I see in the mirror, but I just try to remember how I could look and the progress and accomplishments that I have made. I am not perfect and I’m not trying to be, but life is perfect when we are happy.. so, be happy.
I still have a long way to go to reach my ultimate appearance goal, but I have reached my personal goal with flying colors. I know that I’m not worthless, I know that I am not hideous, and I am proud of who I am. But most importantly, I am happy… I am so happy. Happiness was always the ultimate goal. I may not have realized that happiness was the main objective at the time, but in retrospect my happiness always was more important than my weight. I found through this journey that weight is a number; it’s just a stupid number. A number cannot define who you are, it can only frustrate the living hell out of you. What has mattered this whole time is how I personally felt. I was unhappy, so I needed to change… and I did! It took years, but I did it; that’s something that no bully or number can take away from me.
The moral of my story is not “if you’re fat, lose weight- you’ll feel better”. The moral is: fight for happiness. Whether you want to lose weight or you want to achieve any life goal, just get out there and do it! Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. The fight may not be easy, but it will be worth it, just like you’re worth it. No matter what you’re told, you matter in this world and you are beautiful. In retrospect, I really never was fat. Was I bigger? Yes. Could I have afforded to lose a few pounds? Yes. I’m taller so when I gain weight it has a lot of places to go; I was just much more full-figured or chubby, but never “fat” or obese. I hate that I listened to those bullies when I was little, and I despise that I believed them for so long when they told me I was fat because no matter how much I weighed throughout this journey, I was always beautiful, and I wish I could have seen that. This is starting to get corny, isn’t it? Yeah… well.. it’s all true.
Once you learn how you can achieve your goal in a happy and healthy manner, fight for it. Fight for your health, fight for your happiness, fight to love yourself, and fight for your life. You can do it. After all, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”