Swimming Through Shame 

This has been the hardest piece I have ever written. I have written and deleted. Put it away, come back, written and deleted. It’s been weeks of this. I’ve written about suicide, death, grief, infertility and yet this has been the hardest piece to write.  

Perhaps because it’s so deeply personal. Perhaps because it opens up all my insecurities for the reading audience to see. Perhaps because in writing it all down, I know the excuses will have to stop and changes will have to be, and should be, made.  

You see, this piece is about admitting that I feel like I failed myself. This piece is about admitting I failed my children this past summer. I didn’t give them the summer they deserved or should have had. And, I didn’t because of my own issues. My own insecurities. I wasted precious time with them worrying about things that in the scheme of life, simply shouldn’t be so damn important.  

I’ve always struggled with my weight and body image. I was a chubby child – the tops of my thighs touched at birth and they still do. Even when I was running 50 plus miles a week they touched. I have a bubble butt/junk in the trunk/a big backside. I’ve always been bigger than all of my friends. And it’s always been a source of insecurity for me. Sharing clothes with my besties wasn’t something I could do.  

In high school I thinned out a bit, running track and playing tennis, but I was still a bigger girl and still longed to be thin like so many of my friends able to wear short shorts and skirts. And it didn’t matter how much I ran or how much tennis I played, I was always a solid size 12 when my friends were 0-4’s.   

In my twenties I focused on being healthy and fit. I worried less about numbers on the scale and the size of my jeans and more about how I felt. I was running, fly fishing, hiking, swimming and active. And I was with a man who told me I was beautiful every single day. I embraced my body for the first time in my entire life.  

The thinnest I have ever been, and will ever be again, was after my first husband’s suicide. I had lost a bit of weight before his death, as I had been extremely ill with a flu that turned into a pericarditis. It was a scary time for all of us, although we couldn’t imagine that in a few short weeks our lives would be forever altered by Greg’s death.  

I readily admit I am an emotional eater. However, after Greg’s death I couldn’t even keep crackers down. Nothing stayed in, and that is if I attempted to eat at all. My mother force fed me and it usually just landed me in the bathroom – a mess at both ends. My body was wrecked. But man, was I skinny. I wore a size 6 for the first time ever in my adult life. And in a sick way, it felt good.  

I still remember running into the stereotypical Newport Beach “OC” Housewife a month or so after Greg died. I was at a Starbucks getting a tea, having just walked miles trying to clear my head and I heard from the other side of the store: 

“Oh my GAWD, Katie! Look at you! You are SO thin! I mean, I’ve never SEEN you THIS SKINNY! My GAWD! I mean, it’s certainly sad about your husband, but WOW! Death looks good on you! I really can’t believe it!” 

Um, thanks? 
So, you see, me and my body image have always been a little skewed.   

As I processed my grief and tried to realize some sense of normalcy in my life and then, in the years that followed, started dating again, my love of cooking and food and entertaining came back. The pounds crept back. But I was running and doing boot camp and happy with the way I looked. And, again, when I started dating the man who became my husband and the father of our children, I was again lucky to be with a man who told me I was beautiful every single day.  

So how did it all come apart again? Infertility treatments meant I started my twin pregnancy about 6 pounds over where I wanted to be, but I had a very healthy pregnancy and actually was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans a month after delivery. I started running again as soon as I was cleared (although let’s be honest, after pushing two full term kids through my lady cavity 20 minutes apart I came up against a problem I never had before – peeing a little when I ran or jumped or even coughed or sneezed. These are the things no one talks about. Post delivery only invest in black running pants. You can thank me later).  

Then, when the boys were about two, the bottom fell out. Two very sudden and tragic deaths – my husband’s best friend and my husband’s father occurred within seven weeks of each other. Two more family friends died after lengthy battles with cancer. My immediate family was rocked by significant health issues. My best friend who doesn’t live near close enough was losing her father. Managing all of this while grieving and trying to be a supportive wife and mom and lawyer and friend and writer, well, it all took its toll. Fifty pounds of toll.  

Fifty pounds. Tipping the scale at over 200 pounds. Out of shape, clothes bursting at the seams and cellulite in places I didn’t even know you could get cellulite. I’m embarrassed it came to this. And, ashamed. Ashamed because of what it has done to me and mostly to my kids.  

It hit me one day at a kid friendly beach near where we live, called the Lagoon. I had my bathing suit on, but I also had a sundress over it. I didn’t plan on taking that sundress off. It would allow me to wade in the water with our boys, but I wouldn’t have to expose my body and my insecurities to everyone else there.  

“Mama, didn’t you bring your suit with you?” 

“I have it on, love. I just don’t want to swim. I’ll pull you on your boogie board or we can make a castle. We will still have fun.” 

“But it’s so hot Mama. Just take your dress off and play in the water.” 

But I didn’t. Not that day. Not the 10 times after when I took them. I sent regrets to beach barbecues and beach days that friends were hosting, simply because the thought of being in a swim suit made me so anxious. Birthday invites to swim parties made me queasy. I have beautiful girlfriends with beautiful bodies. And I guarantee none of them would ever shame me. I do that just fine on my own. But I just couldn’t do it – I couldn’t expose myself like that. 
Because of my own shame, my own rut, my own anxiety over MY body issues, my kids missed out. And I know that is not the mom I want to be. Not now, not ever.  

So, when we went to Lake Michigan for a family wedding and beach vacation, I swore to myself and for our kids, I would not cover up. I would swim and play and walk and do it all in my suit. And I did. I felt exposed. And, yes, I did feel embarrassed. I have a beautiful sister who still rocks a bikini after having 3 kids. Her three daughters, my nieces, are the epitome of California beach beauties.  However, I took off my cover up and I jumped in the water and laughed and splashed and swam and played. I had the time of my life with my family.  
I did it. Because I had two little boys who asked me on the plane if I was going to spend our trip swimming with them or just sitting on the sand in my dress. And it ripped my heart out. I will not ruin memories for my children because of my own insecurities.  

I will get healthy again for them. So we all can enjoy summer days with abandon. The way they were meant to be enjoyed. And in the meantime, I will work to embrace myself, all of it, and make time for myself, and show up, even in a bathing suit if that is asked of me.  

I’ll even pose for pictures. Something I would never have done before.  

8 thoughts on “Swimming Through Shame 

  1. Kate,

    I so readily identify with this. In fact, it’s been my biggest struggle this summer and in the wake of my own insecurities, I’ve missed opportunities to make memories. Over the past year, I’ve packed on an extra 15 pounds and while, at 5’9, that only bumps me up a dress size, I have struggled with the way those 15 pounds have changed my body. I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I am uncomfortable in my own skin. It’s a horrible feeling. The stress of choosing an outfit, let alone a swimsuit, is overwhelming.

    Regardless of one’s actual body size, this insecurity is real. I’m sure there are many people who would scoff at this comment, dismissing my insecurities as unwarranted; however, to me, those insecurities are very real. I’ve been in a happy relationship, my life has been content, my practice is busier than ever and I come from a family that loves to entertain and cook. I love food. I love to cook. It’s a shame that I don’t have one of those metabolisms that seems to process food without taking hold of the calories. 😉

    Generally by fall, I’m brown as bear. This fall I’m white. I have donned a swimsuit twice. People stop me and say, ‘Tiff, I’ve never seen you so pale in summer.’ In my mind, a voice hears ‘Tiff, I’ve never seen you this heavy.’

    I’ve shared my insecurities with my mom, with my boyfriend, with my personal trainer and now with you. They’ve all been so supportive and yet, it feels as though we walk this journey alone. They’ve reminded me that I’m approaching my mid-thirties, that our bodies change, that our metabolism slows and that a woman’s body has different curves. But we live in the mecca of plastic, vanity and deprivation. OC is the capital of the cookie cutter.

    I’ve been working earnestly on reminding myself that with a more content lifestyle, more time focused on things that matter and less on the gym, more moments shared over wine and a warm meal, comes more love on my hips, more pleasure in my tummy and more warmth on my arms. I have to continually remind myself that a slim frame, requires a good deal of free time, rigid disciplined daily menus and missing out other moments – sharing a good meal, that second glass of wine or that dessert that my boyfriend suggests we order.

    I’m not willing to miss out on those moments. So, I try to remind myself that I choose to miss out on a slim frame. It doesn’t make donning a swimsuit much easier, but it does make ‘loving myself’ a little easier.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s something that has been so heavy on my heart lately and your words helped add a bit more perspective. You are so brave and I admire you as a woman, a lawyer and mostly, a mother. Love to you.

    • Tiff – It took a lot of courage to share so openly here, and I applaud you. It’s so many things – growing up in Orange County, being a woman in a male dominated field, society’s obsession with looks, social media and the constant stream of people posting selfies of their half naked or attending the gym bodies. I do understand what you are going through, and I don’t want it to sound like just a broken record – but you are SO beautiful and such an amazing all around package. I hope that you know that. And when all else fails, I’ll do what I used to do in class, recite my favorite movies.

      “You is kind. You is Smart. You is Important.” ~The Help

      Much love.

  2. Kate,
    Not only are an amazing writer, Mom, wife, and friend, but you are an amazing person. Thank you so much for this article. It hits home for so many women in so many ways. My current weight is one I have been battling since baby number two. I jokingly ask when it ceases to be bay weight. If I get over my delivery weight can I still call it baby weight? As the mother of girls I am very aware of my body image and how it will effect my girls. I am the Mom in the “mom” swimsuit! I was never a bikini girl, but I like the suits with shorts or skirts on them now. It is so easy to look in the mirror and see what we don’t like about ourselves, and so much harder to see how beautiful our bodies that care for our family are. Good for you jumping in the lake! Remember you are beautiful at any weight!

  3. I recently had a conversation with my significant other where i admitted, between the tears, that I was afraid he and his family think I’m fat. I’m bigger than everyone else – by a lot. They are a fit, attractive, family that uses weight as a form of teasing. Never has anyone said or done anything to me, but the comments to others, well, I hear them and imagine what they are really thinking when they look at me. His response was reassuring – I was being ridiculous and I’m beautiful and the packaging is just that – packaging. It’s what’s inside that counts and what’s inside is why he’s with me. I’ve learned to embrace myself, even when I can’t get my arms around myself. My body is far from perfect, but it’s mine. Love yourself no matter what – your kids don’t see what you see when you look in the mirror. Borrow their eyes. Much love to you and thanks for the strength in writing this piece!

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