These are a pair of culottes. I made them last Saturday. Julian and Abby were out for the day. I had a lovely new pattern and two metres of beautiful, crisp drill. Exciting stuff for us sewists.
Now, it’s been a while since I made anything for myself that needed to fit accurately. So I measured myself. Overall, I was a size 18 [gasp]. Yup. A size 18. As for my waist – it measured a size 22. I winced momentarily, recognising that yes, everything is a bit tighter these days. Goodness, some things are simply unwearable.
In fact, since moving to Melbourne, I have put on 10 kilos [shudder]. Woot! Imagine if I keep that up until I die. Calculating that if I live to 85, that would be 3 kilos a year for 40 years which would make me 120 kilos heavier than I am now. 200 kilos. Clearly that is not sustainable with life.
However, despite acknowledging all this out loud to myself, I continued to potter about with the culottes. Cutting out the pattern, pinning pieces together, and sewing them up. In my mind’s eye, they were really cute. I had visions of wearing them with long ribbed black socks, black patent flats, a grey turtle neck and a jaunty black cardie. My braids would be wound on top of my head. I’d be wearing my red sunglasses. Oh I looked cute … in my mind’s eye.
Within a few hours, the culottes were finished and I tried them on. That’s when the whole mind’s eye thing crashed straight through that rosy glass window and landed in a tatty heap at my feet.
The culottes – so ironically covered in elephants – looked ATROCIOUS. It didn’t matter that I had made the right size. It didn’t matter that they fit. They looked bloody awful. There would be no cute accessorising with these culottes.
At this shattering point in the tale, let me share a wee bit of backstory (abby’s word). When I was young I was sooooo thin. Until my late 20s my weight was in the low 50s (kilos). I didn’t have to do anything to maintain this weight. I was just one of those thin girls (even then my waist was wide – Mum always had to allow a bit when sewing me skirts and shorts).
By 36, however, I was 72 kg (despite years of breastfeeding I never lost an ounce … only found more!) and that was a bit yuck. I should clarify what yuck means to me. I never read fashion or celebrity magazines. I don’t window shop or collect catalogues in order to choose what I will need to buy in order to keep up with Ms. Jones this season. So looking at myself and thinking “yuck” is not because I’m following a fashion industry or crappy magazine led ideal of what nice is.
Rightly or wrongly, I like long and straight and flattish things. They appeal to my sensibilities. I do look at films and history and vintage patterns and paintings and photos of my family, and I like lean. I adore the long, light dresses from the Austen era. I love the narrow skirts of the 20s. The straight simplicity of the 40s. Little cardigans. Fitted turtlenecks. A-line skirts. I liked being thin and straight. At 36 I would put clothes on, look in the mirror and think “oh yes, I like that”. Then, I would see photos of myself and think huh! That surely isn’t what I look like. Must be a dodgy photo. Eventually, I gained a bit of insight/perspective and acknowledged that yes, that was me and I was fat. At 36 I had back boobs, a protruding stomach, and no chin to speak of. And it was yuck.
So, I went to Weight Watchers (having had several friends who’d done this and lost a heap of weight). The very first session I was so revolted with what we were being encouraged to eat (low fat, low fat, low fat) that I never went back. Instead, I was VERY sensible – no junk food, no sugar. And I exercised. I walked at least five mornings a week and went to the gym three mornings a week. Within four months, I’d lost 10 kilos and oh was I pleased. Even better – when I saw photos of myself – I not only looked like how I THOUGHT I looked, but I liked how I looked.
And I was so physically strong. I possessed muscles I never knew existed. I had awesome stamina. It was very cool. There was a flurry of dressmaking and that was such fun too. I was still 10 kilos heavier than I had been in my 20s but I looked lean and healthy. Two years later I went back to work full time for 10 months – all the exercise stopped, I was often anxious and overwhelmed, and I ate thoughtlessly and often. By the end of the year I chucked in the job and the weight was creeping back on.
Two years after that, I had moved to Melbourne and the chin was disappearing again. The clothes were getting tight. Did I like it? No. Did I do anything about it? I did not. I was so homesick, and like so many others before me, turned to food for comfort. I love cooking, I love eating, I love sharing food with my family, I love shopping for food! And here I was, living in a neighbourhood famous for its lovely, rich food. Ah Aviv’s! When I worked at the bookshop there was a nary a day that I didn’t duck next door for a piece of divine strudel, or almond meringue, or the prettiest sweetest biscuits you’ve ever tasted. There was rarely a night I went home without bagels, challah, or croissants. And that’s only Aviv’s – there are countless other marvellous little places we love visiting. Is it any wonder I’ve managed 3 kilos a year – and again, I feel yuck.
On top of the aesthetic dismay, there’s the slow dawning of what all this weight is going to do to my body. The more I study, the more papers I write, the more hospitals I visit, the more I understand that being fat is really unhealthy. It truly is. It’s not a conspiracy, or the fad of the moment. Being fat puts me at a great risk of developing Type II Diabetes – which brings a cascade of disasters – lowered immunity, increased risk of stroke and heart attack, increased risk of blindness, increased risk of pressure ulcers, increased risk of kidney failure, increased risk of significant nerve damage, increased risk of skeletal problems, and increased risk of mobility problems – the last of which in turn, compounds all of the above. That simply does not match up with our dreams of moving to the country and having our own little homestead whilst working as a nurse.
Add to this the comment of a nurse educator I met recently who told us that her hospital has had to buy new beds because the old beds couldn’t take the weight. That would be the weight of the patients – more than half of whom are obese – and the nurses – who are heading that way themselves! This hospital had multiple occasions when a nurse would lean on to a bed with an obese patient and bang! The combined weight BROKE THE BED.
Oh dear. And yet despite the tight clothes (and growing stack of clothes that no longer fit), the disappearing chin, the health concerns, and the possibility of breaking a patient’s bed, I did nothing. In between many weeks of acknowledging the yuckiness, I would tell myself, “Oh it’s not so bad. Being big doesn’t make me awful. Enjoying life is more important than fretting.” Sometimes I even believed this. Until the elephant culottes – they were the straw that broke this camel’s back.
Now one thing I’ve had drummed into me since studying nursing, is that every single person we meet is an individual who will experience life, relationships, illnesses, happiness, stress etc. in a unique way. Everybody has their own compass to guide their lives. And respecting that is the basis of human dignity and the starting point of every interaction I have with other people. Which means, I get that this – my battle with weight and how I want to look – is about me. This is not a judgement of other people and their choices. It is simply and solely about me and what I need and want.
I want to be long and lean and strong and healthy again. I want my chin back. I don’t want to look six months pregnant. I want to look cute in culottes. I don’t want to break any beds. I need to be able to bounce out of my bed early in the morning, feed our animals, care for my community, take long walks with my family, spend lovely afternoons swimming and playing at the beach, spend hours restoring furniture and building our home.
For me to do this, I need to lose weight – at least 15 kilos. How? Well … I’m walking. I’m using Julian’s weights to build up core body strength, build bone density and increase my metabolism. I’ve started skipping and sets of squats throughout the day. And I’m being sooooo sensible with my food. I’m following the I Quit Sugar recommendations – it’s amazing how many opportunities to pop something else in your mouth disappear when you eliminate those things that are full of sugar. I have a chart in the bathroom where I shall keep track of the numbers. And a beautiful, favourite, red checked, richly embroidered skirt lined with a dear little cream, lace trimmed petticoat that’s hanging in the front of my wardrobe for fortnightly try ons to see how the progress is going.
And I’m sharing this awkward tale with you. This was the problem with my crocheted white smock I alluded to last week. It was another instance of popping on my 3/4 length black pants, adding the white smock and asking Julian to take my photo. Only to find that I looked nothing like I expected. So in writing all this down, I am hoping that having someone else watching as well will keep me on my toes.
I’ll let you know how it’s going – in three weeks time? Hopefully there’ll be good progress to report. As for the elephant culottes – I think I’ll chop them up into other things. Because by the time they’ll look cute with those socks and flats and turtleneck and cardie, they’ll be tooooooo big.