I’ve carried this weight since I was 11. That’s when it came, unbidden, unwanted, and for me, unexpected.

It showed up everywhere, my legs, my stomach, my arms, and most of all my chest. Heavy. Unwieldy. It showed up and stole from me. It stole my childhood, my innocence, my ability to even dress myself anymore.

I remember being in the book aisle of my town’s K-Mart sobbing. Next to the girl’s clothing section, this was my favorite place to be. Among all the stories I could lose myself in. I was good at losing myself in other people’s worlds.

“Why can’t I have the skirt Mommy? I like it,” I hiccupped, embarrassed I was crying in public but unable to stop the liquid emotion from pouring out.

I saw my mom hesitate. She squatted down, eyes level with mine, her own liquid emotion there.

“It’s not flattering on you, honey. I’m so sorry but no.” She hugged me.

It was a cool white jean skirt with suspenders that I’d found in the girl’s aisle, a size 14x because the weight was my constant companion. I remember the feeling of shame because I had looked at myself in the mirror and seen it, the weight. But while I’d seen it, I didn’t realize what it was. I didn’t know it was a thing to fear. I had been too focused on childhood to realize this was something I should be aware of.

That day I changed my relationship with food. It was no longer simply a part of my day, it was everything I thought about. What to eat, when, how much. I had been promised five new outfits (a shopping spree!) if I could go down one clothing size. I went down four. That summer I also shot up a few inches and started my period.

Now a new weight was upon me.

This weight I couldn’t get rid of, no matter how much I restricted my diet. The only thing I could do with this weight was pack it into a bra that seemed too big for a young girl to even be able to hold and try to cover it with baggy shirts. It was a weight I carried in front of me, 24×7, a weight that caused men to stare, to leer, to make inappropriate comments, comments I didn’t even understand.

This weight was heavier than the extra flesh I’d carried on my hips and stomach. That weight was now gone, replaced with sharp bones and flatness. This weight made the boys at school drool, be nice to me one day then jeering the next. This weight confused me. This weight made me hide.

I have never been at peace in my body.

I have said and done horrible things to myself to try and tame the weight. All of it. The weight at my hips and stomach, the weight on my chest. I’ve gone up and down, restricted food, told myself it didn’t matter and eaten everything. I’ve worn loose clothing to hide, this clothing making me look bigger than I was. I’ve worn tight clothing but the tight always meant walking with my eyes down, because tight clothing brings eyes, and mine couldn’t meet them. I’d never understood the women who can own their weight. I’d tried. I’d marvel over women who had the weight—hips and stomach OR chest—and who exposed it, unabashedly, joyfully, sexually. Humanly. Exposing never seemed normal for me.

As I sit writing this, the liquid emotion is once again making its way down my cheeks as I think of all the time spent wasted. All the times my heart would begin to inch its way into my ears, drowning out everything because it was beating so hard as I walked through life with something on that was drawing looks, eyes down, feeling the stares, hearing the comments and scared that looking up, owning my body would invite something horrible. An invitation, a touch, violence.

I’m almost 44 and for the first time in my life, I am starting to feel lighter. The weight is still there, in fact, there’s more of it now.

A new inch or so on my hips, some new heft in my stomach. The weight of my chest all these years has bent my back, my shoulders slouch forward, shielding, hiding. My shoulders have permanent divots in them from a lifetime of bras. But now I’m working to straighten. To wear what makes me feel good, even if it proves my womanhood. To meet eyes, with kindness until they demonstrate they’re not worthy of my kindness and then I meet them with strength. I am working to make food my friend, not an enemy to be fought against at every meal.

Forty-four. That’s almost 32 years of hiding, fighting, fearing. I no longer want to live in fear and I no longer want to hide. I want to be seen, not for my weight or my clothes but for what I bring to the world through who I am inside.

I’m trying to raise young men who will meet eyes with kindness, who will appreciate beauty for more than what it can do for them. Who will understand beauty is so much more than flesh.

I’ve been heavy almost my whole life, but it hasn’t been because of my weight.

It’s the heaviness of being a woman, of not understanding the power I owned, of not valuing my space in this world. It’s the heaviness of carrying my fear. Fear of being seen and looking up.

I’m looking up now. I’m not scared.

I’m finally losing the weight, even as I gain some pounds. And that makes me happy.

You may also like:

Hey Moms, Lose the Weight

As Mothers, We Carry the Weight

Why I Stopped Criticizing My Body in Front of My Daughter

Heather LeRoss

Heather LeRoss is the mom to two smelly but sweet boys and step-mom to another boy (he’s less smelly). She spends her days spinning in circles of crazy wearing a tiara, gripping a glass of champagne. Heather is a lover of fine boxed wine and chocolate. She hopes to someday be known as “Heather” again and not, “those boys’ mom.” Follow the funny and heart feels on Tipsy Tiaras and on Facebook.