At 56 years old, I pretty much thought my chances of being a fashion model was just a young girl’s pipe dream, which is why it was #99 on my bucket list. So, when the owner of a local boutique asked me and a friend to model in an upcoming fashion show, I laughed–a lot. Me? Seriously? You do know I am short and I am old, right? Gracious as always, she spoke words of comfort, femininity, loveliness and beauty to describe me. “You can do it,” she affirmed.
For two weeks, I ruminated on her words, on walking the runway, wearing beautiful clothes, on how I came to be here in Phoenix and in a fashion show. If you only knew where I came from and how I felt about myself, you may understand just how much this honor meant to me. Feminine? That had been a term I never thought of to describe myself.
The eldest of 5 children, I was always the chubby one. “Karen loves mashed potatoes,” was the only line written by my mother in my baby book when I was just 9 months old. It seemed however, to aptly describe my destiny for a life of obesity.
I remember my father working with me to stand tall, to develop good posture by walking with a McGuffy Reader perched on my head and to stride as if I felt proud of myself. But, somewhere between cramming a dozen freshly baked chocolate chip cookies into my sweatshirt pocket and eating them in my closet and trying to find unique ways to walk home from school to avoid thrown rocks and taunting from other children about my weight, I didn’t understand how I could feel proud of anything. You see, I believed my personality was directly related in proportion to my weight.
My personal library included nearly every diet ever published by the time I was in high school. I learned about the miracle soup diet, brown rice diet, cabbage diet, high-protein diet and lettuce sandwiches; I learned to rely on laxatives, binging and purging and Tab soda. At 12 years old, I knew the carbohydrate count of every single thing my mother cooked. My girlfriends and I would regularly diet–refraining from eating anything all day, and I would generally last until I passed the bakery on the way home from school…..
For many reasons and circumstances in my life, I was an unhappy and depressed child. A child that grew into a teenager and young woman that cared so little for herself, that she felt that the only way to possibly be accepted in the world was to be the perfect weight. My severe dieting caused my body to yo-yo to extremes of more than 230 pounds to 112 and back again…and again. I remember vomiting blood more than once because my throat was so raw from jamming a finger down my throat to undo the damage I had just done with a half gallon of ice cream, or cookies, or cakes, or whatever seemed to satiate me at the moment. One summer, before my senior year in high school, I survived on a head of lettuce a day while riding my bike back and forth to three jobs. I lost 100 pounds in three months and my thick blonde hair fell out. The damage was great as it never grew back and I was left with lifelong bald spots. Despite my wide variations in weight, in my mind, what I looked like in the mirror, never changed. All I saw was ugly.
My road to healing happened in stages. A priest with the gift of healing laid hands on me and I stopped being bulimic the next day. While I lost a little weight, my mind became healthier and I realized that it was my heart and soul that mattered and not the size of my body. Slowly, God put people into my life to reinforce my value as a human being and those who did not value me as a woman, He removed.
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Disease, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid and once treated, I became the weight that my body craved, not me. While I am not the smallest person or the largest person, I am the person He wants and I am grateful. He has helped me to feel feminine, something that I never felt until recently–another gift.
So, when the lovely boutique owner asked me to be in her fashion show, she helped to solidify what God has been trying to tell me all along, that I am feminine and beautiful enough. Being in a fashion show at 56 was exciting, anxiety producing and a lot of fun. For a few moments, I felt like a beautiful, lanky model on the New York runway…and while it will most likely be the one and only time I do this, I am grateful for the experience.
You probably want to know what #100 is on my bucket list? You may have to guess that one!
**Have you ever experienced a time when you saw yourself as God sees you and not your own distorted image?