The Weight of a Pandemic

by Melanie Williams; wife, mother, friend, confidant, writer, inclusion advocate

I have always felt like somewhat of a fraud in my own body. I am 5’3” and have a small frame but I have never had a flat stomach and my thighs squish together in the middle. Being petite has a certain image attached to it that I’ve never been able to live up to. I fail miserably at meeting industry standards. Shopping is tedious and clothes never fit me right. Trying things on usually leaves me feeling fat and ugly. I tell people, ‘you can be small and flabby’. This seems to extract a certain amount of disdain from others. What I never would have predicted, was how COVID-19 would fundamentally change how I saw myself – for the better.

When the pandemic unfolded and we were told to stay home, I rushed to Costco in a panic to stock up on my essentials: 2 kgs of mixed nuts and a case of my favourite red wine. Three weeks later, with my husband working out of town and home schooling my two children a total disaster, more essentials were required; nuts and wine. The pandemic made me a regular Costco shopper. I survived each day by eating my emotions and celebrated each night with Cabernet Sauvignon.

When school ended and summer started I was eager to get outside and enjoy the long, hot days with my kids. But when I brought out my summer wardrobe and tried to put on my shorts I discovered I could not pull them up over my bum. I eventually won the wrestling match but ultimately was the loser because I couldn’t zip them up. Surprised, I got out the bathroom scale and nervously stepped on. The dial spun like a whirly top and finally rested on a number that was shocking. The last time I saw that number I was blossoming with child. How had I let this get away from me?

I sat on the edge of the tub and stared at the offensive bathroom scale. I was contemplating how I had missed the changes in my body when I noticed I was still wearing my pink flamingo pajamas and realized it was 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. Instantly I knew this was part of the problem. I stripped naked and quickly got dressed in black leggings, pulled on a stretchy tank top and covered it with one of my husband’s white dress shirts that I had rolled up the sleeves on yesterday. I looked hopefully in the mirror. Damn, this was part of the problem too. I had spent the last few months in obvious comfort with no need for structure or shape and consequently, I had lost all of my own.

I stripped naked again and blatantly examined my full-length image in the mirror. Still small and still flabby. Correction, flabbier. My thighs squished together more now. My boobs were much rounder. My mid-section was shaped more like a wine barrel than I cared to admit. For a second I was horrified, but surprisingly the feeling was immediately replaced by an odd sense of pride. As I stood there looking at my bulbous body I felt, for the first time, that I was looking at the body of a mature woman and it gave me a weird sense of accomplishment. I realized I had spent a lifetime seeing myself only as looking juvenile. But on that Tuesday afternoon, I was absolutely thrilled at the sight of my evolution into the body of a respectable, well rounded woman.

Filled with unexpected delight I put the leggings and oversized shirt back on and confidently strode out of the house into the back yard. I turned my face up to the sun and couldn’t help but grin. I could feel myself beaming with excitement. The energy that erupted from my new-found confidence was dazzling. Pandemic weight be damned. I was a woman!

It sounds cliché to say, ‘be comfortable in the skin you’re in’. Whenever I heard that sentiment before I thought, ‘sure I will. Just as soon as I like what I see’. But I never would have expected to love what I saw after I gained weight. I felt glorious with my new bigger bum, giggly boobs and muffin top. I concluded my inner critic must be a magician. It tricked me into unhappiness for years, taunting me with a constant impossible ideal but now I slid into luxurious confidence with the addition of these several extra pounds. I felt beautiful immersed in the sensation of being a woman.

My new-found self-assurance awakened me. It compelled me to take the lead in my life instead of letting life happen around me. I could hear my own voice and it was loud and axiomatic. I was inspired and motivated. I started actively pursuing more of the things that I love the most. Reading, writing, creating, connecting. I felt released from unrealistic expectations that had been unknowingly limiting me for years. Somehow, I had let my self-worth get entangled within an idolization that I had created, which had nothing to do with what I truly valued. Finally I felt free and empowered to be 100% me.

It has been a truly weird experience. I had to gain to grow and this catapulted me into living a fuller life. When I stand in front of a mirror now, I smile at myself and I’m unapologetically delighted with what I see. My mind is gentler and my eyes are kinder on my body. Unattainable industry standards and others perceived disappointments no longer bother me. I have learned self-acceptance, motivation and personal fulfillment can come out of the most unexpected circumstances. I, for one, would never have imagined that the weight of a pandemic would give me this brilliant lightness I feel now.

Melanie Williams is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Maclean’s, Todays Parent and Chatelaine magazines. Her passion for writing allows her to work out the ups and downs of life and to be an effective inclusion advocate. Melanie was born and raised in Lake Country, BC and still refers to this place as home. Currently she resides in Calgary, Alberta with her husband, two children and a small, were-wolf-like dog.

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