Yellowstone, Then and Now, and the State of My Body Liberation
Sometimes you have to look back to move forward.
Hello! I just wanted to give a quick welcome to my new subscribers! Many of you found me thanks to my review of Virginia Sole-Smith’s new release, FAT TALK. I am so happy to have you here and would love to hear where you’re from and anything else you care to share—please drop me a line in comments! I do a lot of fat talk of my own here since I ditched dieting and began transitioning to intuitive eating in the summer of 2022. You can read about the family crisis that drove my decision here.
As I write this, I am wrapping up a long weekend getaway with my husband to Yellowstone, America’s first national park. We’re staying in a compact, split-level home perched above the mighty Yellowstone River, which is flowing with force and currently the same color as my creamy coffee, thanks to the heavy runoff from winter’s snowmelt. From my perch at the kitchen table, I can steal a peek of the Gallatin Mountain Range inside the park. We’re half a mile from the north entrance and the original arch, dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.
We’ve spent three full days doing the things I love most—hiking, biking, and being outdoors in nature. For those who have not been, Yellowstone does not disappoint! Thanks to our timing, we beat the summer crowds and got to experience the magic of Yellowstone in spring, when the park comes back to life after its long-winter’s nap.
While there is wildlife in Yellowstone year-round, in springtime there are more mama and baby sightings. We saw so many baby bison—affectionately known as “red dogs”—kicking about and doing their version of the zoomies. We saw a mama black bear with two cubs foraging around the forest floor, and a mama grizzly nursing two cubs. Beyond that, it was a veritable zoo, with elk, pronghorn, deer, wolves, osprey, and beavers. Yes, we saw them all and probably more that I’m forgetting.
The beauty of Yellowstone cannot be understated. Around every bend in the road is a new breath-taking view—high desert plains and mountains, waterfalls and alpine meadows—not to mention spectacular geothermal features that you can’t see anywhere else in the world. Without a cellphone signal, it’s easy to get completely lost in the moment here. You forget about your worries back home and only focus on what is right in front of you.
But while I was traipsing around the park, my iPhone sent me a notification to revisit my photos from our first trip to Yellowstone. We visited three summers ago in the very early days of our courtship. I was still dieting, competing in olympic weightlifting and exercising obsessively to control the size of my body. I remember thinking I was so fat on that trip, and it was early enough in my relationship that I wasn’t sure I was thin enough or pretty enough for my husband, but now I know I didn’t need to worry, because he was so absolutely taken with me.
He still thinks I’m beautiful, but so much has changed in three short years. Not only did I stop dieting, I stopped dying my hair too. So my husband’s “raven-haired beauty” (how one of his colleagues referred to me in the early days) is gone, replaced by a full-bodied, silver-haired, sometimes-shimmering queen.
I have always disliked how I look in photos, but these days, I have to brace myself before I look at the old ones. It’s amazing the amount of mental anguish we can cause ourselves in a matter of seconds. In the space of deciding whether to take a peek at the gallery, I wrestled with the implications. Could I handle it? Would this be the thing that undoes all these months of progress on my quest to body liberation?
As it damn near always does, curiosity got the best of me. I had to know—not how beautiful Yellowstone was then versus now—but how I looked then to myself now.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I didn’t see that woman as fat at all. What I saw was how muscular, tan and sexy she was, posed and smiling. Her long brown hair was tucked under a Yellowstone baseball cap that her then-boyfriend had just bought her during a stop at the visitor’s center gift shop.
I remember we visited the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and hiked the scenic South Rim Trail to Artist’s Point, taking in the epic views of the Upper and Lower Falls. For some reason that day, I was absolutely dying and could barely make it the three and a half miles out and back. It wasn’t a reflection of my health, probably just fatigue and a bit of altitude sickness (we had already spent three days mountain biking and hiking in Jackson Hole, the Tetons and the Grand Targhee Resort by the time we made it to Yellowstone).
I was fit then, and I am fit now. I just weigh much more.
This trip, we didn’t do the same level of activity, although certainly more activity than most. We hiked roughly 7 to 10 miles every day and did one long day of e-mountain biking through the park and private ranch lands, taking in spectacular views and wildlife, stopping for a picnic lunch, and then capping it off with a much-needed soak in the Yellowstone Hot Springs.
Yesterday, we climbed to the observation point of Old Faithful. It was a 200-foot, half-mile climb, and we had just under half an hour until the eruption point. So I pushed my body on the ascent, deliberately testing my lungs and engaging my quads with every step. Of course, I made it in time, but I had doubts.
After the eruption, we took a side trail through tall pines to the lesser-visited, fountain-like Solitary Geyser, and within just a few minutes, we could no longer hear or see the masses that had come to see Old Faithful. It was pure bliss and my favorite part of the trip. Walking along, alone with my thoughts in the cool breeze, I realized that I feel exactly the same as I used to. My body feels as fit and strong as it ever was, but that is not how the world sees me. They see a large woman. They’re probably shocked by how fast I can move, how strong I am.
Every time I see my body now, it takes me by surprise. I don’t feel different. But when I see myself, I’m confronted with a new reality. There is a sort of cognitive dissonance happening. I don’t look like I think I do. On most days, I am no longer appraising my worth by some arbitrary physical standard, but occasionally, I’m still measuring myself against my former self.
Who am I now versus then? I’m the same woman, and also a more evolved woman. But I’m still vulnerable to moments of doubt and insecurity. Just when I think I’m completely OK living in a larger body, something happens, and it makes me question whether deliberately not controlling the size of my body is the right decision all over again. And I always land in the same place. I know my whys. And I’m grounded in my decision.
I think this is a normal reflection of where I am. I’m working to accept the body I have. While I might still have these occasional moments of doubt, they are also fleeting. There are practical realities, though. I was never very flexible, but now that I weigh more, I am less so. I have a protruding stomach that gets in the way of tying shoes and shaving legs. I’m still in the honeymoon phase of intuitive eating and probably will lose a bit of the roll, but I’m also in a different place with it than I was at the beginning of my transition, when I was really still secretly hoping intuitive eating would make me skinny. As time goes on, I’m less concerned with how my body looks and more focused on what my newfound liberation allows me to do.
Almost certainly, this will not be the body I end up with. In Jessica DeFino’sthis week, she talks about how we women have been brainwashed into believing that any change to our body is bad, and we should always be fighting to get back to “how we used to be,” whether that’s pre-baby, pre-middle age, or pre-menopause. Our bodies are meant to change. That doesn’t mean we can't address things that aren’t working for us, but the goal isn’t to be who we used to be.
“...It’s really dangerous to target women when they're at that sort of point of in-between stage, and tell them, you must revert back in order to be good. Reverting back is almost never going to be the best path forward for your own personal fulfillment.” —Jessica DeFino
I don’t want to revert back, but every time I do a trip like this now, I question at the outset whether my body can handle it. Not because I’m not fit, but because I am fat. So much of my life I strove to be fit for the purposes of shrinking my body, but now I strive to be fit so I can experience these amazing places.
So did my body stop me now from doing anything I wanted to? No. Did my body stop me from enjoying myself on this trip? Definitely not. If anything, I enjoyed myself more. After long days of activity, I relished the idea of dinner but didn’t treat it as an excuse to “blow it out,” as I used to. To be clear, I eat as much as I want to, but my body is no longer living in feast or famine mode. I no longer feel the need to gorge and gorge and gorge. Nor do I have the guilt or self-hatred that used to come along with it. I think that’s progress.
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