Two Seatbelts

There was a time in my life when I thought using a seat belt extender was the end of my world. A seatbelt extender meant that I was no longer able to be “normal” and I was officially in the “obese” category.

I started to get really sick senior year of college. I suffered debilitating panic, anxiety, and depression. My stomach constantly hurt and over the following year, I’d end up in the hospital one Kirby the kidney less than when I showed up. Just over 5 years later I would end up in the hospital again with the likely culprit all along, my nasty nameless gallbladder, infected with a bad and almost septic case of gangrene.

I’ve been tall and big my entire life. I was the tallest is all my classes from grade school, my brother even taller, and my dad one giant freak of nature. I was taught to be proud of my height, but I was told pretty girls are thin. They can see their collar bones, the gap between their thighs, and rib cages when they lay down. I was athletic, naturally sporty and trying to get out of the shadow of my brother. Academics came easily, my family seemingly understanding outstanding sports accomplishments more than top grades or test scores. Forget my talent in art, that was a different planet.

I [stupidly] decided to focus my talents on volleyball, the only sport besides swimming that the tighter the uniform the better. Spandex were the only choice for shorts. I learned to wear sweatpants or basketball shorts every chance I had, but that didn’t keep the comments at bay. “You look like a whale, there’s not light possible with those thunder thighs” “you shouldn’t even play volleyball because no one wants to see you in spandex, save everyone’s eyes”. Despite the haters, I persevered and ultimately played volleyball at the college level. I look back now and think that I wasn’t actually overweight, I was just different.

Fast forward to losing the second major organ and I had gained about 100 pounds from where I was during my volleyball days. I guess I just reacted to the surgery’s and packed the weight on. Red stretch marks that are saved for growth spurts and pregnancy’s littered my body like it was going through both. I was mortified, the body that had allowed me to play volleyball, travel all over the world, and be a normal human being was now obese. There was nothing I could do. I was packing on the pounds and anything that I did seemed to be fruitless.

I know that you’re waiting for the part of the story where I say I joined Weight Watchers, did the Atkins Diet or exercised so much that I got that weight off. Simply put; I didn’t. I tried. Oh, I tried! I did everything short of phen phen and surgery and although some of it has come off, I’m still overweight, still plus sized, and still 6 feel tall. I may not be what’s considered “normal” sized, but I’ve managed to squeeze, shove, and squish my way into every single seat I’ve come across never needing a seat belt extender.

It finally happened on my flight to Seoul. I tried to squeeze my seat belt the last three centimeters to click it tight across my hips, but no matter how I adjusted in my seat, it clearly wasn’t going to happen. My absolute worst fears were coming true.

Surprisingly enough, instead of feeling like my world was falling apart, I was, for the first time... the happiest I have ever been. For the first time in my traveling career, almost 10 years post surgeries, I finally had to get a seatbelt extender. Shockingly, it wasn’t the end of the world. The whole plane didn’t stop and stare. I laughed, my friend laughed because I couldn’t get the seatbelt that last inch to comply with FAA regulations. I am, according to my high school self, officially obese. The worst word in the world and today, the first day in my life, the seatbelt is not a measure of self worth. Instead it’s a measure of self confidence and growth. And simply put, a literal measure of how far I’ve come.