Monday, December 15, 2008

Guest Blog: Bear Claws by Suzanne Supplee

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Bear Claws
by Suzanne Supplee, author of Artichoke's Heart

For most of my adolescence, I was thin, really thin. I didn’t diet or exercise much. I was simply one of those girls who could come home from school, plop down on the sofa, and eat half a jar of peanut butter and a couple of Little Debbie cakes and still not gain a pound. When I went away to college, I ate pizza for breakfast, consumed countless Krispy Kreme donuts in the middle of the night, and learned to appreciate the taste of warm, calorie-laden beer. My benevolent metabolism bolted, and I packed on the freshman fifteen and then some. And then a tad more.

I was stunned. Ridiculous, I realize. I mean you overeat, you gain weight, no big surprise there. But somehow I never thought my body would betray me in that way. I began to exercise sporadically and try one crazy diet after another, but the pounds wouldn’t budge. This was the new me, and I was no longer a girl I recognized. In response, I cut off my very long hair and piled on the makeup. Surely this would hide the fat, right?

After a year-and-a-half of failing in every way possible at the University of Self-inflicted Misery, I moved back to my hometown to attend community college. Maybe I could reclaim my old high school self, the girl who was thin and had the long hair and didn’t pad herself with makeup and food, but the place where I had grown up was different somehow. High school friends had scattered, and my mystified mom wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. I wasn’t sure what to do with me.

One night at an especially low point, I drove through town, a box of bear claws (pastries that actually do look like bear claws) on the seat beside me, and sobbed. I loved bear claws, but I hated myself. Truly. I’d been blessed with so many things, yet I’d thrown it all away (or so I thought). But why? How had I gotten to this lost, lonely place? Even back then, before the days of Oprah and Dr. Phil, I sensed something was wrong on the inside, although I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to fix it. Certainly, food wasn’t the answer.

Somehow I got my act together, sort of. I finished community college and went on to another university and graduated with a decent G.P.A. Soon after I vowed to stop looking at skinny girls in magazines; I sensed they weren’t real. I vowed to stop obsessing about my thighs and butt and round face. I got a job. I started writing. I grew my hair out again. I lost a little weight.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I developed a passion for exercise (yes, miracles do happen). After the birth of my first daughter and a divorce, I needed some physical way to vent all those pent-up frustrations. It was either physical activity or bear claws; luckily, the gym won out. Instead of abusing myself for all the foolish choices and big mistakes I’d made over the years, I turned up the music and pounded those cardio machines. At the end of thirty minutes, there were puddles of sweat on the floor. No makeup, faded workout clothes, hair wringing wet, yet I had never felt so pretty or powerful or completely myself.

I wish I could say that this was the end of my story: I remarried; had more children; got published; stayed fit. Those things did happen, but not in that neat, orderly, happily-ever-after way. Life is messy, after all, and every day there’s some giant, snarling obstacle or overwhelming to-do list blocking my path—work, emails, laundry, holidays, groceries, laundry. Still, I have managed to cling to the exercise ritual.

To me, exercise is like brushing my teeth or taking a shower; it simply must be done. The goal is 120 minutes of cardio per week, not including weights and stretches. Some days I go for a run; other days I head to the gym. A few years ago, I splurged and actually bought myself a nice stairmaster, an investment I rank right up there with my college loans.

I do not have a perfect body. I am not a perfect person. I never will be, and on certain dreary days, I may still succumb to a processed sugary treat or two. If so, I’ll wake up the next morning, tug on my sneakers, and go run it off. Exercise is not about being perfect. It’s not about looking like a girl in a magazine. Certainly, it isn’t about punishing myself. For me, exercise is simply about being fit and feeling the tiniest sense of control in an otherwise chaotic world.
Thanks, Suzanne! To find out more about Suzanne Supplee, visit To find out more about Suzanne's debut, Artichoke's Heart, view my review or its page.

Weight's a tricky issue. Anyone got stories to share?
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.

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Anonymous said...

Great guest post.
I don't think I was ever a skinny kid. But I wasn't exactly fat or overweight either. But during my high school years, I started to gain weight probably because I stopped taking swimming lessons and we didn't have all the recess hours to run around. Even now, I'm trying to figure out a way that works for me to become fit. I'm unhappy with my body, but I don't think I'll ever be satisfied. But I do want to make a healthy lifestyle for myself.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. =)

Alea said...

I hate exercising but somehow started going to the gym regularly between graduating college and getting my first full time job. After finding out about getting my full time job I never went back to the gym, it's almost been a year. I feel horrible about it, but I never liked going in the first place, it was expensive and all i want to do when i get home at night is rest. I'm hoping someday to make it like second nature and find some sort of exercise that i like to do. Right now walking it all i enjoy! Thanks for sharing your story! I aspire to be like you!

allisonmariecat said...

I had the same experience--I could eat Doritos and Cherry Coke for lunch in high school and not gain an ounce. I didn't get why some people had to "watch their weight." And Late nights at the coffee place eating cake, dorm food, and stress combined with my metabolism changing completely, and I had to buy new pants :( It's still a struggle for me, and I haven't had an exercise strategy in far too long.

Unknown said...

I can definitely relate to this. I've always been tall, so the weight has more places to go. I could eat what I wanted and it didn't matter. Then, like others have said, college happened, as did my freshman fifteen and probably someone else's. I know I need to exercise and I do what I can, but I'm a lazy person so it's hard to get motivated.

WannabeWriter said...

This is really inspiring. I was such a chubby kid in elementary school, and it's amazing what kinds of names fourth graders and come up with to call you when you're not the thinnest person. It made me hyper-aware of what I ate and how much I weighed. To this day, I'm scared of scales and mirrors and cameras. Unfortunately, I've got no happy ending where I come to appreciate myself or anything. But I'm working on it. xD

Vanessa ( said...

Thanks so much for this post. I never exercise. Unless running after my baby brother and carrying him counts. I wish I could begin exercising like you do ritually. Hopefully I start soon, I just have no motivation right now.

jocelyn said...

I enjoyed this post. And while I'm glad that Suzanne's story ended the way it did, I have to wonder--why is every fat girl's happy ending weight loss? I really don't think it has to be. Should you try to eat right and exercise? Sure, but health should be the goal, and that doesn't always mean being skinny.

Amber said...

Suzanne - I am so happy that you are at a happier place and content with yourself. That is more important than any number on a scale or any superficial ideal. I wish I could say that I am as self-assured as you are, but I am still sometimes equating thin with beautiful, and sometimes thin to the extreme.

Anonymous said...

God, I can relate to that so much. Me, I'm not skinny and it's amazing the names you'll get called and the ways you'll get looked at when you're a few pounds heavier than anyone else. People seem to think that if fat people just never eat sugar, it'll fall away. But it doesn't. Not like that.

Sarah Woodard said...

I am not skinny and never have been. My mom is like rail thin and can eat anything. She hasn't even gain 5 to 10 pounds in the last ten years.
I have to exercise and eat healthy not to gain it, with arthritis at 17... it makes it ten times harder.

Carolina said...

Well I've always been skinny and could shovel anything in my mouth without gaining weight. But in the past year, I gained a couple of pounds but I'm happy with them. I guess, I'm the type of person who never cares about how they look. But my mother is the opposite--to her looks are everything.

Anonymous said...

Amazing post! I think a lot of girls could be inspired to do the same things. For me weight was never a huge issue as what my parents always seem to make it as. I just learned how to eat good portions and occasionally *some* junk food. Exercise was never fun for me but I've enjoyed a different form to burn calories by playing sports especially when I try to help my friend out to practice for the upcoming season =) It's a nice way to bond and feel accomplished with my body and helping someone out.

Shalonda said...

Wow! I love Suzanne's story. It is so real and based on your readers' comments, something almost everyone can relate to regardless of their size.

Liv said...

That's such a great story!
I'm in two high school sports, and while I'm not particularly amazing at either of them, it does make me feel a little bit in control of my body and my fitness. Like I am the one in charge of myself.
Although I must admit, I do eat a lot of guilty pleasure foods. :P

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. Last year I took a weight lifting class after 'eating my feelings' during the last year of uni. It was fantastic and I did start to feel really empowered. Then I went on holiday at the begining of this year and never went back. I'm determined to start again in January as nothing else works quite as well for sorting out my moods.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I've never been skinny. I mean, I was when I was like...five, but then I never had a fast metabolism or anything. As I got older, I started losing "baby fat" as they say, but it's still hard to stay healthy. But I'm trying. My whole family is, so it's a bit easier.

I'd love to have one of those mobile bikes. I think I'd exercise more, b/c it's fun to me. I used to ride my actual bike all the time, but I don't have one anymore and I'm sure I wouldn't use it quite as much anyway.

Great post!

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