This week I'm sharing three perspectives on the decision of whether or not to attend a twenty year high school reunion. All three voices are from the same high school in a small town, so the circumstances (school, town, class, dynamics) are roughly similar. And yet each approach to this event was different.
Sentimental and nostalgic by nature, I've always been enamored by the idea of a reunion.
Tell me your life story, and I'm a happy girl. The chance to see and hear how life has played out for people I've known for many years has always been an invitation I couldn't resist. My husband's twenty year high school reunion was last summer, and he had zero interest in attending. I poked and prodded and tried to change his mind ("aren't you curious? don't you need to know what everyone is doing?" "I'm pretty sure that's what Facebook is for."), but he was resolute. I shook my head and quietly determined that we would go to mine.
But late last December when I got together with my closest high school friends and the topic of the class of '95 reunion came up, I felt a pit in my stomach.
I was surprised to discover that this event I had been so sure I would relish being part of had become the source of not a small amount of anxiety. On Facebook, a group formed to begin the discussions of and preparations for the reunion, and one of my closest friends was spearheading the cause. But as the months went by, I just could not quite commit to going.
Finally with just a few weeks left before the big day, I knew I had to decide. I asked close friends what they thought. Had they gone to theirs? Should I go to mine?
Surprised by my hesitation, Laura pressed for an answer on why this was even a question for me. It's not a long trip to our hometown, I didn't have any other plans or obligations, one of our best friends was a big part of putting the whole thing together. What, she wondered, would make me even entertain the thought of skipping out?
I stammered and stumbled over words until I finally landed on the real issue: I'm not happy with the way I look. Which as most women know is code for I'm fat. But in the age of body positivity, we really aren't supposed to say fat anymore. And because I'm raising two daughters who even in elementary school are starting to look at their bodies critically, I've eliminated that particular f-word from my daily vernacular.
But changing the way I said it did nothing to change the heart of the matter for me. I didn't want to go to my class reunion because I was ashamed of being fat. And I just couldn't imagine walking in to a room full of people who had last seen me when nature and genetics and gravity had all been the most kind to me and, well, look at me now.
My reasons for being overweight are many, but it's not exactly appropriate fodder for small talk. I have four kids! Including twins! We've had a lot of life stuff happen that has been really stressful and I haven't taken care of myself because I've been in survival mode a whole, whole bunch! This isn't really me! These were all the things I so desperately wanted my classmates to know, but of course, they wouldn't. I imagined they would just see the tired eyes and extra weight of a woman who had, through the years, let herself go.
There was some kind of magic about saying all of this out loud to Laura. When I really heard myself bringing to light the thing that I had worked so hard to keep in the dark for the past few months, the cognitive dissonance clanged loud and clear.
As a woman raising two daughters, I try to live by a strict code of ethics and values about how we as women measure our own worth. Long before they were school age, I made the conscious choice that I wouldn't speak badly about my body in front of them. I emphasize over and over that what makes them the glorious, amazing people they are is the powerfully unique person they are within, that there is nothing about their eye color or length of hair or the size they wear that determines anything about their worth as a human being.
And yet, with the same lips that had preached many a thunderous sermon to my daughters about body image and self-esteem and loving yourself for who you are, I had quietly whispered with so much hatefulness and loathing to myself that I had nearly talked myself out of an event I had looked forward to for years. And even if I never, ever told them that I didn't go to my twenty year class reunion because I thought I was too fat, I would know.
And so the decision I had to make was ultimately bigger than the question of whether or not to attend the reunion. The decision I had to make was could I be an authentic, trustworthy guide for them on the journey into womanhood? Could I do that even if, when the ideological rubber meets the road of reality, I decided stay home rather than be seen? As much as it pained me to face a room full of long-ago friends wearing the size I wear now, in the end, I knew it was much more painful to think of facing my daughters with the secret knowledge that I could not fully practice what I had been preaching to them for years.
And so, as an act of courage, as an act of resisting a culture that is only now beginning to glimmer with change for how women view themselves, and as an act of integrity, I went to my reunion. And I hugged old friends and I listened to their stories and I laughed until my face ached. And not once did I think about what size dress I was wearing. Mostly I just thought about how time changes all of us, and how amazing life is, and how very deep-down happy I was that I decided to go.
photo by Mauricio Lima on Flickr