***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
The Battle over Blue Jeans
People, Here Is My Deal!
For as long as I can remember, I have loved clothes and makeup. Even when I weighed close to 350 pounds, I experimented with trendy hairstyles while checking out the latest plus-size fashion catalogs.
When I was in elementary school, I would spend afternoons with my sister Christy, sitting on the floor of the closet in the decked-out pink bedroom we shared. This was a supersized closet where we would set up our Barbie dolls for fashion shows. Because I had blond hair and Christy was a brunette, it was only natural for me to pretend to be Barbie and her to be Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. At least that’s how I sold the idea to Christy. As we grew up and began to put our dolls away, I still enjoyed being prissy, often spending way too much time in front of a mirror.
Even as a young mother, I was a fashionista. I’ll never forget entering the hospital to have a scheduled cesarean to deliver my son Jake. I had spent the day before the delivery getting a pedicure and manicure and shopping for a matching nightgown set. Really, I did this! As I lay on the table in the operating room, the doctor arrived and started to chuckle. “Well, Chantel, I can see nothing about this is going to be a natural delivery.” All I could say was, “At least I left the false eyelashes at home.” I was only half kidding.
One reason I went overboard with my appearance was because I loved hearing friends and family comment on how together I looked. Even while having a baby, I wanted to look great. But today, in hindsight, I feel seriously sorry for the woman I used to be. She was always exhausted from trying to maintain her unreal image. Plus, I knew deep down that I wasn’t fooling anyone but myself. My weight problem wasn’t going to vanish underneath fancy clothing and attempts to camouflage my problem areas. I really did know that owning an all-black wardrobe wouldn’t keep my body issues a secret.
But back then I had convinced myself I needed to make a serious effort to look pretty from the neck up because I was too overweight for the rest of me to look decent. I rationalized that if I could highlight my best features, people would see my positive attributes and look past my greatest flaw: my obese body. At this point my life was one big head game.
I’ll never forget the weekend I went on a business trip with my husband, Keith, to Bermuda. This was a dream coming true for someone who spent most days watching Barney and folding laundry. But when we started to pack, panic set in. Bermuda is one huge beach, and I knew I’d embarrass my husband if I wore a swimsuit in front of his bosses and work friends. On the other hand, this was Bermuda! It was a free trip and a chance to escape the zoo I called home!
After we boarded the plane, I found my seat and immediately put a jacket over my waist. This was a trick I had learned from previous travel experiences, and it almost always worked. If I could hide where the seat belt was supposed to be, the flight attendant wouldn’t notice that mine was unbuckled. The truth is, I did this because I couldn’t connect the seat belt. I was too big around. This time, however, my system failed. As the attendant stopped by our row, she asked me to buckle my seat belt. As I struggled to latch it, she stood impatiently with one hand on her hip. I whispered that I was having trouble making it fit.
So being the sensitive, tall, and freakishly thin woman she was, she shouted to her co-worker, “Could you look in one of the overhead compartments for a seat-belt extension?”
I was mortified. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend the attendant was talking about someone else. A few moments later she handed me the hated seat-belt extension, and I fastened the thing as quickly as I could. I promise you, I could feel the pity of strangers as they witnessed my hame. But instead of shedding tears, I did what I had rehearsed in previous situations. I took a deep breath and grabbed Keith’s hand, squeezing it for dear life as the aircraft took off. My vacation is off to a great start, I told myself. I can’t wait to see what other embarrassing moments lie ahead.
Surprisingly, our Bermuda trip ended up being the trip of a lifetime. The island was beautiful, the water was the clearest blue I had ever seen, and I felt beautiful for the entire week. Strangely, it was another young mother, the wife of one of Keith’s co-workers, who was mostly responsible.
Each day I would get dolled up and make my entrance into the meeting room for the company’s group breakfast. This girl went out of her way to say something sincere and extraordinary about the way I looked, morning after morning. She would also ask me for fashion advice. By her looks, she didn’t need any, certainly none from me. Yet she still inquired and never in a condescending way.
Best of all, she never breathed the dreaded words “You have such a pretty face.” The trip to Bermuda taught me the intense power we all have when we speak to someone, especially to a person who is feeling weak and vulnerable. Just by saying something simple and positive, we can brighten someone’s outlook, even if it’s only for a few seconds.
For most of my life I had become accustomed to backhanded compliments. When it came to my weight and all my failed attempts to lose it, I had heard everything. I’d try yet another diet, and two weeks into it over and over I would hear from those around me, “Now keep up the good work.” And I would always think, Are you kidding? I’m trying here. Just tell me “good job,”
and don’t worry about whether I lose another dad-gum pound. I get that you are letting me know I have a long way to go!
Yet Another New Start
Coming home from Bermuda, where I felt sincere acceptance, I had real hope. I felt different. I was relaxed, revived, and encouraged. I decided that I was ready to give weight loss another shot. As I set out to lose weight for the eighty-sixth time in my life, I felt prepared. I bought the latest diet book from Sam’s Club and a twelve-pack of muffins. I rationalized the muffin purchase by telling myself I needed to have one last hurrah.
On Monday my plan was to go for it. I would try with everything in me not to let anything stand in my way. Of course, I didn’t see any need to crack open the new book I’d bought until the weekend was over! What would a few more days of indulgence hurt?
Then Monday arrived, and I made my grand entrance at the gym. I even went back three days in a row. The only problem was that by the end of the week I was hanging out more than working out. I’d been trying to get David, the juice bar owner, to tell me his recipe for the yummy chocolate–peanut butter protein shake I was ordering every day. The first clue it wasn’t all that
healthy should have been the chocolate syrup he poured in. But I told myself, if it’s made on gym property, how bad could it be?
By the time the week ended, I had followed the plan in my recently purchased book and had my cheat day. Not surprisingly, I quickly indulged in an entire cheat weekend. However, I managed to get back to the gym the following Monday. The plan I was on was doable, and even with halfhearted efforts, I was slowly losing weight.
After shedding about twenty pounds, I decided I needed some new clothes. This was kind of funny, especially since not one person had noticed that I had lost an ounce. As I said earlier, I’ve always loved fashion. But at this point, with my weight so high, I was stuck wearing mostly dresses and skirts. I just couldn’t face the prospect of trying to fit my behind into a pair of pants
at Lane Bryant. But now, since I was feeling pretty good about myse
lf and getting results, I headed over to the Coral Square Mall. I was there to hunt down a pair of blue jeans. Even if I had to lie down to zip them and not breathe while I wore them, I was determined to come home with new jeans.
I picked up three pairs with plenty of stretch to take into the dressing room. Once the door was closed, though, no amount of sucking it in, squeezing hard, or holding my breath got the jeans up to my waist. I couldn’t make any of them fit. As I held the jeans up and looked in the mirror, I wondered how anyone could stand to look at me. I was a disgusting blob of pain and misery.
I had left home that day feeling good about my progress. I was finally losing some weight. But after a few minutes in a dressing room, I wanted to die. How had I let myself become this pathetic mess of a woman?
A few Cinnabons later I went home. Two weeks after my blue jean horror show, I found out I was expecting. A month into the pregnancy I miscarried due to a badly infected gallbladder, and I ended up having emergency surgery. I wondered if I would ever change my life or if I would die first. Death seemed like perhaps the only escape out of this prison.
About six months later I had an unforgettable encounter with God. I was alone in my car, driving home from a meeting. I had reached my lowest point ever, and I let God in. I had known Him for years, ever since I had been saved from an eternity separated from Him. As a little girl in Sunday school, I had asked Jesus into my heart to save me from my sins. What I needed now, as a desperate, hurting, damaged woman, was to be saved from myself. I was still trying to run my own life.
God had whispered my name through many embarrassing moments and hurtful situations; I just never answered. But that night, alone in my car, He finally got through to me. I experienced a supernatural intervention. And it compels me now to tell my friends, my clients, and my readers my Lazarus story.
An Incredible Second Chance
Remember the story of Lazarus in the Bible? When Jesus brought him back from the dead, and we’re talking dead as a doornail (he was four-days dead), I imagine all he wanted was to blow a trumpet and tell the world about his miracle. Today I feel a similar kind of zeal resulting from my own miracle. As I surrendered all the pain of my lifelong weight problem to God, my heart
began a major shift. God gave me a deep desire to go to work. For the first time, I took on the task of losing the weight with Him in charge. I was no longer alone as I had been in the past. By allowing God, who never breaks a promise, to give me the strength, self-control, and focus I needed, how could I fail?
Ten years later I am on the same course He set for my life that night. My life is still filled with unexpected moments, both tragedies and celebrations. But I have never looked back.
After going on to lose two hundred pounds, I designed my own fitness and weight-loss program and became a certified Spinning teacher, personal trainer, and marathon runner. I love feeling strong, being healthy, and knowing I’m not a slave to my former appetites. Often I run into people I haven’t seen in many years. They may have known me as the overweight girl with a
pretty face. And if I dare to attempt a reacquaintance, I am usually in for a good laugh.
I’ll never forget one woman from a church I attended years earlier. I ran into her at the grocery store and tried to convince her who I was. “You aren’t really Chantel from West Lauderdale Baptist,” she insisted. I tried to get her to believe it was me, just an improved version. I think she finally accepted the truth, but it took awhile.
I am proud of the woman I have worked to become. However, I am most thankful that God rescued me from a place where I had lost all hope. God’s care for me and His work in my life give me the strength to stay on course. Now, after writing four books and producing a learning system for weight loss and fitness, I can see that God continues to use me as a voice of real-life
experience. A big part of my message is this: let me help you stop sabotaging yourself and your life. I know, from hard experience, how to overcome self-defeat. Every day I get to hear the stories of people who were losing hope, as I was, and now are finding the life they had dreamed of. I receive e-mails from women who have heard me speak, read one of my books, or heard me on the radio and now are surrendering their failed attempts to God. They are learning the truth and power of surrender and then doing the hard work of changing their lives.
In my work of helping people reclaim their health, I never know what is coming next. Recently I got a call from my publicist. She was so excited she could hardly tell me the news. “While you are in New York later this week to do The Today Show and Fox and Friends, a major women’s magazine wants to set up a photo shoot.”
I screamed. I couldn’t help it. Not only would the exposure help sell my book, but doing a photo shoot in New York, as the author of fitness books, was an experience I never dreamed I’d have. When I weighed nearly 350 pounds, an opportunity like this never entered my mind.
I couldn’t wait, but I had to. It was still a few weeks away. As New Year’s came and went, I was more careful than ever about fitting in all my workouts and eating clean. (Clean eating is the best way for me to think about food that delivers maximum energy with a reasonable calorie content.) When the day arrived, a driver came to our New York hotel to take Keith and me to the shoot. In the previous week, I had given my measurements to a stylist. She informed me she would be shopping for the clothes I would wear for the photo shoot. To use a term from my Southern-rooted parents, I was in hog heaven! I used to be the woman who was embarrassed to tell anyone her sizes, and now I had someone else buying me clothes based on them! The great part was the freedom in sharing what size I was. For the first time, I felt no shame.
When we arrived at the studio, I noticed that the loft where the photographer had scheduled the shoot was trendy and chic. It had sky-high ceilings complete with lots of lights and screened umbrellas to ensure perfect lighting. Taking up an entire wall was a buffet of food the magazine had catered for the event, my event! All of it was healthy fare with me in mind.
As I entered a dressing room, fun music filled the air. A makeup artist and hairstylist began their magic. I listened while they talked about their past work. One had done Heidi Klum’s makeup not long before, and the other spoke of doing the makeup for big names on a major movie set. I was a little overwhelmed with the emotion of the moment. I felt like I was back to playing Barbie dolls with my sister.
After hair and makeup were underway, the stylist had me try on all the clothes she had bought. We settled on a great pair of designer jeans with a sleek white sweater and a trendy hot pink top. I put on the heels she had purchased—a perfect fit—and some fabulous jewelry. Then I was whisked away to the main part of the studio. In that moment I felt like a million bucks.
It was then the stylist asked me what I believed to be an insane question: “Where are your old blue jeans?” At first I couldn’t believe I had heard her right, but I knew what she was getting at. She said the creative director wanted me to hold up a supersized pair of pants in the photo to show the dramatic contrast represented by clothes I had worn in my previous life.
I understood the point of playing up the shock value. Shoppers standing in line at the supermarket checkout would be amazed by the pants I had once filled out. But the idea that I would have to display a symbol of the old life I had left behi
nd made me feel sick, like I had never lost a pound. How could I hold up a pair of jeans that represented my old humiliation?
I explained to the stylist that not only had I not brought a pair of jeans but I didn’t feel comfortable doing this. As I held my breath, a few phone calls were made, and the shoot continued without the troubling reminder of my past. It turned out to be a great experience, and I was pleased with the photographs. However, I felt a little angry and upset with myself. Hadn’t I moved on past my old image? I could now fit two of me inside my old jeans, so why was this such a big deal? I also wondered if readers might have been helped by seeing me holding up the pants I used to wear. Why couldn’t I just smile into the camera with confidence even if I was standing behind a pair of my old jeans?
I Will Never Return
Back in my hotel room, I awoke in the middle of the night still thinking about the photo shoot. Finally I could see clearly what had offended me. Supersized blue jeans were a symbol of major pain in my life. Holding them up in front of me would not feel as if I was showcasing success. I was now on an exciting journey to share my life and my program to help other people. I had ditched the old jeans, just as I had ditched diets—and both of them for good! Sure, I will always be able to relate to the woman who desperately tries to zip up a pair of pants in a store’s dressing room. But I didn’t want to spend another special moment of my life sharing the spotlight with my former self. I had crossed the point of no return. I now knew without question that I would never go back.
I have a completely new deal, one that focuses on living my new life, the life that God led me to when I fell into my darkest moment. The old me had long wanted to leave behind the constant torment of being overweight and undisciplined. That life is now over. My new deal is much sweeter than I dreamed was possible.
You can have the same deal! You can start living a life of security and freedom. You can be released from the prison of defeat, failure, and negative self-image. And best of all, the new deal we’re going to explore is guaranteed to last.
I won’t ever return to being the person I started out as. There is no going back. And I’ll show you how to take full advantage of the same deal!