25 Faces: Sarah Wennersten
I’ve shared a few stories this month on inspirational women who have been on their own unique weight loss journey, and as you all know, my weight and healthy living is something that I struggle with each day as well. Because I’m so focused on losing weight, I often forget that there are men and women out there with the opposite issue – gaining weight. The journey to gain weight and not being able to, otherwise known as “hardgainer” is much less discussed.
In high school I played basketball with a tall and lean young woman who was on her own body image journey. Sarah Wennersten wanted so badly to gain weight and develop curves so she could look more feminine and feel beautiful. While many young women feel insecure as they develop curves and naturally gain weight in their teens, there are also girls like Sarah who look on longingly and wish to be bigger. Throughout the years her journey has brought her to terms with her body and insecurities.
Kate: When did you realize that you had a hard time gaining weight?
Sarah: I first began to become self-conscious about my body weight in junior high. While other girls were developing feminine features, I was left “flat as a board” and “straight as a stick”. All these phrases were used to describe my body shape and I so badly wished to just have a little more curve. These issues became worse in high school and I was even self-conscious about how my elbows looked because they were “knobby”. I started noticing I had a hard time gaining weight during this time as well because of my heavy involvement in competitive sports. I grew tired of being so light and easily pushed around on the field or court. So sports became the main reason that I wanted to gain weight, and I started to focus on what I thought I could change, which was my muscle
K: How do you feel when others say they have a hard time losing weight and that you must be so lucky to not gain weight?
S: Honestly it hurts, even though I know they do mean well. Mostly it hurts because I don’t want someone who has a hard time losing weight to think that I am trying to rub it in their face by talking about how I can’t gain weight. For this reason I hardly ever talked about my issues to anyone because I was afraid I would hurt their feelings. I have had women get angry with me and look at me with disdain because I cannot gain weight. I am very sensitive to their struggle so I rarely ever mention my struggle unless asked. I know that most people don’t mean their comments to be hurtful, but they are. Just like any body image issue, it can be a sensitive subject.
K: It’s considered rude to call someone fat or comment on a larger person’s weight but it seems that if you’re smaller, calling you ‘skinny’ or telling you to eat more is fair game. How do you feel when people comment on your size?
S: It depends. I know most people mean it as a compliment when they make comments about how skinny I am so I don’t let it bother me. For the most part though, since I have struggled greatly with body image, it hurts me. The comments that hurt the most are those telling me to eat more or put on some muscle. Most people who make those comments have no idea that I spend hours and hours trying to gain muscle and eating over 3,000 calories a day. I have to work hard every day to maintain my muscle mass and current size, and so when someone makes a comment not knowing how hard I work, it can be very offensive. Other times though, I have come to accept the fact that I don’t have curves, and I often joke about it with friends. I have found that I find confidence in myself when I am strong and have good muscle tone.
K: What are your feelings towards food? Do you enjoy eating or do you feel like it’s a task you always have to do?
S: I love to eat! I love cooking and preparing healthy meals for myself. I eat a very “clean” diet and consume mostly raw foods and avoid highly processed meals. When I am actively trying to gain weight though, the amount of work I have to put in to planning a high-calorie, healthy diet for myself can be very taxing and time consuming. I teach about nutrition often and cannot stress a healthy, clean diet enough to my clients because it is the foundation of health and wellness.
K: How have you been able to come to terms with your body and realize that you are beautiful in your own skin?
S: I have had to recognize what I like about myself and appreciate those things. By focusing on the qualities I like, it takes the focus off those areas I think are less than perfect. Also, when I see any woman, no matter size, color, or features, I see beauty. I have to remember that I also have that inherent feminine beauty and am “beautifully and wonderfully made” by a perfect God who loves me. I also try to put more stock in compliments I receive, rather than letting negative comments overly affect me. I have also found comfort in lifting weights and developing muscle tone so that I am more competitive as an athlete; I feel more attractive when I have more muscle, which is something I can be in charge of and still enjoy being active.
K: What would you tell a girl who is uncomfortable in her body and wishing to gain weight?
S: I would tell her to focus on those features she likes and not try to compare herself to other women or celebrities. By comparing ourselves to the unrealistic model given by society to women, we only hurt ourselves by failing to see the beauty in all of us. I would also tell her to find something she loves to do, and do it. If she loves art, then be an artist. If she loves sports, then be an athlete. Be the best you can be at what you love doing and find more joy in that than in how you look physically. Your character is something nobody can take away from you and is the most attractive feature any woman can yield. Grow yourself to be a better person inside, and don’t worry about the external.