Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:
Go
Search posts:

Imagine You Are The Daughter Of a Supermodel

Posted May 18 2010 6:30am
We all know the pressure that we have from society to fit in to a certain standard of beauty, but this kind of pressure must be immense. The daughter of supermodel Iman shares her story and talks about her decision to get weight loss surgery.

Imagine You Are the Daughter of a Supermodel.

Now imagine you weigh 330 pounds. That was real life for Zulekha Haywood, and this is how, somewhere between size 26 and size 6, she found body happiness.

Zulekha Haywood

(Haywood now, two and a half years after gastric bypass surgery.)

I awoke the morning of my twenty-eighth birthday determined to make it my most fabulous year yet. Tonight, I thought, I’m painting the town red in that slinky cap-sleeve number that shows off my décolletage. I opened a birthday card from my ex-boyfriend Eric,* who had remained a close friend. Inside was a top-five list of why I was the most wonderful woman he knows. Number three: “Because you always let me shower first—in case the hot water’s tricky.” When Eric used to spend the night, I’d tell him to shower while I made the bed and put on coffee. “The hot water’s tricky sometimes,” I’d assure him, flashing him a smile.

But the plumbing in my building was fine. The truth: At 330 pounds, I had developed heel spurs and swollen knees that made it excruciatingly painful to stand up after lying down for eight hours, so getting out of bed was always an orchestrated event. I’d send any man who slept over off to shower, and once the coast was clear, I’d swing my legs out and put my feet on the ground gingerly, allowing the blood to return to my feet and legs. After a minute, I could stand. After another minute, I was comfortable enough to start walking.

Reading Eric’s card was a powerful reminder that, while I’d done my very best to love my super-plus-size body, I couldn’t keep lying to myself or anyone else. The physical pain I’d endured in my twenties could not continue into my thirties. I had to lose weight.

But how? I have more or less been on a diet since I was eight years old. None of them worked. An overweight kid and already dining for sport, my first was the “Basta” diet. At home, my mother, Iman, a beauty icon and devotee of clean eating, would whisper basta (“enough” in Italian) when I was in danger of overeating. The choice was always mine, and I usually put down the fork. But I also got hip to late-night snacking, raiding the refrigerator and cupboards after midnight. At school I routinely traded lunches, and when I was old enough to buy my own, I would pass over apples for Hostess Apple Pies. We always had plenty of nutritious snacks at home, but there was nothing more satisfying than savoring a secret Twinkie that I exchanged homework answers for. In the end, all I learned from basta was how to make PB&J in the dark.

“Eat Like a Pig, Run Like a Horse” was my second diet—this one courtesy of my father, NBA legend Spencer Haywood, who might eat his weight in turkey bacon, then burn it off by spending more hours on the court than he did sleeping. Convinced I just needed a sport that I loved, my Olympic-gold-medal-winning father tried to groom me as a power forward. When it was clear that I had no natural aptitude for the game, we tried tennis camp. I actually enjoyed tennis and didn’t mind practicing four hours a day every day. (Not to mention all those cute boys in tennis whites!) It was so hot and sticky that summer I subsisted on cold watermelon and lemon ices. I dropped 30 pounds and returned to school in skintight Guess jeans, thrilled by the squeals and high fives my girlfriends gave me. I gained the weight back by Christmas, plus another 20 pounds. Turns out I had to keep exercising four hours a day or seriously watch what I was eating to sustain the weight loss. My father blamed my lack of discipline; I blamed the Dairy Queen. We were both right.

It wasn’t easy being a heavy, ungraceful teenager when looks and athleticism came so naturally to my parents. As a child I knew that my mother was lovely and people liked to photograph her, but when I was old enough to understand that she was a legendary beauty, I was left questioning my own self-worth because I didn’t look like her. I wasn’t physically lean and powerful like my father, so I didn’t fit in that world either. I was an outlier, and I was determined to find a third option. To be happy with my looks, to accept my body at 300-plus pounds and to love myself, with all of that weight, felt revolutionary. Subversive, even.

So I searched for beauty icons who seemed more accessible and real. Role models like my aunt Dia, who, at 5’3” and size 18, made her entrance at one family reunion in a studded halter catsuit and stilettos. When someone snickered as she sauntered by, she threw her hand on her hip with sass and laughed: “Don’t hate on my shape!” We couldn’t pull her off the dance floor. For me, she was beautiful because she lived joyfully and without apology. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.

I largely succeeded. My life was full of love, fun and adventure, but eventually it would have been hampered by health problems—and possibly cut short. My BMI was a soul-crushing 46 (healthy is between 18 and 25). Being that morbidly obese could cut my life expectancy in half, doctors had told me, and put me at risk for diabetes and heart disease. I already had osteoarthritis, hence the slow climb out of bed each morning, and high blood pressure. So I celebrated that twenty-eighth birthday—and then made an appointment with a surgeon who specializes in gastric bypass. After dozens of questions and medical tests, I walked out with a presurgery packet.

Not long before my operation, I was at my mother’s house sharing a laugh while she cooked lunch. “At least you’ll never have to say basta again,” I told my mother. “I won’t be able to eat as much anymore.” She looked at me with an expression that said being hypervigilant about her daughter’s diet had never been pleasurable. “I had to watch your weight as a child,” she said. “Your pediatrician told me that you were going to be obese when you were four years old. At four, she knew!” She turned around and finished cooking, but I was stunned. What was my mother supposed to do with that information? She had tried her best, I realized. As a child, I had been so angry with her. Now my compassion for her nearly brought me to tears.

Thanks to all my presurgery counseling and visits with a nutritionist, I ate slowly and enjoyed the food my mother prepared that afternoon for what it was: nourishment for my body, fuel to keep it moving. It wasn’t a remedy, a quick fix. A week later I had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery.

I had complications immediately after the procedure, was checked into ICU and needed a second surgery. The typical hospital stay after gastric bypass is two days. I finally left after a week, still weighing 324 pounds and feeling discouraged.

That changed soon enough. One month postsurgery, I was back at work and down 20 pounds. Other people couldn’t see the difference, but I could feel it. Before the surgery, a reasonable portion left me feeling deprived; I was always thinking about my next meal. After the surgery, good food in moderation was unbelievably satisfying. To feel that way and lose weight so quickly was both exhilarating and strange at the same time.

Six months in, I was down another 80 pounds. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to shop in a plus-size store. (Yay, H&M!) But it felt foreign and made me anxious. There were so many things to choose from, I enlisted friends to help me shop, because I couldn’t tackle it all at once.

A year later I was 160 pounds and, because of my height, a size 6. A staggering number of people walked up to me asking if I was a model. To my surprise, it really bugged me—it still does. Once, I snapped at a cashier: “You know, being a model is not the only thing an attractive woman can do with her life, and being beautiful is not the only thing that women should aspire to. I’m so sick of a woman’s entire stock being in her looks!” The room went quiet and everyone stared at me. I put on my sunglasses and tried to walk proudly out the door. But the security guard stopped me and said, “You’re too pretty to be so angry.” Really?! It was one of many postsurgery realizations: Stacked Zu laughed loudly and often, always the plus-size life of the party. Slender Zu, on the other hand—well, that chick can occasionally be prickly.

Eighteen months later, my body had settled at 165 pounds and a size 8. I jumped in the shower one morning, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t crept out of bed in months. The “aha” moment that had changed my life was just a memory.

It’s hard to explain how it feels to lose so much weight so fast. I tell my friends that it’s like becoming famous overnight—suddenly all eyes are on you. But there’s more to it than that. The difference between Stacked Zu and Slender Zu is like being a fluffy Angora cat and then suddenly being shaved. Being naked feels really naked now. I’m slender, but there are lots of folds and limpness where the voluptuousness used to be. No amount of clever lighting and push-up bras can disguise the fact that my breasts fall to my abdomen when I take off my bra, and men want to know why. The old me was unabashedly voluptuous and sexy, no explanations necessary.

When I was a size 26, men approached me. Now when I walk into a room, guys really pay attention. But the sad fact is that volume hasn’t improved the quality. Most of the men who talk to me now aren’t men I would consider. Recently, a guy at a jazz club was staring at me for so long, I had to ask him if we knew each other. He explained that he was trying “to get drunk enough to get up the courage to talk to you.” Sorry, but liquid courage is not what I’m looking for in a man. Like it or not, being 300-plus pounds weeded out some of the losers who were too superficial to approach me back then.

Perhaps it’s just this kind of attention that has given me a deeper appreciation for my mother’s beauty. Now I realize it’s so much more than her appearance. What people respond to is her grace and elegance, her independent thinking and charity for others.

Looking back, the lesson that a woman’s worth can never be found on a scale is one that I have known all along. I’m proud of the fact that at 330 pounds, I didn’t hide from life, and I didn’t let my weight define me. At 165 pounds, I won’t do that either.

Post a comment
Write a comment:

Related Searches