So, this post is going to be brutally honest. I’m setting aside all of my insecurities about revealing my insecurities, mainly because I hope to both shed some light on the inner workings of someone with a lifelong weight issue, and also to let other people who think like me feel like they aren’t alone.
If you were to see my weight on a graph throughout my life, it’d look something like this:
As you can see, I’ve had my ups and downs. And now, at 20-25 lbs more than my ideal, it’s definitely not the heaviest I’ve ever been, but it certainly makes me feel nervous. Nervous because I remember vividly what it’s like to be unquestionably obese, and I never want to be there again.
For much of my adolescent life, as a middle-class, Franco-American white kid, I internalized all of the prescribed standards of beauty. I never felt confident because I was awkward, clumsy, without the lithe, lean form of my peers. I had no friends in middle school. I secretly thought that, if I could just be “thin” that all of my social problems would melt away, along with the layers of fat that kept me relegated to sit alone in the cafeteria. I thought that it was my body that made me unlovable. Yet, in a twisted way, food became this comfort for me.
Every ice cream sundae, or doughnut, or chocolate bar became a treasure trove of delight, and the more my body expanded, the more adults commented on how I “should not be eating” something or another. My babysitter attempted to put me on a diet at age 8. My first official diet was Weight Watchers, at age 13, where I finally felt in control, after earning my “25 lbs” ribbon, a trophy that marked the dawn of a lifelong, arduous battle, fueled by self-loathing and attributing self worth to the numbers on the scale.
While, as an adult, I’ve gained more confidence and wisdom than that 13-year-old me, specters of the old me still haunt my life, and the mental habits of a lifelong dieter are tough to kill.
For instance, at every meal, I mentally tabulate all of the calories in my food before taking a bite. I often strategize how I’m going to eat said meal (start with veggies, eat half of the meat, drink lots of water). If I’m dining with others, I instantly silently compare not only what they’re eating, but how much of it they eat. I make doubly sure never to eat more than the other person (don’t want to look like a pig, right?).
At every exercise class, if there’s a mirror, I find myself looking at me and comparing my body with everyone else around me. Actually, I compare myself everywhere to other people. Why? Just to see if I’m the biggest one there. If I’m not, it’s a slight relief. If I am, there’s a small prickle of anxiety and discomfort with being the fatty in the room.
Every time I look in the mirror in the morning, I lift up my t-shirt to look at my stomach and hips. I turn to various angles to see if, possibly, by some miracle, my body has changed. When I’m making progress with weight loss and getting down to my goal weight, I can see definition in my abs and I can see my ribcage when I suck in. Before leaving the house, I make sure that I look at myself from every angle, ensuring that my clothing hides all of my “problem” areas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten keener at what works for my body, so, typically I don’t have to change.
I may even leave the house with the idea, “Hey, I’m looking pretty good today!”
That belief is often shattered when I see a picture of myself, particularly in group shots, where the clothes I thought were flattering really do reveal all of my lumps and bumps, and, further, my 5’7”, size 10 frame hulks over other folks in the shot.
Seeing myself on camera is the only time when all of my sensible adult self-affirmation does no good. In rare cases, I panic slightly. Seeing the video version of myself giving a presentation from last week, here were my exact thoughts:
Omg, I’m fat.
Everything jiggles when I move around.
Where did that terrible posture come from?
Omg, I have a lower belly pooch.
I don’t even have a waist from the side, I’m just a big lump.
Wow, I had no idea I was THIS fat.
OMG, am I waddling?
It sounds insane, given that, really, compared to lots of Americans, I’m not THAT fat. I’m smaller than the average size 14 woman. I sound insane.
More insanity for you: When I ask friends if they think I’m fat, they squirm uncomfortably and say, “That’s not something I even notice about my friends.” Or, “No, you’re not fat.” In my head, I think, Liars. They might be lying, but they’re doing it to be nice.
On the other hand, when they are truthful, like my friend, who said, “Well, you’re on the heavier side, obviously…” Wait. What do you MEAN, “obviously”? Does that mean I’m unquestionably, undeniably fat? I never win with this question, but, still, I’m insecure enough to ask it when I’m struggling with my weight.
My mind is always churning, trying to figure out how to slay this unslayable beast, this fat monster who has not only affected, but undoubtedly altered my entire life. What would I have accomplished, what would I have said or done, if I hadn’t let my weight hold me back, undermine my confidence, and make me believe that I was less of a person, unworthy of love and friendship, because of it.
To so many of us, the state of being fat is a loaded one. Sure, the outside world may judge us based on our outer appearance, assuming sloth, low willpower, overindulgence, ugliness, messiness, bad habits, and more. The state of being fat is scary to everyone. We are afraid of losing control.
Every time I struggle to lose weight, in spite of my best efforts, the panic sets in. Every time, I have to talk myself down, reaffirm patience, and reaffirm that my body is healthy, in spite of a few extra pounds. I have to reassure myself that fat is not a value judgment of me. Every time I talk myself down, it gets easier.
The truth is, in life, sometimes we take giant broad jumps forward, only be dragged back a few feet by our old habits and insecurities. The only way to slay the monsters that set us back is to keep moving toward them, with less fear, every time.