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February 3, 2007

A most uncomfortable subject

It's been harder and easier than I expected, eating healthy, doing good things for myself. While I only shared it on this online diary last month, it's something I've been working through personally for a while now.

Recently I posted a mostly full-length picture of myself so you could see a long scarf I'd made. Afterwards, I was sorry I posted that image. So many people saying, you're not fat! You're skinny! So much emphasis on my size. I hated it. I felt like shouting, But I am! I am fat! Pictures are deceiving!

And that's so weird.

When I got back from my amazing trip to Paris with all my best girlfriends, and I looked at my digital pictures for the first time, I cried. I mean, I BAWLED. I kept saying, "Who is this fat girl in all my pictures?" I never really posted a lot of images from that trip ... there was no mighty vacation photo gallery, not even a flickr website. I wonder why?

(March 2006 -- Paris, France) Uncomfortable smile #437.

I went on that vacation at my heaviest, with three of the skinniest women on the planet. On the day this picture was taken, we ended up at a pub outside Pere Lachaise cemetary. It was getting dark and we were just chatting, having a nice evening. At one point, after a round of beer, the conversation turned and they started going on and on and on about their cellulite and their "giant" thighs, and I was sitting there in my size 22 Lane Bryant black pants, still worried on the flight home I'd be asked to buy a second seat in coach. Easily twice the size of each one of them. When I finally asked my girlfriends to please for the love of God CHANGE THE SUBJECT, it was awkward and silent. I felt bad. After all, they didn't mean anything by it. It's just such a common thing we do, isn't it? Complain about our bodies. Berate ourselves.

So anyway. There it is. Ya'll are right, I suppose. I am physically not the same size I was. In the past few months of trying to take good care of myself, I have lost a few pounds. But I carry my largest size with me still, in my head and in my self-image. I cringe when people say, "Hi Laurie! Oh wow have you lost weight?" because what I hear is, "Well looky there! Your butt isn't as gigantically fat as it used to be!"

I don't know what to say in response, so I am learning. One day I just asked Faith out of the blue, "What do you tell folks who remark about your weight loss?" She struggles with the same issues I do, and I figured since she is wiser and six months older, she would have a good answer.

"Say 'thanks' and move on," she said. Faith is indeed wise.

So I am trying this, but some people want DETAILS. "Have you been on a diet? What have you been doing? Are you exercising? What are you eating? But really, what are you EATING?" I find it weird to talk about the SIZE OF MY BODY with coworkers. Or anyone. And I'm not on a diet, so I have no magic eating plan to share with them. What do I say? "I'm trying not to be insane, and trying not to eat my emotions." Which is a somewhat hard concept to get across without being referred to Human Resources, you know?

"Thanks!" I practice saying. "So! How 'bout this crazy weather?"

The hardest part has been finding other ways to deal with my emotions and anxiety instead of just eating. There are other pitfalls just waiting to derail me, too, like my secretiveness about food. Heavy people do not get this way because we eat carrots all day. We eat, we just don't eat it all in front of you.

I'm setting small goals for myself, little things. Like, stop arguing with people when they say you've lost weight. (It makes me want to eat a cheeseburger, or four, to tell you the truth.) Start learning to cook in new ways. Drink a little more water and a little less wine. Just small, sensible ways of taking care of myself that don't send me directly into my EITHER-OR, do-or-diet mentality.

I'm sad for the me that was ashamed to post vacation pictures because I was twice the size of my friends. I'm happy to finally accept my body at any size (the only reason I could post that picture.) But mostly, I'm thrilled to have actually -- after thirty-five years -- figured out that everything about my weight has to do with my head.

You see, if my goal for losing weight or being a certain size were to make people feel something for me (love, acceptance, jealousy, desire, envy, approval, you name it), I would have zero success in the long run because I could never get enough satisfaction from that goal. It's empty.

You don't ever actually win that prize.

When my heart's intention changed and I wanted to do something good for my own well-being (and figure it out for my own sanity) everything became more worthwhile. More interesting. I like the way my skin has changed and looks better, I like the way I feel when I wake up in the morning, not having to chastise myself for all the "bad" things I ate the day before. I may never fit back into my skinny jeans but I will hopefully never have to eat in secret again, or hide myself with my own fat, or hide my vacation pictures, justify my weight to anyone.

And I'm scared. I haven't been at this weight in over three years, and it's still a lot heavier than I used to be "back when." Which means I still have further to travel down this road, and I will have to figure out a good way to handle the comments, the changes. I hate that people look at you with new eyes when you're smaller -- after being very heavy for so long, I know that losing weight does not make me kinder or smarter or more capable. It simply makes me less heavy. I hope people will stop mentioning it one day, just like they eventually stopped mentioning my divorce, and it will become just another part of me, another detail in my whole story.

Because I really do have more interesting things to talk about than the size of my thighs. We are all so much more than a number, or a jeans size, or a list of what we ate one day. Don't you agree?

Posted by laurie at February 3, 2007 8:04 AM