It seems I have lost some weight. This is not something I tried to do. In fact, I really didn’t notice until some friends began to ask me about it. And then there was the scale at the doctor’s office that confirmed that indeed, I have shed some pounds. Many of you think this is cause for celebration. That is why you have said lovely things like: “Jodi, have you lost weight? You look fabulous!” … said with much enthusiasm and big smiles. And I get that. I am a heavy woman. And those who care about me would likely see weight loss as a good thing. But please both forgive and indulge me as I offer up a differing viewpoint on whether my weight loss is cause for celebration … (and hopefully my perspective helps others like me in the process) …
Firstly, I was recently quite ill. As of just a couple of months ago, I was in a very scary place. New medications and some wonderful therapy have gotten me to a much better place today. But while I was ill, I found it very hard to eat. I wanted to eat – believe me. But my body had other ideas. And sometimes I went whole days with having only eaten an apple. This was not helpful for my illness or my recovery. And so, you see, this weight loss came from a dark place. A place I don’t want to be in again. So when well-meaning people congratulate me and tell me how great I look because of weight loss … it inadvertently warps my ideas of what is healthy. The weight loss was a by-product of something that was very scary for me and my family. My getting healthier is certainly cause for celebration. But not necessarily my weight loss. And perhaps one can argue that the two go hand in hand … especially when you are a plus-sized woman like me. But there is more to it …
I have learned over the years, that my being overweight is a coping mechanism for some deep psychological issues. I was not always overweight. In fact, much of my life was spent at 5’11″ tall, sized 10, at around 150-60 lbs. I was considered by most standards to be quite attractive. My curvaceous thinner body got me a lot of attention. I developed early … and by age 10 was already at my full height, was menstruating, and had a 36C chest. At such a young age, I was already receiving much attention from men twice my age. And with the exception of my high school sweetheart (now husband) this attention was very frightening, and totally skewed my ideas of sexuality. I thought it was my body’s fault that one of my Dad’s friends stuck his tongue down my throat when I was 12 … and it was my body’s fault that I was routinely molested by a family member … and that the man (who was nearly my father’s age) who raped me at 15 just couldn’t help himself … so on and so on … I began to believe that men simply could not resist my body, no matter how baggy my clothes were, how safe I tried to be, and how much I tried to hide myself. I fully believed it was my fault. This also has much to do with the shaming I grew up with as well … and other such factors. But the message I received was that my body endangered and betrayed me … and that it was all my fault.
I remember very distinctly that one of my junior high school teachers called my parents to discuss with them her concerns over how I was always trying to hide my body by bending over (to look shorter) and folding my arms over my chest (to hide my breasts) … and generally behaving in a way that showed I was ashamed of my body. Nothing came of it. My parents were clueless as to what was going on … very busy trying to pay the bills and fix their marriage.
I am now a size 18 (though those pants seem to be falling off now). The weight came on slowly but regularly. I was diagnosed with PCOS in my mid-twenties which not only exacerbates weight gain but is also exacerbated by it (a vicious cycle). But as my body began to gain in size, I noticed that I did not receive any more cat-calls … I did not have eyes all over me when I walked into a bar … and men no longer flirted with me. This felt better. I could dance at a party without anyone coming up behind me to grab a body part. I could walk down a street without fear that men wanted me. And I no longer worried that one of my husband’s friends would try to sleep with me (this happened twice). I felt safer. So I continued the weight gain.
Now please let me stop here and tell you that I KNOW that larger women get flirted with, get raped, get unwanted attention even when they are married, etc. I am not for one second saying that my thinking on this matter was sound. And I acknowledge fully that perhaps my weight gain gave me the false assumption and belief that I was now free from unwanted attention … but that what likely happened was that my warped belief that I was safer at a heavier weight gave me more courage to stand up taller, become bolder, and thus thwart unwanted advances, etc. You can be big and beautiful and attractive to the opposite sex. No doubt of that. But one can also quite successfully argue that we live in a society that equates “thin” with “sexy”. And that women who are thinner tend to get more attention than heavier women. That is a whole other subject matter. What matters here is that I made a connection in my mind between being overweight and being sexually safe.
So, when people say, “Wow… you look like you’ve lost weight!”, they are not wrong for saying so … they just don’t know that the thought of losing this false sense of security, this armor of body fat that I have placed around me, scares the shit out of me. And then, when that comment is coupled with. “You look beautiful!” or “You look great!” … I am sad at the thought that I must not have looked good to you before I lost the weight … and may not look beautiful to you if/when I gain it back. My ego takes a plummet … though that is not at all the intention.
What is the solution then? Well, there are many.
The most important thing is that I let go of the idea that I need to be fat to be safe. That coping mechanism may have worked for me in the past, but it is no longer needed. And that does not mean that I need to lose weight. It just means that I need to change my perception. Whether I lose weight or not is indifferent. I need to be healthy mentally and physically … in whatever way that is. And I am working on both. And who knows, I may be perfectly healthy as a size 18. Or a 10. I don’t know yet. But I need you – my friends, my community - to love me and think I am beautiful at whatever weight I am at. So, maybe saying, “Wow! You look great!” without mention of weight is the ideal thing to say.
And maybe we, as a society can change our communication a bit when it refers to weight. If I notice significant weight loss on a friend, I might ask them if they have been trying to lose weight. If they answer yes, I congratulate them. If they answer no, I ask them if they are okay. Weight loss is not always “THE” goal of our earthly lives … though you’d think it was for how often we refer to it and congratulate people for it. And again, I get that there is no harmful intention meant … but I am certain I am not alone in how awful it can sometimes feel when people refer to my weight even in a positive manner. It seems to set me up to “fail” in your eyes if I do not keep up with the weight loss. Or it inadvertently tells me that my sickness looks better on me than my healthiness.
In all truth, I am guessing that the reason people are exclaiming “Wows” when they see me lately is not because I am thinner (because to be fair, the weight loss is not at all significant), but in fact because I am feeling healthier. I am smiling more, I am out and about doing fun things, I am enjoying my life. And I thank you all for noticing. It means you love me and want to see me happy. So, let’s celebrate THAT and forget about the double cheeseburger I just ate for dinner.
With much love and adoration,
PS. So what IS the goal? For me – mental and physical health, positive body image, healing past wounds —- and always friends, family and art. Fitting into my high school prom gown is NOT the goal