Yesterday afternoon, I walked into a local Brewery/Winery, that smelled deliciously of new wine, and applied for a part-time job. The bartender/manager was incredibly kind: offering me a drink, attempting to get the owner to interview me on the spot and saying he hoped to see me more as I walked out the door. I left flattered, wondering when it’ll stop seeming novel when I have experiences that remind me I’m becoming a beautiful woman.
Now is when all of the women in my life, and my father, would interrupt me and tell me that I’ve always been beautiful. But having an attractive personality and pretty face isn’t the same as being beautiful. How people, and particularly men, relate to me now is different. Men who think they’re prettier than me still, who would have been at ease and just treated me like one of the guys 65 pounds ago, are cagey with me now. Less vain men are much more friendly and flirtatious.
These facts don’t anger me like a lot of women (maybe in part because I can be about as aesthetically oriented as many men). The truth is that these changes, this added attention, comes with pluses and minuses. One reason I stalled in my weight loss out in NYC was because I was too overwhelmed by the attention, which was much more overt, and felt too greatly pressured to be “New York skinny” before I could attract more than creeps. (I have no ambition to ever be New York skinny).
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I promised you I’d tell the rest of that story about how Lamott’s chapter “Hunger” has changed my life. We have to jump back about six years, back to my freshman year of college after coming to the realization that I needed to re-learn how to eat, to listen to my body.
Around that time, I also listened to a sermon by Rob Bell (back when he was still radical but hadn’t quite left the reservation, back when I was attending his church Mars Hill). The sermon was about how we let Satan get into our heads, we listen to his voice as he distorts our image of ourselves. Instead of being defined by our relationship with God and our identity as his image bearers, we define ourselves by our sins and weaknesses. That got me thinking about all of the negative ways (though I didn’t classify them as entirely negative in my head) that I defined myself: proud, aggressive, fat…Those were probably the top three.
For the sake of our story, I’ll just focus on that last one: Fat. Back in middle school, I had very much embraced that term, and that fact. In a way, I approached it like the reclusive woman in “The Brothers Bloom.” She spent 19 years cooped up in her home, lonely, believing she was allergic to basically everything to find out that, in fact, she was just allergic to the material of the needle she was tested with. Then, just when she was going to leave, her mother became sick and stayed sick for a very long time. When asked if she felt cheated she says,
“The trick to not feeling cheated is to learn how to cheat. So, I decided this wasn’t a story about a miserable girl trapped in a house that smelled like medical supplies wasting her life on a dying person she sometimes hated. No. This was a story about a girl who could find infinite beauty in anything, any little thing, and even love the person she was trapped with. And I told myself this story until it became true. Now, did doing this help me escape a wasted life? Or did it blind me so I didn’t want to escape it? I don’t know, but either way I was the one telling my own story…So, no, I don’t feel cheated at all.”
Growing up with an overweight mother, who tried practically every diet out there with no permanent success, who comes from a family of very large women, my weight hadn’t seemed like something I could change. My other sisters were skinny/normal like my dad’s sisters. And I was heavy like my mom’s side of the family. I could beat myself up and feel bad about it. I could torment myself with terrible diets like my mom. Or I could love myself as I was. I could be better at making fat jokes than the guys in my grade who tried to bully me. I could use it to make a statement that my value is dictated by more than my attractiveness. I could tell my own story, so that I didn’t feel cheated.
But that sermon gave me pause. Having come to the realization that there was seriously something wrong with how I was eating, I wondered if there was not something wrong with that assumption that my weight wasn’t changeable. I began to wonder if I had been cheating myself out of having the healthy, beautiful body that I’m intended to have.
All of this happened around Easter my freshman year of college. That spring and summer I started working out more regularly and listening to my body more. And, as I said, I started writing down what I was eating and comparing it to the food pyramid and trying to eat a more balanced diet. I tried to be intentional about only eating when I was hungry and stopping when I felt full.
When I returned to college in the fall, I’d lost about 25 pounds or so and 7 inches off my waist. For the first time since middle school, I weighed about 215/220lbs. I was wearing size 18s instead of 20/22s.
I still wasn’t quite ready to give up thinking of myself as the fat girl. I was still eating a lot and not so well. But, I was eating much less and much better than I was before. I was smaller than I was and feeling good about it.
And that happened to be the year I had my first really serious pseudo-relationship. (There had been three before it, but they weren’t that serious). It was such an accident. I was so much more oblivious to my feelings back then. Though, if I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely unaware that we were crossing some questionable emotional barriers. That how we were acting wasn’t quite appropriate, especially since he had a girlfriend. Especially since he would completely ignore his girlfriend when I was around and her jealousy was obviously growing. And I would have been lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to him.
Truth be told, I didn’t worry for a little too long because I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere. His girlfriend was a stick thin blonde, the complete opposite of me. (Let’s be honest, the girl a guy is kissing is the girl he’s keeping). I didn’t want a boyfriend. I just liked being with him. No one before or since has gotten me quite like Jon did. He’d made an impression on me the first time I’d noticed him my freshman year (there are few people I can say this of). Our friendship, our connection developed so naturally, so mutually. The truth was I needed him that year.
I had just joined the philosophy department, after realizing that staying fulltime in the creative writing program would bore me. The guys in that department didn’t know what to do with me, from my classmates to the professor. I felt so outcasted and frustrated and lonely. He kept me sane. Around the end of first semester, out of curiosity, I added up the hours we were spending together and realized he’d practically become a part-time job. We were spending about 20 hours a week together in conversation. And we were just running into each other. One of our (my?) unspoken rules was that we’d never intentionally plan to see each other; we didn’t even exchange numbers for an incredibly long time.
Needless to say, it didn’t end well. I didn’t expect it to. What I hadn’t expected was the affect it had on me. After moving frequently enough, and having a string of fickle friends in high school, I was used to losing relationships. It hadn’t ever been that hard. Sad, yes. But not hard. Losing him was hard. I felt lost and life felt bitter.
As that relationship was starting to fall apart so was my church back home. That church meant a lot to me, it was and is, the only church that ever felt like home. I had lots of mentors there and good friends. Emotionally preoccupied I eventually stopped recording what I was eating. I became less intentional about listening to my body. By the time everything fell apart completely I’d entirely stopped caring. I went back to the comfort of my old habits, the comfort of my larger identity. I gained back all the weight I’d lost plus.
That summer, as I packed on the pounds, a heavy friend of mine told me, “Lindsey, I think you’re really a skinny girl at heart. You just have a security blanket under your skin.” We’ll come back to that line later, when I tell you about how I came back to Lamott’s chapter “Hunger” about a year later and began the process of slimming down to the size I am now. I’ll save that story for another day.