Tomorrow I’ll be finishing up my series Hungry about how Anne Lamott’s chapter “Hunger” has changed my life. This little detour will help lead us to that final chapter.
One of my last memories in the New York City, before my move back to the Midwest, was meeting Ben late near Washington Square Park to wander and say Goodbye. When we took a break from walking, to chat on someone’s door step, there was a question I had to ask him. I had to preface it first. He needed to understand that I wanted an honest answer and that I was asking him because I knew he’d give me one. He needed to understand that I wasn’t hunting for his personal opinion; I wanted as objective an assessment as he could make. Okay, here’s the question: “Am I pretty?”
“You’re getting pretty.”*
“So I will be pretty?”
“I think so.”
I know, all my women readers might get defensive here on my behalf. Logan now tells me I’m “more than pretty” as a roundabout way of rebutting him (which I always interpret also as a neutral way of saying “you’re beautiful”). But I wanted honesty. The truth is that I wanted and needed to be able to face that question knowing the answer wouldn’t be yes.
Poor Ben though because I started crying a little. It wasn’t because he hurt my feelings. He hadn’t. (To be fair to him, I once told him he was a 7 on a scale of 1-10 which is the equivalent of having said ‘Right back at ya.’). It was simply painful to allow myself to ask that question and accept an honest answer. But it was a productive kind of painful.
I don’t know about everyone else, but it is important to me to be able to accept how others see me. Not to be defined by it, certainly not to be limited by it and not to beat myself up with it but simply to be comfortable with how I’m seen. When I was 240lbs, I freely shared my weight because I was comfortable with me. It didn’t upset me to be called fat because I was fat. It was a part of my identity I had embraced and made the best of by proving it didn’t mean I had to be insecure or a wall flower (unless I felt like being a wall flower). One thing I didn’t anticipate when I started losing weight was that it would lead me into an identity crisis.
Though when I closed my eyes and imagined myself, I didn’t see myself fat, I also couldn’t see a clear image of myself thin. I’d been steadily putting on weight all my life. I wasn’t prepared for how much my face would change. As I dropped below 200lbs, during my first semester of grad school, there were days I hardly recognized my reflection. Once I caught my reflection in a window and thought “that girl looks cute” just to realize it was me. Many times my thoughts weren’t so kind.
By this time I had dropped a total of 85lbs. For the first time since 6th grade, I weighted 175lbs (which isn’t too bad considering that I’m 5’7”). I was just 15 pounds away from an officially “normal” BMI, it was the closest I’d ever been to healthy. Sure it was thrilling but losing that much weight is like going through puberty. Let’s be honest ladies, puberty is as traumatizing as it is exciting. This type of puberty wasn’t as positive, because as my body grew slimmer, I saw more of the damage I’d done to it. Along with the stretchmarks scaring so much of my skin, I began to see that my frame is smaller than I ever imagined. It felt like the more I lost, the more I realized I still had to go. It was discouraging.
I was getting a lot more attention than I was used to. Sometimes it was complementing. Sometimes it was a hassle. Sometimes I was severely creeped out. I had men hitting on me or trying to pick me up nearly every time I commuted from the Bronx to Manhattan, especially in the spring and summer. On top of this, I was living in a city obsessed with image and my best guy friend/pseudo-boyfriend there had become a complete misogynist preaching pickup artists dogma about women’s value being based on their appearance. There were other ways in which that relationship was becoming completely toxic and it had a great toll on me.
Though I looked better than I ever had, I felt worse. Gone was my easy confidence that had always been such a big part of who I am. There were days I felt so unattractive I didn’t want to leave my apartment. Sure, like everyone, I had always been somewhat self-conscious, I’ve always been a little neurotic, but I was never insecure. During those two years I became incredibly insecure. My best friend Julie could even hear the difference in my voice. As a result, I was ridiculously sensitive. Just saying negative things about heavy people around me could leave me upset for days.
So, you see, I needed to ask Ben that question if I was going to get myself back. That wasn’t me and it wasn’t the woman that I want to be. I had already ended that destructive pseudo-relationship. I’d decided to move back to the Midwest to be near good friends and in a less stressful environment as I attempted to get back to equilibrium. But, before I left, I had to ask the question Ben was so comfortable asking me (he’s rather vain-in an endearing and comic way-so we had lots of conversations about his attractiveness) and I had to be okay with his answer.
Truth be told, Ben wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t all that pretty then because I was so insecure. It has taken me about a year to get back my easy confidence. Not too long again, when I was visiting Julie, she interrupted me and said, “Lindsey, confidence suits you! You’re just so much more beautiful when you’re confident. It really changes how you look. Your eyes just sparkle!” The last time she had seen me was soon after my move, I know she was comparing me to how I looked then. The greatest difference is that I’m comfortable with me again, no matter what my weight.
* By the way, if I’ve got any male readers following this story don’t ever give a girl this answer unless you want to get water thrown in your lap or a slap across the face (or simply never want to hear from that female friend again and to be vilified by all her friends). The only reason Ben could say that is because…I’m a peculiar woman and he’s Ben. Though I doubt I’d ever ask you the question, if we meet and you volunteer this answer I’ll be the one slapping you in the face.
If you have a Twitter, please follow me @LindseyReneeGc.