Identity has clearly been a theme this week. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the fact that it’s something I talked with my friends in NYC about. Over the last few months, I’ve realized how much my identity has changed. We talked a lot about how it has become undeniable that, no matter how much I may still feel like a fat girl at heart, I’m not considered one anymore. There was an instance at my demo job a while back that perfectly illustrated this.
During a lull in traffic, I had gone over to my coworker Lance’s cart to sample the product he was passing out. We looked at the calories on the back together after I tried it. I casually mentioned that I always have to be conscious of calories. “Really?” He asked, looking genuinely surprised.
“Yeah. Well, I used to be pretty heavy back in high school and college.”
“I can’t imagine that! I can’t imagine you as a heavy girl.” He had such a sincere expression on his face as he said this that I knew he meant it.
I haven’t been able to forget about that casual exchange. When my sister Christa and I talked about it she understood just how strange it is for me that someone would meet me and not know about the identity I proudly accepted for over a decade.
Browsing through my facebook pictures recently it struck me with full force that I haven’t weighed significantly over 200lbs for more than two years now. Each month, I’m getting further and further from that number. I’m now just 8lbs away from having a healthy BMI at 160 and a total weight loss of 100lbs.
When I’ve told women about my weight loss and mentioned looking back at my old pictures, they often suggest it’s time to un-tag myself in those fat photos. I never get insulted by their suggestion, but I’ve also never considered it.
I will admit that, now that I’ve adjusted to this smaller size, I’m initially a little in awe of how large I used to be (especially during that period I was at my biggest). But I get passed that pretty quickly. Then I look through those pictures in the same way I do all the rest.
Like a normal woman, my thoughts range from “That day was so fun!” to “That color looks awful on me. What was I thinking?” And “My hair looks stunning in that photo!”/ “My hair looks out of control”!” to “Aw. I miss that skirt! And that friend.” With, of course, a few more thoughts of “You know, control top panty hose are your friend. You definitely should have been wearing them at that event.”
One of my absolute favorite pictures is from my sophomore year of college. I weighed anywhere between 230-240lbs at the time it was taken. It’s a photo of a group of female friends and I before a dance. I’m wearing my favorite formal gown (which I’m sad to have given away, though I know it wouldn’t fit now). While everyone else is looking at the camera, I’m looking to the side and obviously laughing. I love it because every time I look at it I think “That’s me!”
Yeah, that’s me near the end on the right in the navy dress.
Even now, I think that.
Though I don’t see all of those extra pounds when I look in the mirror anymore, it’s hard not to still think of myself as a fat girl. While I feel like there might have been a complement hiding in Lance’s comment, I will always be proud of that identity. It’s still a little hard to accept that I have another one.
When a friend and I discussed losing weight a while back, she said that she never wanted to be one of those “skinny bitches.” In fact, her fear of becoming one was an obstacle that made her hesitant to lose weight. I knew exactly what she meant.
In all the blogs and articles I’ve read about weight loss, no one talks about how it involves leaving one social group for another. Not only that, it means becoming a part of a social group that has mocked you and told you that you’re less valuable simply because you’re bigger. A social group I personally spent a decade saying a much deserved “Fuck you” to.
Last November, I realized that I’d stalled in my weight loss and regained weight in part because I was hesitant to join this new social group. I was hesitant to cave into our society’s limited view of attractiveness. But I also had to face that my eating was out of control and I was hurting myself.
Discovering Andie Mitchell’s blog Can You Stay for Dinner helped me overcome my reluctance. Even though she’s lost 135lbs and kept it off for six years, it is obvious that she is still a fat girl at heart. In my weight loss research for my client Frank, I learned that, physiologically, a fat person will always be a fat person. You can lose the weight, you can change how you look, but on the inside your body will always be different from someone who has never carried around extra weight. I like knowing this.
I’ve gotten more comfortable with this new identity by realizing that I’ll always be tied to the other. The stretch marks scaring my skin, that I used to be so embarrassed of, I now wear very proudly. They are a lasting, visual connection between who I was and who I am.
Feature image by Chris Barbalis.