In the past, I've had people assume that it's just the best thing ever and I must be loving my new body and the attention it brings me.
I'm in therapy because of my weight loss and the changes taking place in my body.
I cry about it. A lot.
I struggle to love and honor my body, sometimes over-training to the point of exhaustion, unable to function properly the next day, and yet I continue to work out anyway, because I'm willing to pay the physical cost of doing too much if I can avoid the emotional cost of doing less, even if intellectually I know my body needs a break and I am doing myself no favors by pushing myself beyond my limits.
Looking in the mirror, I see all of things that I still want to change about my body. I see all of the imperfections that could be perfected. I do not see the changes and how my body has gotten smaller, I only see how fat it still is and all the parts that do not look the way they are "supposed" to look.
Though self-loathing is hard enough to deal with in this fat-phobic culture in which we live, it is made even more difficult to stand against when well-meaning people make some of the most painfully degrading comments imaginable, with the intent of complimenting my weight loss.
"Wow!" said one woman, several years ago when I lost weight the first time.
"What?" I responded.
"I just got a glimpse of what a knock-out you're going to be if you keep losing weight."
Because my physical appearance is the only beautiful part of me, or at least the most important.
Though it was unrelated to this comment, I went on to regain 100 of the 150lbs I had lost.
Having re-lost that 100lbs and then a few more, I knew to expect the comments this time. I knew they were coming. I knew I would have to find a way to mentally re-frame them, because I cannot have the conversation in which I ask, "What is it you're really trying to communicate?" with every person I know. I wouldn't do it well and I do not want to alienate people who are simply trying to love me.
The remarks this time around are similar. I knew it was coming. I thought I would be prepared for it.
"I just can't get over how pretty you're becoming now that you've lost so much weight."
How pretty I'm becoming. Because I wasn't pretty before? My basic structure has stayed the same, there's just a bit less fat in my face.... Because beauty that comes closer to meeting the unrealistic physical standards in our society is more important than a beautiful spirit or beautiful acts or beautiful words?
"I just can't get over how beautiful you're getting! .... Do you think a man may be in your future?"
Because no one would want a fat woman? Because only the thin are deserving of love? Because my value as a human being is not only tied primarily to my appearance, but my ability to catch and keep a man?
Yes, I cry a lot about my weight loss and my changing body. Far more than I ever cried about being fat.
I spend more time looking in a mirror critiquing all of the parts that are not yet good enough. This, for the record, would be all of them.
The ironic part of all of this is that what motivated me initially to take better care of myself was not the insults or stares or abuse lobbed at me by our fat-phobic, fat-hating, fat-shaming culture.
Shame does NOT produce lasting change.
It was the unconditional love of my best friend who has always told me how beautiful I am at any size. It was her unconditional love and support and desire to not watch me die an early death that motivated me to take those first steps into greater health again.
And the frustrating response has been further body-shaming by a society that feels an intense need to control women by policing their bodies, always dictating that our value is wholly dependent on our appearance and relationship status, nothing else.
Now, as a thinker on the MBTI, I can tell you that if you want to capture my heart and get me excited and engaged, make me think. Start with the brain. Go hard-core intellectual on me.
The reverse holds true, and for that I am grateful.
If I am experiencing something emotionally and do not know how to process it, I'll intellectualize it and work through it, understanding it with my intellect so that I can discern why I'm having the emotional response I'm having or I can reset my emotional compass.
So, having looked at my body in the mirror (again) and having found all of the things I hate about my body (again) (and all of it), I decided to do some research. Surely there had to be resources somewhere. Surely, somewhere, some kind of scholarly article had been written about massive weight loss, the appearance of specific body regions, body dysmorphia, common experiences, and resources that help.
What I found in the first scholarly article returned in my search results was published on the National Institute of Health website. This is what I read:
Weight loss patients usually desire thighplasty. Hating their appearance, they hide under tent-like skirts and baggy pants. Panniculectomy further exposes the unsightliness. Repugnant odors emanate. Some are tormented by red chafed skin under folds. Sagging inner thighs couple with an overhanging abdominal apron and mons pubis rob self-esteem. The patients shun intimacy. (emphasis mine)The article goes on to indicate that most patients really do want this surgery; doctors just need to convince them to accept the physical scars that will be apparent following the surgery.
Now, this was an article on a new technique for cosmetic surgery to address the issue of excess skin following massive weight loss. And maybe, given the fact that this is an article about cosmetic surgery, I ought to have expected the fat-shaming language used by the doctor who pioneered this particular technique.
But I didn't.
I read that paragraph in the medical literature and the conclusion I drew was not that I had made a choice to become healthier and this is commendable. The conclusion I drew was not that my physical appearance is the least important part of who I am. The conclusion I drew was not that I am valuable and worthy and loved and lovely no matter what.
What I read in that paragraph is that I am unsightly. What I read in that paragraph is that I am repugnant. What I read in that paragraph is that I am unworthy of self-esteem. What I read in that paragraph is that I should shun intimacy, because I used to be a gross, fat, disgusting human being and while I've lost a significant portion of my excess weight, my body still bears those marks and that is what speaks to my complete lack of value.
And of course, I have learned through years of body-shaming and verbal abuse that I should not expect empathy or compassion, because I brought this on myself by living most of my life 200 lbs overweight. It's my fault that my body looks like this, it is my fault that I do not have any value in this society, it is my fault that I will never be worthy of love or acceptance because I'm the one who made the choices that led me to this moment in the first place.
I wonder how differently this paragraph in the article would read if phrased as such:
Many patients report hating their appearance and using voluminous skirts and baggy pants to hide. Many patients also indicate that panniculectomy accentuates their thighs. Many patients also express concerns about odor from moisture and bacteria trapped between skin folds. Many patients indicate they feel robbed of self-esteem and they shun intimacy as a result. Thighplasty may be one method by which dignity and esteem can be restored to these patients, helping to foster body-confidence that may restore their ability to engage in intimacy again.
I called my best friend and told her that I want to excise large portions of my body and I'd like to start with my genitals.
To answer the question, "No. There will be no man in my future ever, because my genitals are ugly, disgusting, and no man would ever want to be intimate with me once they saw my lady-bits anyway."
I wish she had been in a place to have a conversation about the bigger issues, this incredible woman who loves me unconditionally and who truly believes I am beautiful no matter my size.
I am very fortunate, indeed, that I have several friends who will speak the truth to me.
I have several friends who will say to me, "Your value comes from God alone, not from your outward appearance," and "Hey, I value you a lot as a person no matter what size your body is!"
In a fat-phobic, fat-hating, body-shaming culture, I need to hear these messages far more than I need to hear how pretty I'm becoming. Even if I know what these people are trying to communicate is, "It's obvious that you are prioritizing your health and making self-care a real part of your life. I'm glad for you."
I wish that more people were aware of what their words communicate, and I wish they would make better choices to communicate unconditional love and acceptance rather than shame. Because unconditional love and acceptance are far more powerful at affecting change than shame will ever be.