A shirt tucked into jeans. A belt I wear and people see. Brown leather knee high boots zipped all the way up. A sleeveless shirt. These were the dreams of my youth. These are the dreams of the portly.
I didn't formally learn about manifesting or the laws of attraction until my early thirties. As a tween, however, I constantly envisioned my future adult life. College, dorm room parties, eventually living and working in New York City. Sometimes the venues would change, the wardrobe would get updated with newer fashions, but one common thread weaved through my dreams: I was always thin.
* * *
“Step up on the scale there, sweetie – yup, we just have to record your weight... Got it, 138, okay, you can hop down.” 138. Not bad. I walk back to my seat at the meeting and slide the cardstock containing my start weight back to my mother who is sitting beside me. My mother flips the paper over and makes an audible gasp—“138!! I didn’t weigh that much when I was pregnant with you!” Clearly, my mother was not there for moral support: the meeting was her idea and, well, I needed a ride since I was only eleven years old.
I MIRROR MY MOTHER IN ALL OTHER SIGNIFICANT WAYS: I’M FUN, SOCIAL, POPULAR, ATHLETIC AND A CHEERLEADER. BUT I’M FAT.
That night, my mother was sitting at our wrought iron kitchen table, in her red chenille robe smoking her Benson & Hedges Ultra Lights and talking to some of her friends on the telephone. Phone call after phone call she gave the topic the same introduction, twirling the long brown telephone cord in her hand: “Well, we are getting her started, I made her eat salad for dinner tonight, but of course she asked for a cookie afterward.” I can hear the disappointment in her voice. My mother is the former captain of the cheerleading team and a woman who had more than one marriage proposal by the time she was 20 years old. She was voted most popular and best looking in her high school yearbook and enjoys telling my sister and I that she did vigorous aerobics straight through both of her pregnancies.
I mirror my mother in all other significant ways: I’m fun, social, popular, athletic and a cheerleader. But I’m fat. At eleven, only one person outside my family has ever called me the “f” word. My best friend slash boy-of-my-dreams explains to me why, as others were starting to couple off, we couldn’t be more than friends. “Kristy, I’m thin, and you’re.. well.. fat!” Though it wasn’t eloquent, at eleven, he managed to say honestly what leagues of men would later cover in excuses and code.
Despite the intrusion into my social life, the weekly diet meetings in a church basement don’t faze me. I don’t “feel” fat or different. I identify as thin - in my mind’s eye I am, at my core, a thin person, temporarily sheltered under additional padding.
* * *
When I reached high school, I was ejected from my social group, unceremoniously told through silence that I was no longer “cool.” The bullying intensified, and my weight became its focal point. I can’t remember when the brutalizing prank phone calls started; I also cannot remember precisely when they stopped. What I can remember are the voices on the other end of the line, some familiar, some not, calling me horrific names, laughing uncontrollably and introducing suicidal thoughts into my consciousness. In the mid-90s, bullying wasn’t a “cause” and didn’t get the attention or recognition that it does today. Back then, those girls were cool and, because they said so, I was now a loser. The majority of my high school experience was spent lying on top of my hunter green comforter, crying so hard I couldn’t breathe, and begging, out loud, to die. This happened at least three times a week, and on most Saturday evenings when my mother’s bartending shifts ran late, and I was left to dwell in the social abyss my life had become.
The bullying felt like an assault on two fronts: a direct attack on my life and a more tactical breakdown of the life I had envisioned for myself. I was confused; I was not supposed to be the fat girl who hated high school. I was bubbly and fun and had the “best personality,” at least according to a simple majority of my eighth-grade class. That piece of myself was gone. For the first time, I needed to face the disconnect between my vision and my reality. I had never felt pain like that; pain that tears through flesh and strikes bone; pain that can fill your lungs and your veins and infect every part of your body.
Filling that hole was natural and effortless: in the vacuum, a sweet tooth and a mother who worked nights quickly combined to create a binge eating disorder. In two years I gained 70lbs and officially went from chubby to fat. Being home alone on a Saturday night waiting for the prank calls to begin seemed almost bearable if I had two boxes of macaroni and cheese and devil dogs to keep me company. There was beauty in the binging. My thoughts were singularly focused on nurturing a need and satisfying a craving. There was a sense of satisfaction and completeness with each bite. My body called out for something sweet, and I gave it cake or cookies. In an instant, it would desire salt or starch, and I would push down layers of french fries or hamburgers. It was numbing in the way I imagine drugs were—I felt nothing but calm. I ate well past the feeling of fullness, marching towards sick and discomfort. When I started to realize my body would not take in any more food I would begin the process of cleaning up and hiding the evidence.
I WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THE FAT GIRL WHO HATED HIGH SCHOOL. I WAS BUBBLY AND FUN AND HAD THE “BEST PERSONALITY,” AT LEAST ACCORDING TO A SIMPLE MAJORITY OF MY EIGHTH-GRADE CLASS.
My mother was disappointed when I was chubby and popular. Being fat and a loser was more than she could bear and, so, in my junior year, I was marched off to the doctor’s office to be prescribed the magic fen-phen. Each pill worked its way through my body and filled me with nausea. The idea of food was revolting. I remember the fog and haze my brain was covered in on the first day I took the pills. When my mother came home from work, I reported all I had eaten that day was a nectarine, and she gave me a high-five.
I lost 65lbs in four months. Just in time to be maid of honor in my sister’s wedding and preserve an acceptable figure in the photographs. My sister’s wedding day was the first and only time my father acknowledged my appearance (good or bad). “You look so, thin,” he said with a mix of discomfort and concern. “That’s because she is!” my mother proudly proclaimed. Pictures from that day were the first time I came face-to-face with a version of “me” that mirrored the person I knew I was beneath the surface—“Slim Me.” My view of myself was validated.
Having been given a “magic pill” and zero education on nutrition, a balanced diet, or exercise, unsurprisingly, the weight didn’t stay off for long.
* * *
Throughout both losing and gaining, I didn’t see or acknowledge the weight. Of course, I noticed I needed to shop in a plus department, or worse, a plus-sized store, but I thought I was plump, at best, chubby at worst. My weight never stopped me from dancing at parties, traveling to bathing suit required vacation spots, nor from living, loving, or eating. The thought of avoiding these things never occurred to me. I had the nerve to have crushes on boys (and be confused when they didn’t return my affections), and go to parties and think I looked attractive. In many ways, this existence felt like the happiest time of my life.
I CAME FACE-TO-FACE WITH A VERSION OF “ME” THAT MIRRORED THE PERSON I KNEW I WAS BENEATH THE SURFACE—“SLIM ME.” MY VIEW OF MYSELF WAS VALIDATED.
But something awakened in me one afternoon late into second semester sophomore year at college, and I saw what everyone else must have seen all along: I was fat and worse, I was ugly. I don’t remember what brought on my changed perception, but I remember standing in front of the full-body mirror in my dorm room and seeing an obese person wearing my clothes. The image I had previously held of myself was gone in an instant. I frantically pulled out photo albums along with stacks of hundreds of pictures I’d accumulated during the first two years of college. As I thumbed through the photos, I saw the truth.
Thinking I was fat and knowing I was obese were two very different things. I wasn’t the chubby girl who guys were too shallow to date: I was the obese girl people would point and stare at in the mall. I was the obese girl I would have ignored in class, or diverted eye contact with in a store. If I had seen myself out, I would have thought, “God, I hope I never get that bad!” And yet there I was, photographed and documented. I was my worst nightmare. Immediately, I began turning down invitations to go out with my friends to bars, clubs, or parties. I started a diet and decided life could not resume until I lost all of the weight.
Without understanding the science or biology of why I was a certain way, I always felt like a prisoner trapped in a body I didn’t identify with. I could not understand where the person I’d seen in my mind was, or when and how she was going to arrive.
* * *
For the next decade, my life was consumed with thoughts of food and calories, exercise and wasted time. I would be a dieting angel, eating minimal calories and going to the gym 5 times a week, then a switch would be flipped, and I’d be a binge eater, stopping at every fast food chain I could find on the way home and “treating” myself to my favorite high calorie items from each place. Every meal became my last meal, every day, my last day of “freedom.” I need to get in every craving before my next fresh start. But satisfying one craving only begot more cravings and a few days of binging turned into a few weeks of binging, which became a few months of binging.
Binging felt like home. It was euphoric to go to a restaurant and simply order what I wanted. No worries, no counting calories or points. After a day of binging, I consumed myself with pre-slumber thoughts of self-hate and degradation. I ached to be normal: to not look at food and see numbers, to know what hungry and full felt like.
* * *
Over the span of fifteen years, I lost the vast majority of the weight, though not all of it. Weight that went on quickly and joyfully came off slowly and painfully. During the 15 year (and counting) journey, I expelled around 120 pounds from myself. A big chunk in the first three years and then the rest, slowly and tediously over time. I hated myself through every day of the entire process because it never felt like enough, and as the lost pounds accumulated, so did the years consumed by the self-loathing. Even in a moment where the loss felt like success, the time it took to achieve was a painful failure.
I ALWAYS FELT LIKE A PRISONER TRAPPED IN A BODY I DIDN’T IDENTIFY WITH. I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND WHERE THE PERSON I’D SEEN IN MY MIND WAS, OR WHEN AND HOW SHE WAS GOING TO ARRIVE
The process of losing weight did not bring me complete satisfaction. My weight struggle felt private, but there was no true way to fight the battle in private. At parties and family functions, everyone watched as I turned down dessert; at restaurants, they bore witness to my special requests of the waiter (no butter, sauce on the side) and, everyone monitored my shrinking size. Once people caught on that I was dieting, or I caved and told them, they also observed every detour and cheated and began to have opinions on my process. Well-intentioned advice made me cringe–I was not at a place where I was comfortable to discuss or acknowledge what I’d done to my body, to my life. The more people noticed my weight loss, the more patronized I’d feel. The agitation was multi-layered: telling me how much weight I’d lost, only highlighted how big I was and the fact that they had noticed. In my mind I was someone else, someone better and thinner and I loathed the reminder that “Slim Me” was, and always had been, invisible to everyone else.
I’m still unsure of my place on the thin-spectrum. I identify more as a former-port than as a thin. Those who knew me before believe I’m at the end of my journey, but those who meet me now don’t flinch when I say I need to lose twenty or thirty pounds. Today, I feel chubby but not fat, but I don’t trust my assessment. I have a need to assess myself against others, to see larger women and truthfully answer, “Is that me?” “Are those my thighs?” Seeing a woman in an article of clothing I own or hearing her mention she wears a similar size, is a gift from the universe: I engage in a side-by-side analysis and can compare the image in my mind with a concrete external model. I have an unquenchable craving for an objective eye: to see myself as others do rather than through the lens I have spent my entire life using for self-protective reasons. I spent a long time with my lens turned outward, a concave person validated by external factors, which made me thinner and more attractive than I actually was. When my body adjusted closer to the image I’d always pictured, the lens flipped inward, and I’m still unable to see myself accurately. Now I find myself buying clothes in a bigger size than I need and being surprised when I look like a normal person in a photograph. I am not convinced there is a way to see myself from an objective perspective: to strip away the years of film on the lens and see myself for me.
THE PROCESS OF LOSING WEIGHT DID NOT BRING ME COMPLETE SATISFACTION. MY WEIGHT STRUGGLE FELT PRIVATE, BUT THERE WAS NO TRUE WAY TO FIGHT THE BATTLE IN PRIVATE.
My weight and weight loss remain a part of my consciousness every day and at almost every meal, I acknowledge now they always will be. I still see a thinner version of myself in my mind and replay my life with her re-cast in the starring role. Occasionally, I’ll pass a mirror or see a picture and smile, acknowledging a resemblance to her. A part of me will always be waiting for her, but in the meantime, I appreciate small victories: wearing a tucked in shirt, buying above the knee boots that zip, and fitting comfortably in the middle seat of an airplane.