It wasn’t as free and easy as it sounds, though. I was increasingly dissatisfied and repulsed by what I saw in the mirror. I got new ripples and folds and stretch marks, chaffed and sweated in embarrassing places, and hid every time someone at a family gathering pulled out a camera. I dreaded seeing people I hadn’t seen since I was thinner, and was painfully self-conscious about my appearance at work-related events. I couldn’t dress the way I wanted, I couldn’t sit comfortably in certain chairs, I couldn’t squeeze in and out of airplane rows or small tables-for-two without a great deal of discomfort and embarrassment. I wore big shirts and baggy cargo pants or loose skirts to the beaches in Cabo San Lucas and the Bahamas and Key West because I wasn’t about to put on a bathing suit in public, or get into a pool or Jacuzzi with co-workers or friends.
I didn’t feel like me.
It was amazing how stealthily the weight crept on, kept creeping on.
At first, I told myself that as long as the number wasn’t above 200, I wasn’t fat. Then I told myself that as long as my health was good, I wasn’t fat. Or, okay, maybe I WAS fat, but those people that mattered to me still loved and accepted me, so where was the problem?
One afternoon, I’d run to the mall on a couple errands. I needed to get something to wear for an upcoming conference because my only white shirt had a spot on the front. Shopping for clothes was a hellish experience, at best (and not something I liked particularly even before I was fat). Taking the escalator up to the hidden Women’s Department at the way-back of Macy’s, I happened to see a woman on the escalator next to me, and watched her for almost a full minute... fatter than me, with a pinched expression on her doughy triple-chinned face, a fubsy middle-aged woman who had surely never seen the inside of a ballet studio or university classroom, who dressed like a schlub and carried herself all hunched and grouchy, like she hated herself and the world around her-
Holy fuck-all. That was my reflection in a mirror. That pasty, pale, fat old woman was me.
It freaked me out. When had THAT happened? When had I become that?! I wasn’t me anymore. I wasn’t the person who I wanted to be.
I started sometimes wondering if a few months of taking meth would really be such an awful thing, if I could manage to lose fifty pounds on it.
I started making weird, snorgly noises in my sleep. Numerous times, THTM would gently wake me because I sounded like I was choking or not breathing.
A physical with my regular doctor shook me to the core in a different way. My blood pressure, usually perfect, was elevated. My heart, my knees, my feet, were showing signs of stress. I could no longer say “as long as I’m healthy” because I wasn’t anymore, and it was only going to get worse. The nurse put me on the scale, and I was given another cold shock at the number she read.
And I’ll say it. I’ll ‘fess one of my most shameful secrets, something that, even today, no matter how much therapy and how many self-esteem issues I’ve tackled, still has the power to make me feel “unworthy” or like all of the degrees on my wall and papers and book chapters on my laptop – sources of my self-esteem – are useless.
By the time I was in my early thirties, I weighed 289 lbs. I was an obese, physically unhealthy person.
My weight was limiting me in so many ways. I avoided certain kinds of trips and places because I was fat and couldn’t enjoy them properly. I went to Namibia and couldn’t hike the dunes. Getting up and down subway stairs or walking around a city was grueling, and after a block or two, I usually had to stop under the guise of tightening my shoelaces because my legs would be screaming in pain. I went to family gatherings and didn’t get near the swimming pool. I couldn’t take a horseback ride down the beach, try parasailing, join a ballet class. I couldn’t dress the way I liked, even if I had things custom-made for me. I stayed upstairs/inside for full days because I got winded going up and down the stairs. I couldn’t sit comfortably on long trips, climb more than one flight of stairs, or walk for long – hell, even short! – periods of time without a lot of aches and pains. If THTM and I wanted to have children, I couldn’t do that healthily, either. I had visions of myself becoming one of those frowzy, obnoxious, cantankerous people who end up 400 lbs. and diabetic in mobile scooters shrieking about how “disabled” they are because they can’t walk or even go to the bathroom or shower themselves, finally becoming totally housebound, frustrated, sick, unproductive, angry, fucked up, cheating myself of everything life and the world had to offer.
This couldn’t go on. The possibilities of what I was doing to myself, health-wise, doing to both me and THTM in terms of life and fulfillment and everything, was unacceptable.
But I didn’t want to be one of those stringy, tanning-bed-tanned women who look like strips of beef jerky, carrying around “skinny lattes,” days an endless string of workouts with trainers and salad lunches with “the girls.” The thought of going back to the sad person I was when I was 22, doing nothing but working out, my only diary entries at the time being lists of foods eaten or classes taken or weigh-ins or Jenny Craig appointments, was shattering.
That wasn’t the solution, either.
Now I had to work through the flip-side of “self-acceptance.” Was I a bad feminist if I wanted to lose weight? Was I abandoning my intellectual self if I was so focused on the physical? Was I buying into the same unhealthy and twisted body image mentality afflicting these pro-ana teens and exercise bulimics? Was I being a self-centered bitch? Was I sending a hateful message to friends who were also overweight? Did I just need some more therapy, to work some more on self-acceptance, if I wanted to puke and cry every time I saw a picture of myself?
Was I asking for too much? Was it too much, challenging God and the universe and the karmic powers that be, to ask to have an amazing marriage, awesome family and friends, an education and career fulfillment, to travel all over and to live all over, to have financial security, and... to also be not fat?
In the end, after several more years of self-reflection and harsh scrutiny and all that soul-searching stuff, what it boiled down to was that I didn’t feel like ME. Even if I never left the house, even if I lived in a place where overweight people were accepted and loved, if I lived alone on a deserted island and never saw another copy of Glamour magazine, I wasn’t ME anymore. This gasping, aching, size-26, 289-pound woman was not who I wanted to be. I wanted to be able to run, to bend, to dance, to play, do the reverse cowgirl, to sleep without choking-
After a lot more therapy, I’d gotten a new handle on most of the fear issues. But what I was left with was hunger. Physical, plain old hunger. I was hungry... or at least, what I interpreted as “hungry.” I wanted to eat what tasted good. I had a big appetite. I still liked food. Lots of food. I was still hungry. And carrot sticks still weren’t enough to sate me.
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