[TW: internalized fat shaming, weight loss, self/body hate]
I wrote this last night after reading through the first 10 pages of your tumblr. I don’t know why I felt like I should share this with you, but I wanted to.
I have lost a significant amount of weight fairly recently (about 40 lbs from my heaviest) and it wasn’t until I did that my body image issues fully came to light. I think the reason they never came up much before was that when you’re fat, there is a certain expectation and acceptance that “of course you don’t like your body, you’re fat!” so a little self-hate, those self deprecating remarks are shrugged off as normal, or at least expected. Once you lose weight, though, the expectation is that you will then be happy with your body. Those jokes about “Do I look like I don’t like donuts?!” become more awkward and less hilarious. Of course you don’t magically change the way you think as the number on the scale changes, and only now are people even catching a glimpse of the full depth of my body hate. For many years I hated just about everything about how I looked. My internal monologue was a vicious litany of insults about everything from my struggles with acne (who still has acne in their 20’s?! It’s ridiculous and you look stupid!), to my thighs (ugh! So huuuuge!!), to my calves (look at those man-calves!!). I even filled in what other people were thinking when they saw me eating or buying food in public, so that eating or buying anything “unhealthy” was an exercise in shame: obviously everyone else was thinking “Well, that’s why she’s fat!” or “Clearly she doesn’t need to eat that, the pig!” or something along those lines. Every time I passed a mirror, I immediately leapt to criticisms and thoughts of how I could be “kind of pretty”, if only I weren’t so fat. Even wearing makeup felt like an exercise in futility, because what was the point in making my face more attractive when the rest of me was so ugly? Everything I wore was designed to make me look smaller or hide some aspect of my body, to give the illusion of being thinner, and therefore prettier.
Here’s the thing: those thoughts make getting healthy nearly impossible. Shame does not motivate, it defeats. Self-loathing does not inspire one to go to the gym or eat healthy foods in moderation. No, they come together to beat you before you ever get started. They make you afraid to go to the gym because obviously everyone else there is looking at you (the fat one) wondering what you’re doing there while they laugh at your pitiful attempts. They combine to create habits that are both punishment and comfort. My choice punishment/comfort was to eat various unhealthy foods like candy, cookie dough, or fast food. It was comforting because it was delicious and pleasing, but a punishment, because it fueled even more internal insults and mental lashings. Basically, I was on the cusp of an eating disorder: I had the thinking down, but wasn’t quite practicing the habits of one.
One day, I got tired of this. I got tired of hating myself, tired of wanting to be a pretty girl, and I decided to fix it…from the outside in. Clearly, if I could lose weight, I would be happy with myself. If I could just get to where I didn’t need to shop in the Plus/Women’s/FAT section, I would like the way I looked and be happy! Well, I started going to the gym and eating better, and I did lose weight. When I was around a size 16 (down from nearly a 22), I met and started dating someone. As we got closer, he became privy to (some of) my internal monologue, and brought it to my attention that it was rather unhealthy and unhelpful, perhaps even more than I realized. Our romantic relationship did not last, but our friendship has, and I am forever grateful for that. He helped me think less critically about my body and myself, which was an enormous step in the right direction. I still wasn’t happy with my appearance, but I was less focused on outright hatred ofmy body.
As I lost more weight (getting down to a size 12), it was obvious that mentally, I still had a long way to go. I still wasn’t happy. I was still fat, just not as fat. I still had to lose another 30lbs, because then I’d be really hot. Friends and family caught glimpses of, and expressed concern about my thinking at this point. It became apparent to them that even as I outwardly celebrated my weight loss success, I was not happy with the results. Compliments were accepted, but shrugged off as I told of plans to lose even more weight, because I still had a lot of work to do. Lucky for me, I had some good friends who helped me see that those thoughts, while less obviously toxic than the insults I used to wield against myself, were just as damaging. They were still showing a fixation on what was “wrong” with my body, what I didn’t like, what needed changing to be more attractive and acceptable. There were precious few thoughts of how good I looked or how much healthier I was.
At some point, after much reading, listening, and talking, it dawned on me that I couldn’t diet my way to liking how I looked: if I couldn’t accept my appearance at my current size and weight, whatever it was, I wouldn’t be happy at any size or weight…and that frightened me. I didn’t want to forever be struggling to lose more weight and maintain that weight loss, I wanted to be happy with my body. I wanted to like what I saw in the mirror, and that meant changing how I thought about it, rather than changing my body.
I would love to say that moment was a magical epiphany and I’ve been happy with my body ever since then, but that would be an enormous lie. I am indeed much more pleased with and accepting of my body than I have been at any other point in my life, but I still sometimes fall into my old thoughts. It happens less often and less severely as time goes on, but I don’t know that I’ll ever fully be rid of them. I was in that mental rut for the better part of 27 years, so it’s a tough one to fully escape. As of this moment though, I can finally wear close-fitting clothes and feel good. I can wear skinny jeans and know that I look ridiculously fabulous, rather than just ridiculous. It’s a journey I’m still on, but I don’t plan to stop any time soon.