I briefly mentioned that I might do a post on body image a couple of days ago, and I think a lovely Saturday morning when I woke up earlier than I intended is as good of a time as any to write one up, especially as a few things have reminded me of it this week.
The first thing that reminded me of it was a conversation I had on a forum. A woman who had lost a lot of weight came in and basically asked how other women who had lost weight were sort of coping with the changes in their bodies and lives now. I explained that the issues I have coping with are mostly behavioral – I was overweight so long that I forget that I am skinny and still navigate the world as though I am overweight, and let’s say that adjusting to the changes has been illuminating.
For example, I often say things like “well, that was before I got fat…” when I’m telling a story or something. For people who don’t know my past, they are probably really confused (and perhaps offended) that I am mentioning a time in my past when I was “thinner,” as I don’t know if it would be possible for me to be much smaller. They don’t know that I’m actually talking about going from high end of “healthy” bmi/low end of overweight to obese in this story.
Also, I have in the past made comments that inadvertently offended people who are currently fat that would not have offended them if I was also fat, but have a different effect coming from a thin person. I’m sure I do this at times I am not conscious of, but one example that I know of stands out in my mind. Once, when I was at work, one of my coworkers suggested that I eat a cookie. I said I’d try one tomorrow, as I was planning on going out for ice cream later that day. They said something like “Oh, you’re so skinny you can afford to eat it.” (Let’s ignore the problem with this attitude, that is for another post). I responded with something like “Yes, but if I used that excuse every day when I wanted a cookie, I’d be fat.” The coworker just sort of looked at me in horror and said something like “Uh, I eat the cookies almost every day,” and left the room. I was just mortified. Luckily he came up later and asked if I was one of those “skinny people who secretly used to be fat,” so the situation was resolved with minimal embarrassment but I’m sure that this has occurred other times without such a good ending.
I also have issues with coming to terms with the fact that most strangers mostly ignored me was “negative” treatment, not the status quo. I get all sorts of (often unwanted) attention now. I mean, I got cat called and stuff before, but this is like that x100: men come up to me in public (sometimes when I’m WITH my husband) to tell me how good looking I am (truck drivers also have a penchant for hitting on me while we are both driving down the highway). That is why I put “negative” in quotes. I’d prefer not to be treated this way, but I’m guessing they intended their lack of attention to me negatively, so I’m characterizing it that way. I also get what is probably subconscious positive treatment from people I know. For example, people compliment my clothes almost every day. I have started dressing better, but unless the compliments come from someone who specifically mentions something like “I remember when I met you and the only shoes you had were Converse!” I can’t help but think that they notice me more now because I am thin and then that leads them to notice my clothing because it is just so much more frequent. It’s also pretty nice to never have anyone question my eating or exercise choices (except to perhaps suggest I am being too excessive, but that is pretty rare).
Now, in this original query, I mentioned mostly behavioral things. You can probably glean some small things about body image from this – i.e. it is pretty evident that my mental image has not caught up to me being thin yet, but overall, my unprovoked assessment had little to do with my physical appearance. But ALL of the responses to me (or all of the things that other women shared that I felt a need to respond to) were about physical appearance.
One example – as I just mentioned, my mental image has not caught up to my physical image. One of the other women shared a story that I could really relate to. She said that someone gave her some secondhand clothing and in the pile happened to be a pair of size 6 pants that she fit into. She’d never been single digits before, so she figured they were super vanity sized or something, but couldn’t help but hope that 6 was “really” her size. She ran around to stores, trying on sixes, being amazed when they fit her. Now, she didn’t buy all of this stuff – it was just to prove to her that she was really a 6 and that the piece of clothing wasn’t being deceptive. I went through this exact same phase. I’ve mentioned before that I had to replace a lot of clothing. One thing I would do, even though the clothes I had were too big, would be to go into the store and first grab clothes in that size before allowing myself to try on a smaller size. I also tried not to let people know I was trying on a smaller size because I couldn’t see that I was any thinner, and I figured they saw me the way I saw me, and if they did, they would probably just laugh in my face upon finding out I was disillusioned enough to try on such a small size (this was obviously all in my head, no one would have ever done that to me). I’ve gotten over the “fake” size thing now, but in my head I think I still look like I weigh about 50 pounds more than I do.
On the other hand, the responses that my story about behavioral changes for some reason elicited a bunch of questions about my loose skin. This is probably the only body image issue I have that really bothers me at all. Now, in general, I’m not that self-conscious of this stuff. I went through a mini-phase as a teenager where I wouldn’t wear shorts and I have avoided some certain styles because I am “pear-shaped” (I was actually talking to my roommate about this yesterday, and she has declared me non-peared, so I guess I can wear those things now!), but I never felt weird wearing a bathing suit in public or anything. I think I just realized everyone else is just as self-conscious and imperfect and weird, too, so I’ll just go look weird and imperfect with them. So my loose skin doesn’t bother me that much. It just reminds me of how much I hurt my body, I guess. Like, I’m 23 and I want to buy a bikini, but I “can’t.” Now, as I said to a friend about this: it’s not that I don’t have the confidence to just go out and say “Screw it, I’m wearing this regardless of what people think and if they comment on it they are the bad person,” it’s that I want to feel my happiest, prettiest, and most confident when I am wearing something. I don’t want to be making a statement every time I go out; I just want to be comfortable. I think it also bothers me that if I ever get a chance to get it “fixed,” it won’t be for a long time. Many insurance companies don’t cover surgery to correct loose skin, those who do have a number of restrictions, and I plan on having children in the future, so it will have to wait until at least after that.
Apologies if that was a little long and rambling, but I felt like it was necessary to share at least some of my thoughts on this as someone whose body has changed so much, but whose body image has changed so little. Let it be known that I could have gone on for pages and pages with examples and reflections – these were mostly just the first ones that came to mind. Now, time for a 6 mile run!