Some people, when they’re losing a lot of weight, very responsibly and
with great vigor and enthusiasm take progress pictures every month. They take
pictures–from every side and every possible angle–of every body part they’ve
got, and their hairline and their smile and their scale. They also take
measurements, exactly like clockwork, every month. They measure their
heads and their necks and their arms, their shoulders and their thighs and
their toes. They mark every picture carefully with the month, the date, the
year, and their measurements, and they line them all up in a row, and voilà,
instantly and like magic you can see, there, in the procession of pictures, the
amazing miraculous transformation, recorded in its entirety, for all of

These people, in their charming determination and admirable energy for
everything the weight-loss process has to offer, have a record of the way their
bodies changed, real and point-to-able and something that shows them where
they’ve been, and where they’re going to. I wanted to say "are lucky
enough to have a record," but of course that is not quite right. They were
smart enough, and I was afraid. Sometimes, I feel like I cheated myself, having
never done that.

I borrowed a camera, and took pictures the night before my surgery. I wore
black pajama bottoms, if I recall, and a pink tank top, and I tried to smile
sarcastically and knowingly, all yeah, I
know how lame this is, standing here being photographed.
No matter how I
smirked all self-consciously self-aware and hipster-ironic, I felt like a
gigantic asshole, and I knew I wouldn’t be doing this again. How could I keep
taking these pictures, standing there feeling ridiculous? I couldn’t imagine
lining the pictures up next to one another and scrutinizing them for changes.
How much different did I look, now? How about now? What if I hadn’t changed
quickly enough? Would that have ruined everything?

I knew I’d find myself yoked to those photos. I knew I would always spend my
time despairing that I still looked like that,
that I wouldn’t actually be able to make out those differences, and if I did,
it wouldn’t matter at all. That every picture would be a picture of Fat. Hello
I am fat, hello I am fat, hello I am fat.

So I looked at that first photo, me so sad and worried and scared, standing
there in my pajamas and trying to look cool, but instead being the size of the
moon and looking like I was about to burst into tears. Looking at those photos,
I was about to burst into tears, because that wasn’t me, and couldn’t possibly
be me, not ever, because who would have talked to me or liked me or loved me if
I always went around looking like that? How was it possible no one had ever
taken me aside and said, "Oh, honey. Really, honey." I haven’t looked
at those photos since, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to think of that
division, that divergence, between the me in my head, who could function in
life because she doesn’t know the truth, and the me in pictures who made me so
sad and ashamed, which felt like the truth of it.

No more photos, I said, and threw up my arms and rushed at the paparazzi and
then beat them with my fists because I am hardcore, and I was scared to look.
One night, I was seduced by friends telling me how thin I was, how much I’ve
lost and how great I look. "Send me pictures," sweet Wendy said, and our friend
Jen snapped a photo. I had been feeling cute, and sassy, in a shirt I hadn’t
worn for ages, in pants that fit after a long hiatus, and I was excited to see
the photo, to see what I looked like, because didn’t I deserve to see what
everyone else was finally seeing?

Again, the dissonance. That was not what I looked like, and what was I
thinking, wearing horizontal stripes and oh God, look at the lumps. I was
covered in lumps. I wasn’t covered in lumps, I was a lump. I was a lump in red
shoes, making a ridiculous face when really I should have been wrapped up in a
sheet with bricks and dropped to the bottom of the sea.

I do not hate myself on a regular basis–I do not think I really am an ugly, trollish
girl, because really, I would have been lynched so long ago, if that were
true–so it is always such a deep shock to have that visceral reaction to a
photograph of me, to be struck by such deep…loathing. Loathing is the only word
strong enough. Loathing of how I present myself to the world. It throws me for
a loop, sends me staggering back and choking and wondering, in the rational
parts of my brain, what the fuck is happening to me, that I can feel this way.
Understanding why people think the camera that takes 10 pounds off you is supposed to be such a totally awesome

Luckily, I have extremely good coping mechanisms (which mostly consist of
determinedly not thinking about things until they go away, which is always very
shortly, because–ooh, shiny!), and so I was able to deal with the Shock and Awe
of my mental problems and move on.

But then, I went away. And I met up with a group of friends, all of whom own
cameras and all of whom love to take photos. Many photos! From many angles!
Documenting all of you at every moment when you breathe in and then also when
you breathe out! My friends are all both beautiful and crazy. I tensed up every
time there was a flash, and eventually said whatever the fuck, because I was
there to Enjoy Life and not Be Anxious. I just would not look at these pictures
as they were taken, and in that way, I would be happy.

"This is a cute one!" mo pie said, and she handed me the camera, and I found myself looking.
"You look so skinny!" I had heard that before, and I braced and I
poised, and I was there on the little LCD screen, smiling. When had my shoulders
gotten so narrow? Where is my double chin? That is not my torso. But it looks
like me. How is it possible I look like that? And it kept happening, that I
would look at a picture of me, ready to cringe, and be amazed by that woman,
there, on the screen, this record of a person who could not possibly be me.


3 Replies to “retrospective”

  1. So familiar. I don’t recognize my shoulders either.

    I remember telling a friend at some point that I finally look like the me I see in my head.

  2. Like you, I hate, hate, hate how I look in photos. Until just last month when, at the age of 55, I finished my first half-marathon, and my daughter was there to capture all the glory with her Canon. It didn’t matter how lumpy and bumpy I looked; the smile on my face was the result of a truly great achievement. I’m glad your friends were able to catch you off-guard, unposed and happy. I like to think those kinds of pictures capture the Real Us.

  3. I took a few pictures, but not month after month. I was all about the numbers – measurements over 24 sites tracking every possible piece of factual evidence that I was INDEED getting smaller…..because I couldn’t see it.

    And now, what used to be my abdominal measurement, encircles my whole body sitting down, including my knees. How surreal is that. .

    What I’d really like to see are measurement of normal people and supermodels. We all know the infamous 36-24-36, but what are real people checking in at? I know Nicole Ritchie looks anorexic, but just how big ARE her hips? What would adding 10lbs to her frame do?

    I can’t visual where I am in relation to other people…….and no matter WHAT size you are, walking up to a complete stranger and saying “just how big are you” is likely to get you decked in a hurry.


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