personal history

At the gym, there is an
older lady who takes the morning water aerobics class. I’d say that she
is in her late fifties, at the very latest. She looks ordinary in her
street clothes, and then when she takes them off, she looks as if
someone reached out and gently let all the air out of her. Her skin is
very white, and drapes down from her shoulders and elbows, the tops and
sides of her thighs, in soft folds. She is covered, all over, in sheets
of loose and striated skin. And she is absolutely at ease in her body,
comfortable with how she looks and happy with who she is, I think–her
chin is up, her bearing is straight, she moves confidently across the
pool room and through the locker room wearing less than I would ever
want to be seen in, in public. I’ve never talked to her, but I kind of
love her.

I want to talk to her–all that skin, it speaks to me
of rapid weight loss after decades and decades of morbid obesity. She
looks very much like the pictures I used to see, the before and afters
you sometimes run into, when people blog about their weight-loss
surgery. I thought, when I first saw her, that I recognized the shape
of her body and her skin, and I wanted to go up to her and ask, “Did
you get weight-loss surgery?” I revised that in my head: “I know this
is a terribly personal question…” No. “I know this is a rude
question, but…” No, how about, “Can I ask you a very personal
question, and you can tell me to go to hell if you want, but I wanted
to know…” No.



It’s a terribly rude question, and I just want
to know. I don’t need to know, or have to know. It is not vital to
national security that I discover why, exactly, her skin is like it is
and whether she is okay with it and how she really does feel in her
body and how wonderful it is to see her exercising her ass off every
time I am here. That is none of my business, any of it. Her body and
its history is none of my business. But I wanted to talk to her, and I
wanted it to be weight-loss surgery, and I wanted to be able to talk
about weight-loss surgery with someone who has gone through with it and
whose life has been changed however it was changed by it. I wanted to
talk shop. I wanted to have a conversation with someone who
maybe can tell me what I need to know–sometimes I feel like they
forgot to give me the manual, and there’s so much I need to know.

This
incredible, powerful urge to talk to her was so different from my usual
urge to talk about my surgery, which springs from my usual sense that I
have to apologize for having gone from a fat person to a skinny one,
from having experienced a “results not typical” kind of weight-loss
transformation like you read about in ads in the backs of gossip rags.
I get positive feedback for my appearance in a way and a quantity that
I have not previously experienced as a fat girl–I was hot when I was
fat, but it turns out that fewer people in the world think that fat
girls can in fact be hot. So I get this attention I’m not used to, which
embarrasses me, and I feel like I need to qualify it and to test it,
even. Well, yes, but surgery, and fatness, and do you still think I’m
hot even though I am, in actuality, a fat girl lurking? She could burst
through a brick wall like the Kool-Aid man, dude. Watch your back.

Confessing,
all the time, asking for absolution. Talking to this woman wouldn’t be
a confession, but a me too, hey, I recognize you. A statement of fact
instead of an admission of guilt. I’ve never spoken to her though, and
I probably never will. She is entitled to her personal history, to not
be required and called upon to testify. To have me mind my own business
while she minds hers. And with my luck, if I did talk to her it would
turn out she has some kind of rare skin disease and I am even ruder
than I thought.

  7 comments for “personal history

  1. nicole
    December 19, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    that was really beautiful. I didn’t have WLS but I get that feeling when I see a kindred spirit and it always haunts me that I don’t say anything. I always have that feeling that I missed out on a meaningful friendship. Maybe you should just say hello.

  2. kb
    December 19, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    I second Nicole-just say hello. You’re right, expecting her to give you the manual is a bit rude, also, how does she know anyway? but, if you think about it more as writing your own manual, something in the nature of a writers group might be beneficial for both of you. Starting with that is right out though. It all starts with a simple “hello.” or “hi, my name is” Eventually, you’ll work up to the point where you’ll know what her boundaries are and if she wants to talk about her body.

  3. December 21, 2008 at 8:27 am

    We have a relative that is a size 4 and has NEVER been heavy that has excess skin exactly like that – all over her body.
    She is now in her late 60’s.
    She is and always has been a very unhealthy food person. She eats almost no fruit and veggies. She eats (mostly) hotdogs and bacon and cheese.
    She is starting to have major health problems. She goes to curves 3x per week and walks every day. but has very poor muscle tone.
    So if you knew about the exercise and saw that she was a tiny size – you might have the same thoughts about my relative – and I think in her case she is actually very unhealthy – it just isn’t visual – except perhaps the skin. And her head is held high – she is delighted in her size.

  4. December 22, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Yeah, just say hello to her next time you see her! If nothing else, it might make her smile!

  5. chai_girl
    December 22, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    I do a bootcamp three days a week. I have a lap band (for full disclosure). There is a woman in my bootcamp who is an inspiration to me. She is 61 years old and through diet and exercise has dropped down to about 12% body fat from wearing a size 18/20 (not sure what her body fat was then)in a year.
    When I first started going to the gym, there was this old woman (she seemed to be 90, hunched over and did the old shuffling walk thing) who would come in and pick up a large medicine ball. She would shuffle around the edge of the gym three or four times, including the stairs in the midddle. I kept telling myself that if she could come in there at her age, then I had no excuses. She suddenly stopped coming. When I asked about her, no one seemed to know who I was talking about. I wish I’d said something to her now.
    I bet if you walked up to your older lady and told her that she was sort of an inspiration to you, that if she can get in there every day and do this then you can, too…I bet it would tickle her pink. Then you could start talking about other stuff.

  6. chai_girl
    December 22, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I do a bootcamp three days a week. I have a lap band (for full disclosure). There is a woman in my bootcamp who is an inspiration to me. She is 61 years old and through diet and exercise has dropped down to about 12% body fat from wearing a size 18/20 (not sure what her body fat was then)in a year.
    When I first started going to the gym, there was this old woman (she seemed to be 90, hunched over and did the old shuffling walk thing) who would come in and pick up a large medicine ball. She would shuffle around the edge of the gym three or four times, including the stairs in the midddle. I kept telling myself that if she could come in there at her age, then I had no excuses. She suddenly stopped coming. When I asked about her, no one seemed to know who I was talking about. I wish I’d said something to her now.
    I bet if you walked up to your older lady and told her that she was sort of an inspiration to you, that if she can get in there every day and do this then you can, too…I bet it would tickle her pink. Then you could start talking about other stuff.

  7. chai_girl
    December 22, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    I do a bootcamp three days a week. I have a lap band (for full disclosure). There is a woman in my bootcamp who is an inspiration to me. She is 61 years old and through diet and exercise has dropped down to about 12% body fat from wearing a size 18/20 (not sure what her body fat was then)in a year.
    When I first started going to the gym, there was this old woman (she seemed to be 90, hunched over and did the old shuffling walk thing) who would come in and pick up a large medicine ball. She would shuffle around the edge of the gym three or four times, including the stairs in the midddle. I kept telling myself that if she could come in there at her age, then I had no excuses. She suddenly stopped coming. When I asked about her, no one seemed to know who I was talking about. I wish I’d said something to her now.
    I bet if you walked up to your older lady and told her that she was sort of an inspiration to you, that if she can get in there every day and do this then you can, too…I bet it would tickle her pink. Then you could start talking about other stuff.

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