blindness

When I was fat, every size of fat from the 200s through the 300s, I played a game. I would look for women on the street, and I would try to decide if I was bigger than them, or smaller than them. In every room, I would rank all the fat people in terms of their size, and where I fit in. Was I the fattest in the room, or the least fat of the fat people? Where on the continuum did I fit in? What size was I really, and what do I look like, when people see me?

Because I knew I was fat–the number in my pants told me I was fat, how I fit in chairs and the bathtub, by how people looked at me, by how it usually made me feel, when I looked in the mirror–but I didn’t know how fat. I desperately wanted to know how fat I was. When I was out with a boyfriend, I would point out women on the street–“Is that my size? Is that how I look? Is she about as wide across as I am?” And I never knew, and I still don’t know, but every time, whatever size that woman was, they’d say, with great scorn, “No! You’re not that big! Are you crazy?”

Of course, sometimes I’d point out a very large woman just to hear those words, to be assured that there was no way that I was that heavy and I had nothing to worry about in the world. But then I’d say her, look at her, and it was a woman who really was, I thought, the same as me. We’d wear the same size dress, swap sweaters, compliment each other’s butt in our jeans that we borrow back and forth. My sister in body size! That was what I looked like! But still the scorn–no! No way. You’re not that big.

If someone guessed my weight, it was usually a full 80 pounds lighter than I actually was–but then you have to add back at least twenty pounds for politeness, and then account for the fact that no one has any real idea of what the numbers on the scale mean. 200 pounds to most people sounds ridiculously, hugely, grotesquely enormous and obese because people are insane and ignorant and fat-phobic.

The end result, though, was that I had no idea what size I was. No one would tell me, for fear of insulting me. I know people who love me were trying to protect me, but what feels insulting, now, is that idea that I needed protection. That my size was such anathema, and the truth would have hurt me, that I had to be insulated from the reality of the enormity of my ass.

Now I feel medium sized, generally. Normal and unremarkable in a fucked-up world where it is better to be skinny than fat. I look at the number in my pants, how I fit in chairs and the bathtub, how people look at me and how I feel when I look in the mirror, and I think I am normal. But people have been telling me that I look skinny, far too skinny, that I’ve lost more weight and too much weight and that I ought to gain some weight back. That I am getting scrawny, and that is a terrible word. And now I am back to looking at people in the street and saying–do I look like her? What about her? No, my boyfriend says. You’re smaller than she is. What about her? No. Not her, either. Or her. I have no idea what size I am, or what I look like. People say things like “you barely weigh a hundred pounds!” and I wonder if I look scary like Nancy Regan with a lollipop head and  ribs showing at the top of my v-neck, terrifying Rachel Zoe who, as popular parlance goes, needs to eat a sandwich.

I have no idea what size I am, and I am tired of it. I’m tired of being divorced from my body at whatever size it is. Like so many millions and billions of things on the list that I thought would magically improve, become easier and simpler and just plain better when I lost weight, I thought this, too, would resolve itself, this feeling of active separation from my physical person, this feeling I have of not having any idea what shape I am in the world and what impression I leave behind. I want to stop asking other people, to stop feeling like I have to ask other people to tell me. I want to just be complete. I want to just know.

  20 comments for “blindness

  1. j
    January 12, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Although I have never been over- or underweight, but I know just what you mean. I’ve never heard someone express it so clearly, though. Nice job.

  2. January 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I know exactly what you mean… but I agree with the above commenter, I’ve never heard someone express it so clearly.

    You pretty much just said what I think to myself all the time but could never say so eloquently.

  3. Ali
    January 12, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Why do you care so much about other people?
    If you are comfy in your size, and like what you see in the mirror, then you are the right size.

  4. January 12, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Ali, do you mean the solution to body dysmorphia, insecurity and the effects of a culture which trains us that our bodies are public property and our value depends on our dress size is… just stop caring?

    Well. Problem solved, then.

  5. Anna Sander
    January 12, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I completely understand. I’ve recently lost 24 lbs, but am 45 lbs from my all time high. Friends say I’m normal (whatever that is) now but some days ( a lot of days ) I don’t feel it.

  6. ALI
    January 13, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Byrneout,

    Yes. I mean that if we all stop caring about what magazines and TV say is beauty, the problem will be solved.

    If we teach our sisters, daughters and friends that if they are comfy in their size and like what they see in the mirror, then they are the right size, the problem will be solved no matter what the media is feeding us.

    I mean that instead of comparing ourselves to every other female we see out and about, we should focus on our own well being.

    I too struggle with insecurity issues, but comparing myself to every other woman out there will not help at all; women are not cattle. When we compare ourselves and measure up other women in this way, we do what sexist society does. And as women, we should respect each other and ourselves by stopping such behaviors.

  7. ALI
    January 13, 2009 at 7:07 am

    And by the way, Jen, I have seen your pictures from flickr and you are beautiful.

  8. January 13, 2009 at 8:06 am

    I am 9 years out from my WLS and I *still* have no idea what size I am. I still avoid mirrors, and still don’t recognize myself in photos. Bizarre stuff, this body image thing.

  9. Melissa
    January 13, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Can I get an amen!? You hit the nail on the head, sister.

    Incidentally, my friend/gym buddy and I play this game constantly… I am mid-way through losing a big pile of weight (83 pounds so far in the last year) and she lost 120 pounds years ago… we have NO idea what we look like. lol

    Thank you for putting this out there. ;)

  10. Shelly
    January 13, 2009 at 9:11 am

    My weight is in the high end of normal, and I do this comparison thing, too. It’s compulsive.

  11. January 13, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Thanks, you guys.

    And Ali, I am totally with you–it should be that easy, but it is insidious, it is creeping and it is almost impossible to just…turn it off. I really do wish it were as simple as saying okay, everybody! We don’t care anymore, fuck the diseased media and fuck the prejudiced expectations of all the people in the world who have very narrow definitions of beauty. We can try very hard to be as aware of it as possible, to try not to buy into it, to try to be brave and strong, but god knows it’s a herculean task and sometimes it just feels impossible to fight.

    But thank you for the compliment. I appreciate it.

  12. Sal
    January 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    I, too, recognize and participate in this this malicious game of mindfuck. I just can’t seem to stop myself. And I’m a person who thinks about body image and beauty and how to shift acceptance and expand definitions A LOT. I agree that it *should* be as easy as not caring, and I also agree that it is *not*.

    What helps me soothe this obsessive tendency is to know that I am not alone and to receive reminders that engaging in the comparison game is harmful – both of which I can garner from conversations like this one. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t just make myself feel better by thinking and reasoning and acting all on my own. I need help.

    So, thanks.

  13. julia
    January 13, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Ali, I feel like that’s similar to wishing for world peace. A great idea, but not going to happen. In the meantime, how do we deal? One way is by talking about it, by being honest and naming things what they are. I think Jen did a beautiful job of working at it rather than just willing it away.

  14. julia
    January 13, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Plus, she was obviously not “comfy in her size.” So, what then?

  15. Punchy
    January 13, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    I can’t tell what I look like either although I tend to err on the side of thinking I;m smaller than I am. Until some horrid picture of me shows up or a dress that *should* be my size doesn’t fit.

  16. ALI
    January 14, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Wow, thanks everyone for your responses, and specially thanks to Jen! I’m honored. I have been reading you for a long time (and miss Elastic Waist sorely).

    It is not easy, but I do not think it is as hard to accomplish as world peace. We can not decide what the media is going to feed us. But he have the choice to reject what we don’t like, and sites like this one are proof that more and more people are rejecting the idea that you need to be skinny to be beautiful.

    It just blows my mind that gorgeous, smart, accomplished women feel insecure about their looks, even when their loves ones assure them they are beautiful.

    As I said before, I too struggle with insecurities and I do not claim to be better or stronger than anyone. But one day it really just hit me: WHO CARES? Who cares about the size? Who cares about magazines? I am healthy, I have an able body, I have family, friends and a husband who loves me. I have no excuse not to love this body.

    What an interesting conversation!

  17. julia
    January 14, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    I just have to say to Ali and everyone, that this is hands-down the most civil and respectful exchange of different ideas I have ever seen on the internet. Yay to all of you!

  18. January 14, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. Thirty-five pounds ago, I thought I was on the heavy side of “average,” but I thought was average.

    After I lost the weight, I started to think – ok, I’m finally thin! I’ve always wanted to be thin! Maybe I’m as thin as she is, or as she is over there! But when I see photos of myself, I simply look … average. Well-balanced. Not willowy or petite or at all what I’d hoped I looked like.

    And I agree that it’s incredibly sad that I even think of my body this way in the first place.

  19. Erica
    January 16, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I’ve played that “where do I fit in this lineup of women” game many times. I don’t know why it’s important to know what I “really” look like, or whether I’m “really” big or small or average or obese. I can easily discount the BMI as a totally skewed objective measurement, but I still crave something tangible to tell me if this version of me at this weight is bad/better/best.

    While it’s easy to account for the subjectivity of friends and family, I always forget that it’s equally impossible for ME to be objective about myself. On my more insecure days, I dress in my most figure-flattering clothes and hope to see people who haven’t seen me in 6 months (when I weighed 40 lbs more). Then I berate myself for needing outside reinforcement to feel good about my body and my accomplishments. I find self-image issues utterly muddling and unbearably easy to overthink.

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