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.