Frequently now, I hear comments from co-workers or friends about how I seem to be ‘melting’ away, or I am becoming ‘skinnier’. I always politely thank people for their compliments, which I am not great at taking, and if pressed, will share what my routine is that seems to be working for me. Occasionally I have written about how instrumental movement has been for my mental and physical health this past year while navigating divorce, custody issues, rebellious teenagers, graduate school, a full-time job, and the absolute nightmare that dating has become in modern day. With this has come disciplined dietary shifts that have had a great influence on my universal well-being, but that I inwardly battle, at times, to maintain. Let’s be real: changing habits is fucking hard.
But while these things work for me, I recognize that what I do may not be for everyone, and I’m not into shouting my ‘truth’ off the rooftop, or insisting others should replicate my routine to attempt the same results. There’s an awful lot of preaching that seems to happen when people begin to lose their physical mass, and while I get the excitement, and why a person would want others to share in that feeling, that’s just not my style. Of course, it might be because this isn’t my first time at the weight loss rodeo, and I understand how tenuous the relationship we have with our bodies can be when we are battling the scars of former wounds.
When I started working out, it was the only way I could see myself navigating through the collapse of my marriage without driving myself into complete despair, and I wanted desperately to be healthier to be around for my children if I was flying solo: if it weren’t for them, this journey might have never come to be, as they have been a huge motivator, and now serve as my ‘encouragers’. I was extremely fortunate to win some private fitness lessons at an auction, and working out at home has been my saving grace. I don’t have time for gyms or group things with the reality of a heavy schedule and the ambitions I am determined to see to fruition. I had to recognize that I needed to meet myself where I was, and realize that what works for many other people just doesn’t work for me.
I also think there are dirty secrets that no one talks about regarding weight loss, such as: if you have been heavy a majority of your life (as I have), there is a mental construct of weight that never leaves your mind. In other words, no matter how much my body changes, I carry with me the constant notion that I am a bigger girl in a smaller world. It’s a specific way of thinking where I am constantly navigating as if I am still physically larger: I get nervous having to squeeze by people, I worry if my ass will knock something over when I pass a table, I must mentally pep talk myself into clothes that I know will look good on me now but wouldn’t have a year ago, and it has taken me forever to be sexually comfortable with positions where my body is more exposed. Despite losing a quarter of my weight, I still ‘feel’ myself as fat. I wouldn’t call it body dysmorphia, because at the age of forty-one, I’ve grown comfortable in my skin and have learned to accept and love many of its imperfect parts more than I did when I was previously at my smallest size two decades ago. Rather, it’s a reminder that the weight I have born is carried in more than just my body, and even with therapy, there is a notion that I will always be that bigger girl, because of all the big ‘things’ I have endured.
Another secret no one talks about is how hard it is to tell where you stand with people when you lose weight. It’s difficult to distinguish those who get ‘you’ and those who are now attracted to the shiny outer packaging of a thinner form. Despite enjoying the health benefits of a smaller body, there I times that I miss being a bigger woman. There was no pretense about who accepted you are versus wondering if they merely want something else, such as affection or sex. When men introduce themselves to me in online dating apps and call me beautiful, it doesn’t feel authentic. And not that I don’t believe that I am beautiful, because I’m finally hitting a stride where I understand exactly what my worth is, but it often sounds hollow ringing from their mouths. I often wonder if I put photos of myself when I was heavier into my profile if the response would be the same, or if there would be as many suitors. Other words that create the same ingenuity: sexy, hot, gorgeous, pretty. There is a part of me that will never be content to be boiled down to my physical aspects, and that will always insist that my intellect, creativity, and intelligence be the most notable aspects. And if I can’t be seen through those lenses, I prefer not to be noticed at all.
The last secret I’ve noticed is the guilt I feel in my success. I know that for every pound I lose there is someone trying just as hard that can’t shed the weight they want. And I know that this can happen for numerous reasons, because I’ve been there many a time myself, starting a routine only to self-sabotage, or fall off the ‘healthier you’ wagon. Discipline is fucking hard, and exercise can be grueling. It’s not fun for everyone, and not everyone eventually finds that it brings them everlasting joy and happiness. Emotional baggage can be a bitch to discard. Trauma often lingers in the body, and I’ve found that I can’t see physical changes without confronting those parts of myself that feel tossed and broken. After all, a larger body is weaved from a construct of necessity: it is literally creating a buffer from the harshness of the world we have experienced, a soft suit of armor so to speak. I believe we hold psychic damage in every cell, and the process that comes with releasing that heartache can be enormous work, and until our minds and hearts can let go, the body often clings to its protection, as it should. I’ve also had to learn to cut myself slack: if I am exhausted from a day that felt like a mental lobotomy at work, my body internalizes that, and it may need to do nothing more than park itself and allow me to get lost in a book or television show. Sometimes I fight through those moments, and sometimes I give myself permission to just be a damn sloth. I have a set number of days a week for exercise that I rigidly maintain, but on the days I can take a breather, I no longer allow guilt to creep into my mind. I’ve come to terms that I am not a superhero, and do not need to always exercise like one either.
It’s an odd thing, to undergo such an enormous change and still feel the same, to carry many identical insecurities while discovering new confidences. I like to think of it as a form of metaphysical growth. While many picture the chrysalis of a butterfly, emerging new and dissimilar from its original self, my metamorphosis feels closer to that of a snake, shedding old scales for new. Underneath, I haven’t really changed, and the best parts of me never will. Rather, I emerge ridding myself of the things I no longer need to carry body and soul, the physical weight being just one.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...