For All Formerly Obese Girls
"Have you lost weight?”
It’s such a weird and confusing question, though on the surface it’s simple. When asked, it presents the person with an uncomfortable crossroads. It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot in the past couple of months. Do I agree? Say “Why yes, I have! Thanks for noticing!”? Not a great option for me since I think it makes me feel like I’m bragging or whatever, not to mention the fact the conversation isn’t my favorite to have. The other option is to say “Oh, no I didn’t.” which is just a blatant lie. These people aren’t dumb or hallucinating; it’s almost impossible to ignore the fifty pounds I left behind somewhere between my senior year of high school and now. To acknowledge the weight loss can sometimes be akin to acknowledging my former obesity. While I recognize most people are well-meaning, often it just brings back images of a girl who was always uncomfortable with herself. Societal pressures and standards have made us not be able to broach the topic of weight when it comes to being overweight, but has told us that weight loss is something to be celebrated.
Being obese is a really weird medical problem to have. The peculiarity is two-fold, with the first nuance being that there is an illusion of choice in the matter. There’s no argument that poor diet and lack of exercise lead to obesity, and there is no argument for me that at my peak weight, these factors were major players. But for myself and many other obese people, genetics and hidden conditions also play a huge role. Science says that your height is about 80% due to genetics while your weight comes in at about 70%. A hormonal imbalance that was not detected until my senior year of college, long after it had corrected itself a few years earlier, contributed to my struggle to lose weight in high school. For others, things such as thyroid conditions, medications and a myriad of other medical rarities play into it. Most of those rarities sit only imprinted on strands of DNA and only on HIPAA protected papers. What doesn’t afford the same privacy are the bulges around my thighs and the lips of skin near my underarms. This brings us to the second particular of being obese; you can’t hide it and it’s a condition that does not know how to whisper. I always felt as though my love handles and wide thighs loudly clambered into rooms ten steps before my soul did. I still do. Obesity quickly becomes part of your identity because you have no other choice in the matter. It dictates your wardrobe, your first impression, your confidence. It somehow manages to make changes to the very operating system of your body. These weird facets of the condition make it hard for people to acknowledge obesity. To be real, most people don’t enjoy being fat. Standards have said that fat is ugly and bad and should be changed. I would argue that obesity is the medical condition that has the strongest correlation to a person’s self-image. When someone says that you are obese, the traits implicated to that condition have the power to alter the very way someone views themselves, so we avoid the conversation entirely. Bringing up weight loss does the same thing; it can make someone formerly obese alter their self image.
None of this is to say that people who are obese can never find satisfaction within themselves. Even at my highest weights and darkest moments I always felt whole. Doctors told me that my weight didn’t pose any pressing health concerns and I still had family and friends who loved me regardless of the size tag on my pants. Everyone has a different value system, so if health is of high value to someone, they may find satisfaction in seeing pounds roll away. If people are satisfied with the numbers on the scale and the feelings in their heart when they see them, no one gets to make the determination that that feeling is not okay.
In my case, I never set out to lose weight. I picked up running as a way to cope with a breakup. When my legs were moving was the only time I didn’t feel angry or upset or hurt; when I ran, I didn’t feel anything but air coming in and out of my lungs. The weight loss was merely a side effect of my new found hobby. Fundamentally, I am still the same girl who used her humor to hide her humiliation and overly scrutinizes photographic evidence of her existence. I am still a little too self-aware for her own good and am often too harsh on myself when thinking about my weight. However, I also know that as of late, I have walked a little taller and smiled a little brighter, thinking about the stretch marks on my chest and stomach and thighs that serve as my private badge of honor. When writing write this, I was concerned that I would seem like a bitch. I didn’t want to come across as a girl whining about receiving compliments. At the risk of speaking for all formerly obese girls, I’ll conclude with the sentiment that we don’t mind and do appreciate the comment, but it’s just a weird concept for people to talk about our bodies when they were so actively avoided in the past. When we get uncomfortable or try to shift the topic away from weight, it’s not from an ungrateful or rude place, just a way to help shield the shadow of a person we used to be.