January 26, 2012

Secret identity

When I was back in Chicago, my office was next to that of the department head. I had taken courses with her as a grad student, and I felt incredibly lucky to work with her as a colleague. She was brilliant, of course, but also, she was the kind of professor (and the kind of person in general) who made you feel like you could do anything. She helped me go confidently into my Masters exams; having her on my oral defense panel helped me stay calm and collected as I presented my resesarch and fielded questions from her and the other faculty members. But the best support I got from her was in my weight loss efforts. Every day, she'd pop her head into my office and comment on how great I looked. She'd ask about how running was going and what race I was going to do next. And she'd update me on her own running and workout progress, saying I inspired her to get out and get active again. Hearing that you've inspired someone who inspires you? There are few better feelings in the world.

To say that I've missed her since moving to California would be an understatement. First, because I miss having other French-speaking faculty to bounce ideas off of. But also, because since I started at my new university, I haven't found the same kind of support. It isn't because there aren't any good people here - quite the contrary in fact. I have a lot of great faculty and staff members in my department. The fault, I think, is kind of my own.

I made a decision when I moved to keep my super obese past a secret. In getting healthy, I'd been given the opportunity to live the kind of life I'd never lived before. Now, I had the chance to present myself as someone who'd lived this way her whole life. And I took it. There are two people in this town who know about the weight loss: my former office mate (who was also on her own weight loss journey), and Justin. My boss, my co-workers, my friends ... no one else has a clue. It's had its ups and downs.

On the positive side (and as I write this, I'm questioning how positive it actually is), I haven't felt any pressure about my plateau. They don't know I lost so much weight so quickly before, so the fact that my weight hasn't changed in five months isn't surprising. Negatively, though, this really isn't an ideal weight to act as if this has always been my normal. If I were at goal, it would be one thing. But on any given day, I've been 40-50 pounds away from the higher end of my weight loss goal range. It's not how it ought to be, but I think that most people see a bigger person and assume their weight is on the way up, not down. People here don't know that it used to be tough for me to get out of bed. They don't know I raced up the stairs of my office building. They don't know I cried every time I bought jeans at Old Navy, because it's still new to me, buying clothes at a non-plus size store as an adult. They see a bigger person, not knowing the true history of how big this body used to be.

Luckily, and I hope I'm not jinxing myself, there haven't been any physical body judgements - no rude comments from strangers, no curses yelled from car windows. For that, I'm quite grateful. But there have been quite a few biases: mostly with regard to athletic ability. There was the store clerk who assumed that of the two of us, Justin (the tall and thin one) would be the athlete. The worst, though, has been a few of the members of my book club.

Of the six or seven members, about half of us are runners. And without fail, every time someone brings up running and I offer my two cents, someone makes a disbelieving comment - "wait, you run?" The first time, it was maybe a little understandable. But the three or four times it has come up since then have been somewhat inexcusable. My personal favorite are-you-flippin'-kidding-me moment was Halloween weekend, when we all sat around carving pumpkins. Someone started talking about wanting a GPS watch, and I said that I loved my Garmin and that it hadn't been terribly expensive. One woman's response? "What do you use it for?" Then there was an incident about a week ago where I contacted a few of them about running a local race, which received a declining reply paired with "oh, have you ever ran a race before?" These women are half marathoners, a title I'm exceptionally proud to be able to also call myself, but for some reason, the idea of me being a runner keeps surprising them.

Seeking a little self-assurance, I put one of their names into Google along with the phrase "half marathon results." And while I know that finishing time isn't everything, it felt really, really good to see that this thin woman who calls herself a runner but consistently doubts my athletic ability had a finishing time nearly eight minutes longer than mine.

At the next appropriate opportunity, I think I'm going to "come out" to my book club: yes, I am a runner, and I am also a formerly super obese person. I'd love their support and encouragement, like I got from my professor back in Chicago. But most of all, I just hope that they recognize that appearances can most definitely be deceiving - this body of mine is big, but it is fast. It is a work in progress, not quite where it will end up, but incredibly far from where it started. It is flawed, mutilated, and scarred from years of mistreatment, but it is lovely and it is mine, and I am intensely in love with it and all that I have realized I am capable of accomplishing with it.

29 comments:

Kelliann said...

OMG, I know JUST what you mean. When I started going back to school for Nutrition, I felt the need to explain to everyone that I was once a LOT bigger... because I felt there was a lot of judgement on why this "fat girl was interested in nutrition" (my words, not theirs)
In my first session for a nutrition class this week, the teacher asked us all to tell the class something about why we were here. I used it to come out - I had lost over 150 lbs and still losing, and I want to help others do the same. I saw practically the whole class say "OOOh, I understand now!" LOL
I'm sorry you are having a hard time with "running acceptance". If it's any consolation, I think you look like a runner!!! :-)

Mom on a mission said...

I think you should be open about your weight loss journey. Never be ashamed of how hard you have worked or where you have came from . Stand up and be proud!! :)

LynnieG said...

Good morning. I would definitely 'come out' to them. Give it a little time to sink in and then decide whether these are people worth continuing a relationship with. Congrats on the 1/2 marathon and all the work you've done. Your writing continues be be beautiful and inspiring - just like you.
Have a nice day!

Miss April said...

The misconceptions and flat out 'wtf moments' and comments from others is amazing - and I don't mean that in a good way. I like the idea of 'coming out' to them and look forward to hearing about it. I don't doubt that they will open their eyes and realize you are a true champion in ever way.

I absolutely love the last couple lines of this post, you are so inspiring.

❀❀ Dawn (Lay Down My Idols) ❀❀ said...

Great post!
Dawn

fatboy kris said...

Great post. You kick ass all on your own. Keep it up. My Calculating Calories page has a bit of advice on breaking plateaus, if you're interested.

Denise said...

ARE THESE THE WOMEN? Because damn.

Denise said...

P.S. I admire the snot out of you.

Jillian said...

I love the fact that you googled that woman...that sounds like something I would do. I think that "outing" yourself to them is a good idea. Most importantly (to me, anyway), is that it will probably make them shut up. Second of all, you might inspire someone else, or discover that another member has a secret identity similar to your own. You might find some accountability along the way as well. Good luck, let us know how it goes.

Caron said...

I've found that an awful lot of people kind of "half" listen to other people. I really listen and I retain bits of information that sometimes surprises people when I mention it. Perhaps the "thin" one and others are only half listening when you say that you are a runner. Not excusing them though. :)

Jill said...

I'm delurking to say that I SUPER LOVE THIS POST.

At 5'3" and 185 pounds I am very close to finishing C25k - something I never ever really thought I could do. This "obese" woman can run 2 miles (albeit slowly) without stopping and more importantly, without dying.

Body size has NOTHING to do with fitness, but I didn't really believe that until I proved it to MYSELF.

PS - I majored in French in college with the hope of teaching one day. Various reasons got in the way of that, and I'm doing NOTHING with my French major now. I love reading your blog because you are living my dream! I'm pulling for you - in everything you do. :)

Carbie Girl said...

Um... mary, have they not seen those gams that you are sporting? My goodness, the muscles in your calves have got to be a damn good indication. A friend of mine recently went through something similar. Shes a runner and health fanatic but still a rather solid girl... (muscle and fat) but has been feeling awesome about herself. She has a group of friends that she goes to the gym with and amongst the trainers she has found out shes referred to as "The short fat girl"... which stung her pretty badly. Shes come a long way in her efforts and is quite comfortable with her body as its still changing but ignorance (both innocent and blatantly rude ignorance) can make our defenses come up more than we'd like. I'd definitely bring the topic up for discussion. It should be a real eye and mind opener for them!! xoxo

SeeAliEatSeeAliRun said...

I think that it's so important to seek out support! I definitely would "come out" if you think it will affect you life positively :)
Good luck!!

Christie Farrar said...

I think... you need to find a new book club. What you are doing is looking for reassurance from these women who seem to consistently doubt your abilities. Uh, after mentioning it a few times, it should not be so shocking to them and their condescending attitudes aren't going to magically change when you tell them you used to be 345 lbs and now you run half marathons, and oh, by the way, you beat her time by 8 minutes...

Cue backlash.

No, I'd not even mention it. Not because you should be ashamed, but because I don't see how they would suddenly become supportive NOW instead of before, does that make sense? Don't seek approval from those unwilling to give it, Mary.

quirksandsmirks said...

BE PROUD of your accomplishments. Anyone who will react to you through bias isn't worth the time. I really admire how forthcoming you are - I've avoided telling people about my recent half-marathon and my future running plans because I'm afraid someone will react in the way you described. Your positive outlook and self-confidence really hits me every time you post.

SkippyMom said...

I have to agree whole heartedly with Mary. Besides, women can be a catty bunch and your book club sounds a bit over the top in that department. I also like the suggestion of finding a new book club, especially if they bother you so much. They don't sound like they are going to be anymore understanding even if you do tell them about your journey.

If it is so important that you prove your point that you are a runner/athlete there are websites where you can design your own t shirts. Hop on one and logo it up with the fact you have completed a half marathon plus your great time and then wear it to the next meeting. Barring that, why don't you just wear the medal you received for finishing? That would get your point across. :)

marisol said...

I would love to be a fly on the wall of your next book club meeting. Just because you are skinny does not mean you are fit. Two weeks ago when I walked 8 miles & was feeling pretty good about myself, I went to my friend's house for lunch. We were talking about the upcoming trip to Vegas for the Color Run (which is a 5K). Her niece who is my age and who weighs about 110 pounds asked us why we were going to Vegas. We told her and invited her & she said that she probably couldn't even walk 5K. She asked if I was going to be walking it with a bit of an attitude. Whatever, I didn't let it bother me because I probably weight close to 2.5X than she does & I walked 8 miles that morning. Moral of the story... don't judge a book by its cover.

People who judge tend to me more insecure about themselves. it's their issue not yours.

screaming fatgirl said...

I think the approval and admiration of others means too much to you and it'd be better to focus on learning to find internal validation with your choices. What does it matter if these people look at your body and reach conclusions? It's that sort of thinking which places the locus of control for your identity outside of yourself. You know you run. You know you lost weight. You are still entrenched in the mindset that you had when you were heavier - that is, allowing others to define you and being upset when that definition isn't the one you want.

"Coming out" is just a way of getting pats on the back from people whose opinions don't matter. At what point will you be happy with who you are independent of the views of others?

Tiffany said...

You're amazing.

It's kind of too bad that you have to "come out" to be respected for what you're capable of. We are such prejudicial creatures - we have preconceived ideas of what groups of people should look and be like. You don't have to be 5'9 and super thin to run. You've proven that. Running a half is awesome! I ran my first half last spring and it was the most amazing feeling EVER!

You are so inspiring. I can't imagine the drive and commitment it takes to lose 150 pounds and actually keep it off. Last year I lost 17 pounds, only to gain it all back before the year was out.

Keep it up. I love hearing about your journey. You are so real, so honest, and so motivating.

timothy said...

i think you should make a "date" to go running with them. mayhaps a 5 or 10k for charity (it's hard to decline a charity event too much guilt! lol) the proof is in the pudding as they say (jello sugar free of course lol) hiding your past can be tempting but it also can be a double edged sword with friends not realizing dropping off goodies you shouldn't have etc etc. besides they deserve to know the whole spectacular person you are! xoxoxoxoxo

Tammy said...

You have done more amazing things with your body and mind then I can even comprehend!!!

Be Proud! You never know who else you might inspire in your new world.

:)

CarolineC said...

I think ultimately you are happier if you live as openly and authentically as possible. But maybe that's just me since I tend to be an oversharer. Those women in your book club sound terrible. Screw them.

Hyla said...

I think you should be open about it to people that deserve it.

Do they deserve to know you? Because quite frankly, they sound like snobs, big time.

Go Abroad and Beyond said...

Just came across your blog...Congrats on the 13.1! It's a great accomplishment keep going!! I have heard the same thing before.when I just started running..and even get a bit insulted now when people say "you lost a ton of weight!!" Why can't people just say good for you, you look great!

Shannon said...

Maybe coming out to them will make them rethink their thinking about who can and who cannot be an athlete. They need to realize that athletes come in all shapes and sizes.

Great post, as always, Mary.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Claire said...

Delurking too, to say that you are an inspiration to me. I am currently on my own weight loss journey to lose 50 lbs and a runner too 1/2 marathon finisher (you are faster than me :) ) and you are all shades of inspiring to me.

-Claire

sizingdown said...

You know what? When you are ready, you should show them all your before picture, proving once and for all that you are a tough woman made of the stern stuff that can drop 100+ pounds. Then tell them your race time, just because.

Munchberry said...

Maybe you should consider wearing shorts to book club. I have seen those legs.

A good lesson in not being THAT girl who judges and decides the truth before getting all the info.

Your book club folks don;t sound all that great. There are no other book clubs?

Outing yourself has its own set of difficulties and judgments. Consider the pros and cons and do it only if it will make you feel good about yourself and are sure it will put you at greater ease.

Nice to see ya!

Tim said...

Whether you decide to come out with your past or not, i'm sure you'll make the right decision.

I love how you searched for her on google, that made me smile probably because i would have done the same haha.

It's a shame the department head from Chicago is so far away but maybe it's now your turn to become the lady who makes people believe they can do anything they want to (I think you're probably that lady already if I'm honest).