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.