March 12, 2014

What it's like to be a fat girl

This morning Rebecca posted a great survey on her blog: questions posed by Cosmopolitan asking what it is like to be a fat girl. Bloggers have been posting their responses, and if you're interested, Charlotte has been compiling links.

I figured I'd throw in my two cents as well. I used to be plus sized, and then I wasn't.

Now, I'm hovering almost exactly in the middle - not quite as big as I was, but not exactly small anymore, and most definitely plus sized again.

(Four or five months ago, but still ... I'm around the same weight. No real dramatic changes since Noah was born nearly a year ago.)


How do you feel when other women around you complain about feeling/being fat?

I automatically reflect their words inward. If this is what she thinks of herself, what must she see in me? It's more a habit of mine, after a lifetime of being obese. Just very self-aware and concerned about what others see when they look at me. I got down to my lowest adult weight and still felt fat and disgusting, because there was always someone smaller who called herself fat. It isn't just women, either. My husband Matt gets upset about having gained weight since the baby was born - he is up 15 or 20 pounds. Meanwhile, I gained nearly 100 and have only lost 20 of it. If he thinks he's fat, he must be repulsed by me.

How has your body image changed since high school? College? 

It's interesting, because a lot of people are average weight through school but then gain weight as they find themselves in college and on their own for the first time. My body image stayed fairly consistent through high school, college, and graduate school: I am fat, I am ugly, and I am weak, so there is nothing I can do about it. When I lost a considerable amount of weight, I felt positive on the surface, but soon realized that my physical body, regardless of size, is not my problem. The issues are much deeper, which is part of why it was so easy to regain so much of the weight.

Have you tried dieting? What happened? 

Oh, yes. Everything under the sun, I've tried. Vegetarian, vegan, the Engine 2 Diet, SlimFast shakes, Special K for two meals a day, Lean Cuisines ... actually, my first ever weight loss blog was a lousy little bit of drivel on Livejournal talking about my experience with Alli - if anyone remembers, it was a fad diet pill about ten or so years ago ... if you ate too much fat, the pills would cause you to get horribly stomach sick. I never actually tried them - I was scared. But I was desperate enough to buy them. The diets would work for the week or so that I stayed on them, but then I felt so deprived (and exhausted from not eating enough after the insanely intense workouts I would commit to for that first week), and I'd end up abandoning my attempt.

Do you think in your case your weight is partly or entirely genetic?  

Yes and no. Most of my family is overweight or obese, but I don't know if that's genetics or environment.

Do you consider yourself healthy? Have there been instances where people assumed you were unhealthy?

At the moment, no, I am not healthy. I am not at a healthy weight, nor do I conduct myself in a healthy manner. I binge eat when I get stressed or anxious, and I don't exercise with any consistency. Even at my smallest, though, I don't know how healthy I was. Initially I was. But once I moved to California, things changed. The majority of the people I met there were ... awful. The women were catty and degrading - they saw my size and assumed I was inactive (they asked what I could possibly be using my Garmin watch for). Later, after I ran my first half marathon, I discovered that my time had been faster than the women who had questioned my abilities. Still, the damage was done. Like I mentioned before, I compared myself to other people - my workouts were never as long as theirs, I wasn't burning as many calories, my clothes were still bigger. So I worked out excessively, and I binged and purged. My long-term goal is not a size anymore. It's not a number, either in my clothes or on the scale. It's health. It's consistently making healthy habits.

Are your parents both supportive of you at the weight you’re at? Have they always been? 

My dad is supportive of me at any weight, though he definitely encourages living a healthy life. He has a lot of health issues that are related (both directly and indirectly) to weight and inactivity, and he wants to make sure that my sisters and I don't end up with the same problems. My mom, though, is difficult. Not supportive of anything, ever. But that's an entire blog post unto itself.

How do you think retailers can improve clothes for plus-size people? 

I agree with Rebecca, that making sizes standard would be a great start. Making fashionable clothing in larger sizes would be nice, too - the clothes in larger sizes tend to be rather matronly. Lastly, the pricing needs to be much more reasonable. When I was smaller, I marveled at how cheap adorable dresses were. Now that I am back in plus sizes, though, I avoid buying clothes as much as I can. It's almost prohibitively expensive, especially considering that I do not want to be this size for much longer.

Do you think plus-size women are judged differently than plus-sized men are? How?

Yes, I do. Looking at plus-size men and women in movies and on TV, the representations are almost always very different. Overweight and obese women are bad, gross, lazy. Men, though, are normal. They get the girl. It's much easier for characters to see value beyond the size of a plus-sized man than a woman. That doesn't mean that the biases don't exist for men, just that I think they aren't as pronounced.

Do you think there’s an assumption made/stereotype that exists about plus-size people? How would you respond to it?

I think people tend to assume correlations between size and health. Big people are lazy, they don't know how to exercise, they don't ever eat healthy foods. I make a lot of bad food choices these days, but I am still intensely aware of what the right choices are. One of the most insulting things I've ever heard was from a midwife who, without any knowledge of my weight and disordered eating history, blamed my pregnancy weight gain on ignorance about calorie information - her exact word were you probably don't know how many calories are in soda. I hadn't had soda in years at that point.

Do you think there’s ever a right way or time to express concern about someone’s weight? 

I think it depends on the relationship with the person. One of the biggest motivators for me when I lost the weight the first time was a series of emails from my cousin where she expressed her concerns about my health. There was no name calling, no accusations. Just gentle coaxing - saying that I invest so much in my mind, so let's see what we can do about taking care of my body.

She was family. That said, I was part of a Facebook group that shared recipes and experiences with a particular way of eating, and I had to remove myself because it was triggering me. It was insane, the things that people were posting - especially saying things about how they wanted to go up to fat people in restaurants and tell them about this eating plan. I argued against actions like that: you have no idea what someone's health may be just by looking at them, especially not strangers. This person may be 300 pounds, but maybe before he or she was 600 pounds. He or she may eat on-plan for 364 days, this is his or her one off-plan meal for the year. You can't tell that by looking at someone, and I guarantee that going up to people and saying things about what they should or should not be eating is not going to go over so well.

What are the worst things people have said to you about your body? 

The worst things I've heard were barbs from strangers. Things shouted out of windows of cars. Again, people making judgments based on what I look like without knowing anything about my health. I don't remember precisely when, but at some point during my pregnancy (I think between 5 and 6 months), someone shouted something horrible out of a car window and threw a soda bottle at my stomach. I cried for hours.

What have people said (or do you wish they’d say) that would compliment your body or appearance?

I would like to hear compliments based on what I do, rather than what I wear (be it clothes or extra weight).

Do you find yourself hanging out with women who are closer to your size?

My friends are all diversely sized, but tend to be smaller. Interestingly enough, when I initially lost the weight, many of my friendships changed. I had always been the biggest friend by a wide margin, so I lost a few friends who were uncomfortable with me being smaller than them. I don't consider these dead relationships losses. I have no room in my life for people who are petty or childish.

How has your weight affected your sex life, if at all?

Yes and no. At my largest, I used sex as a painkiller - I was very casual with my habits, and let myself be used by men who did not care about me. It made me feel powerful - I may not have the small body I covet, but I have this. At my smallest, I was cautious and skeptical. For the first time ever, a man showed interest in me without having met him online. He didn't know my weight history, which was a blessing and a curse. I was so vulnerable, so innocent. And I ended up getting very hurt.

Right now, I weigh about as much as I did when I tried dating during my year of intense weight loss. On the way down, this weight felt great, and I was surprisingly confident. Now, though, I feel unattractive and uncomfortable in my own skin. I feel bad for my husband, sorry that he has to deal with this body of mine. He says he loves me still, that I'm beautiful, that my size doesn't matter. Still, I often find myself making excuses to avoid intimacy because I am so self-conscious.

When you’ve been single, has your weight affected your dating life?

I avoided dating until I felt I had lost enough weight to be tolerable. (Again, a confidence thing.) I tried dating at my largest, and it was just horrible. The guys were terrible, just mean and indecent. I got treated terribly, and I let it happen because I thought it was better than being alone. At my size, it was the best I could get.

Do you feel weird if the guy you’re with only dates larger women?

Yes. The guy I was involved with in California was like this. It made me so anxious. I was at my lowest adult weight but still wanted to lose more - so to find out that he preferred bigger girls was stressful. Will he still like me if I lose weight? What is it about me that he likes, my body or my personality? Being smaller brought a whole new realm of stresses.

Do you feel weird if he’s only dated slimmer women before you?

No, but only because I was so big before that it's unlikely that he would have dated women bigger than me.


Becky said...

I can relate to so many of your answers and I thank you for posting this and answering so open and honestly. :)

That Loud Redhead said...

I really enjoyed reading have some really insightful answers that resonate with me in a lot if ways. Thank you for sharing!

Running Meg said...

Thank you for posting this and sharing. Like the previous commenter said, I can relate to SO MANY of your answers.

Amanda said...

Thank you, as always, for sharing this, Mary! I related to so many of your answers, it's very odd the mental changes that happen (or are harder to make happen) on this journey!

Cortney said...

Wow, I haven't commented in a long time but I have kept up with your blog. Thank you for your honest answers on this! I relate to so much of what you have written, especially the parts about dating and sex. "At my size, it was the best I could get," is something I have felt too. I just really appreciated this.