changing my identity
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
I was always a fat girl. Maybe not in reality, but in my head. In elementary school I was tall and strong, and bore no resemblance to my ballet-dancing, gymastics-twirling little classmates. Once I hit middle school I began gaining weight, and by the time I was a freshman I wore a size 16. I was officially a fat girl, bigger than all my friends.
I stayed about the same size, ranging from 185 to 205 pounds, all the way through high school, college, and beyond. I tried diet after diet, but I never did more than move to the low end of my range before I would self-destruct and begin eating in earnest again. I decided fat was just the way I was, that I was not destined to ever be a normal sized girl.
Nearly three years ago I met a nice boy, and inexplicably, the extra weight started to fall off. Even more importantly, my emotional eating and bingeing got a lot less severe. For the first time, I think, I didn't have to worry about how fat or ugly I was or whether I would ever find somebody to like me--I finally had value and didn't need to sit around loathing myself anymore.
I lost 30 pounds in a few months, and suddenly I didn't recognize myself anymore. I would stare at my reflection in mirrors, trying to re-learn the shape of my face and the new way my arms looked when they moved. Clothes were a mystery; I spent hours in dressing rooms, trying to find new clothes to suit this new me.
And now I am losing more weight. I'm down to a weight lower than I've ever been. I've started staring at my reflection again, trying to learn the nuances of this changing body--the way my muscles and bones show more. It's contradictory, too, though. I feel so thin sometimes, as though I should be a supermodel or something. But in the mirror I still have a flabby tummy and saddlebags, my arms have some jiggle to lose and my thighs are anything but slim. I'm stuck between the new me and the old me--what am I? Am I thin or fat or normal? Am I slender or chunky? I can answer these questions based on numbers, BMI and body fat and the size of my jeans, but at a deeper level my identity's a bit confused at the moment.
I've heard it takes several months to fully adjust to a new weight, and it makes sense. Regardless of sizes and numbers, our view of ourselves is deeply ingrained and doesn't change overnight. I think this is one of the problems I had with dieting in the past--I wasn't a "skinny girl", so why should I act like one, feel like one, or eat like one? It wasn't who I was. Identifying with a healthy, thinner version of myself helps me act accordingly.