Weight loss is weird
Why, you might wonder, couldn’t life have just been easier and kinder when you were bigger?
I had no idea how weird going from living in a fat body to a not-fat body can be until I experienced it.
For so long, I only saw weight loss stories of complete, transformative triumph–the body was “fixed.” The work was done. But significant weight loss is like anything else related to the body: complicated, strange, and not always what’s expected.
Many fat people’s experiences are far more difficult than anything I’ve experienced in my body now or when I was fatter. I was only “small fat” at my largest; the bigger you are, the harder things can be. Lack of options and access, stigma, harassment–incidents of weight loss-related weirdness are small potatoes in comparison. Still, here’s what I’ve observed:
People act like you’re a real person now
Shonda Rhimes has written that when she lost more than 100 pounds, people “gushed.”
“After I lost weight, I discovered that people found me valuable,” she says. “Worthy of conversation. A person one could look at. A person one could compliment. A person one could admire.”
I spent the first few months after losing about 30 percent of my body weight staggering across an alien landscape. People said I was “a different person” as if I’d shed and replaced my very soul. The world became kinder, which charmed and then enraged me. More people flirted with me or told me I was beautiful, which titillated then depressed me. I was springing into bloom from compliments, then withering at what they suggested about the me that was almost 70 pounds heavier.
The people closest to me have always found me worthy of love, conversation, and respect, I know. But the gushing still boggles the mind, because you might find that no one gushes about other things quite like they do about weight loss.
People think losing weight is the most important thing you’ve ever done
I’ve written before about how a “before-and-after” weight loss photo I posted on Instagram years ago is the most-liked thing I’ve ever posted (and about why I wouldn’t post one now).
I wrote: “It seems that the most celebrated things the everyday, non-influencer woman will announce in her life are an engagement/wedding, a pregnancy/birth, or weight loss.”
People in my life were more effusive about my weight loss than anything else I’ve ever done. I don’t think it’s my most impressive accomplishment. It’s up there, sure, but I’ve rappelled down a fucking skyscraper. I medaled in my first powerlifting competition at age 31. I’ve won live storytelling contests by spilling my guts to strangers. I’ve had the Washington Post, the New York Times, and The Atlantic to pay me for my writing after a lifetime of wanting to be a professional writer. Losing weight and seeing where your other accomplishments fall in the hierarchy of what’s celebrated is, well, weird. It seems most things you do are really only important to you—except for what you do with your body. That seems like everyone’s business.
The reason my weight loss is on the “impressive things” list isn’t just because my body got smaller. My weight loss is related to confronting disordered eating and using exercise to get physically and mentally stronger. That’s what I’m most proud of. But people don’t know at first blush why or how I lost weight. I suspect they would have reacted the same way if I’d secretly eaten nothing but weight loss lollipops for four months to achieve the same result.
You might have nasty thoughts about you “old” self or others
On the podcast Maintenance Phase, co-host Michael Hobbes said that while he knows this doesn’t apply to everyone, people who used to be fat can be some of the most fatphobic people. I think about this a lot.
How does the fatphobia our culture teaches us manifest in what I say or do? What unkind or harmful thoughts or actions have I brought with me into a smaller size? Have I evangelized about weight loss to people who don’t want to hear it? Have I internalized years of people’s judgements, assumptions, and critiques of my fatter body and let those inform how I think about fatness, or the body I once had? I know I have, and I know I don’t want to.
So I take in as much body acceptance content as I can, to mine these movements for the ideas that weren’t available to me when I was fat. I don’t always agree with what’s said in these spaces. Often, the discourse makes me agitated or uncomfortable. Sometimes that’s because people say objectively outrageous things online. But sometimes that’s because I’m feeling legitimately called out on something I do or think and don’t like that I do or think. Then I have to decide where I go from there.
That work is very hard.
People will “fat bash” around you now
I’ve heard people talk about themselves or other people as “gross” or “huge” at a weight I once eclipsed by more than 50 pounds. I’ve heard people make nasty body comments about women the same size I used to be. I’ve had a doctor characterize her fat patients as “lazy,” I suppose in some misguided attempt to bond with me, when she learned I’d lost weight. I hear in these comments the disgust for a version of me I’m not disgusted by, that I didn’t think was inherently or perpetually lazy.
These kinds of comments really show you how some people feel about bigger bodies and, of course, how they felt about yours.
People might scope out and comment on your food
When you lose weight, people want to see what you eat. The food surveillance I’ve encountered was deeply discomforting, especially when I was first getting over routine binge eating and was adjusting to meals that worked for me.
“Oh, you’re being good?” people would say if I was eating a salad at work.
“Of course you’re eating that,” I’ve heard more than once.
My food is not a statement on the morality of food in general, yours, or anyone else’s. Sometimes I choose a salad (to be clear: a big-ass, 575-calorie-plus salad with chicken, sweet potato, avocado–the works, baby) over pizza because pizza can be a binge-from-hell trigger food. I’m not eating “keys to weight loss” foods. I’m eating the same old stuff I like that I’ve been eating for years. Nothing to see here.
We seem unable to escape these food comments–when I was bigger I got different ones, and I get them now. Both are vexing.
Besides, “That looks good,” say nothing of what other people are eating.
You might get obsessed with yourself
At first, I was as infatuated with my “new” body as other people seemed to be. Obsessing about my body seemed unavoidable. I had to buy new clothes, so I compulsively tried things on. I got lost in the mirror. I was vain and smug. I scrutinized photos of myself as if I was a stranger. People constantly talked to me about my body so I became hyper-attuned to it, too. I felt more eyes on me than I was used to, because as a fat woman I felt largely invisible. I simultaneously loved it, felt disgusted with myself for loving it, was freaked out by it, and was anxious about being freaked out by it.
Sometimes, the invisibility just felt easier.
You see how much easier life is, and it can be sad
The most profound weirdness of all is realizing—while totally benefitting from it—how much our society values and prioritizes smaller bodies. You see just how much easier life can be, how much kinder the world can be. You might, as writer Aubrey Gordon puts it, “disappear into the sunlight of thinness” and be overcome by how wonderful that sunlight feels on your face. You might enjoy it while also feeling a little sad. Why, you might wonder, couldn’t life have just been easier and kinder when you were bigger?
The unquestionable value of body acceptance movements is that they bring attention to how unjust things can be for people in bigger bodies. These movements ask why it has to be so hard and offer potential solutions and the idea that people deserve respect and peace no matter their size.
I wouldn’t change what’s happened with my body. I am much more at peace now and have been for years. But I often think of theater artist Glenn Marla’s quote: “There is no wrong way to have a body.” I’ve had two very different bodies in my life, and so can’t help but amend that truism: I haven’t found an easy way, either.