I don’t know if I’m any more conscious of what I look like than any other woman, but maybe because I was obese up until 9 years ago (I used to weigh 265 lbs. and had a Body Mass Index of 43, which is clinically morbidly obese, and I now weigh 145 lbs. with a BMI of 23) I am keenly aware of how other people perceive my appearance.
It won’t come as a surprise to you that, in general, people treat me differently now than they did when I was fat.
Back then I lived a strange dichotomy as the most invisible yet the most conspicuous person in the room everywhere I went. We are taught as children not to stare at people who are different in some way, so as adults we’re conditioned to look through people who are different (e.g. grossly overweight, disabled, homeless). We tell ourselves it’s because we don’t want to make them uncomfortable, but I’ve come to believe that it’s because their different-ness makes us uncomfortable.
But back to my point, people treat me differently now that I am a “normal” size.
To be fair, I must accept some responsibility for this myself. It’s true that these days I smile more. I make eye contact more. I think it’s just because I’m happier, but it’s also because I know that I will almost always get a favorable reaction now, and that was not always the case.
In the years since I transformed my body I have become a marathon runner and a bodybuilder. I eat a very healthy diet: (almost) no processed foods, just good wholesome real food. I don’t “diet” but I don’t overindulge either.
I take my health very seriously and I don’t take it or my weight loss for granted.
As a result, I have been able to maintain my 120-pound weight loss for nearly a decade. That is remarkable if by no other measure than statistical, since the norm is to regain. (And yes, I rode that rollercoaster too for a very long time before I changed my lifestyle for good.)
And I’m not gonna lie: I don’t look half bad for an old girl. (I’m 53.)
So why the hell does it make me so uncomfortable when people say, “Wow, you look great!”?
I guess because what I look like shouldn’t really matter. In fact, what someone else thinks about my appearance is really none of my concern.
Whether or not someone else thinks I look good has much more to do with them than it does with me. Frankly, it just means that I fit into their preconceived idea of physical beauty.
But to that I say: “Meh.” I mean, so what?
Whatever your ideal of beauty is doesn’t really have anything to do with who I am and how I choose to present myself to the world.
Let me be clear though: it’s totally fine for you to have an ideal of beauty – I have mine too. I think sunsets are beautiful, ballet is beautiful, and I happen to think that defined muscle is beautiful. But that’s just my preferred aesthetic. It doesn’t mean that I don’t see beauty in cloudy days, in contemporary dance, or in people who don’t have defined muscle.
And I certainly don’t think that having defined muscle – or any other physical shape or characteristic – makes one person any better than another.
I suppose, as a former fat girl, I might be more sensitive to this issue than some. But doggone it, why do we save our smiles and our eye contact for “pretty” girls? Why not tell a friend that you admire her tenacity or her perseverance, rather than commenting on what she looks like? Why not celebrate the fact that she stood her ground with her passive aggressive boss, or that she can now do bicep curls with 20 lb. weights instead of 15s. (And can I just say, that is hella awesome!)
Now, I am not going to complain when someone says I look good (that would be rude), but let’s just think for a moment about what that really means, both for the person who says it and for the person who hears it.
We are human beings in a physical body, yes. But we are also spiritual beings. As we walk this earth, some of our bodies are big and some are small. Some are deemed “beautiful” while others become invisible because they are, well … not.
So okay, tell me what I look like if you want to, but then tell me what you’re passionate about. Or share your sorrow. Or just smile at me.
When we take the time to connect and appreciate each other on a deeper level it enriches us all.