Except that everyone loves to talk about being fat
Man, I really wanted to write a long post about how much better and smarter and amazing I am now that I’ve lost 100 pounds. How much thinner I am. Maybe some clever words about my poor boobs, and about my clothes, and then I could post some before-and-afters, and then the congratulations could pour in.
But the truth is so much more complicated. Losing 100 pounds doesn’t make you smarter, more organized, or able to find your car keys. It doesn’t make me a better wife, a better mother, or a better writer.
Really, it just makes me smaller. And squishier. And more confused than ever about the role of women and weight and hunger and exercise and our culture.
So instead I wrote to Roxane Gay, who seems to write about weight and women with raw truth and clarity. And I’m grateful for it.
I read your book, “Hunger,” while on a plane ride to my mother’s funeral.
My mother’s weight defined her, even more than her mental illness, her genius, her years in jail, her four children, (or her seven children, depending on how you count.)
I have lived my life trying to be whatever my mother was not, which, of course, has been impossible and has forced me into defining my life by being the other side of her coin.
And then, horror of horrors, I got fat.
Just like my mother.
I know what fat means.
I know what it feels like to have a fat mom in our culture.
I know what it means when a man has a fat wife.
I can, at the same time, hold absolute the truth that we are not the size of our body, that no one should hold shame over weight, that fat is a social construct, and that hatred of fat women is rooted in misogyny, and at the same time also deeply want to be a size eight with great boobs, hate the size of my body, be disgusted by my lack of self-control and willpower, understand that it’s not at all about self-control and willpower, hate the medical industry for turning dieting into an industry that fails us, and wish for a magic pill.
I read “Hunger” while getting ready to attend the funeral of a deeply complicated woman who was raped as a child and wore her weight as a shield against men.
Let me just say that the wrong men can easily penetrate a shield made of flesh: They just have to cut more deeply.
I wore a seat-belt extender on the airplane ride. I bought it on Amazon, just in case. I was exactly the wrong size for the seat. I could, if necessary, squeeze into the airplane seat and the belt, if I squeezed my hips and squished the belt just so and then didn’t move the entire ride.
But I bought a $6 extender and had it with me and used it, hiding it from my husband and my children and using it “discreetly” so that I could pretend that they couldn’t see how much space I took up.
It was not lost on me that my mother said her body was a cage from which she could not escape. Or that when I was 13 and had started gaining weight, she told me that her worst nightmare would be that I’d have to shop at Lane Bryant with her.
Or that she had been excited to be dead soon, to not have to live in that body anymore.
Or, that while she stood in a nightgown one day, weighing more than 350 pounds, with missing teeth and gray hair, she told me that my husband would leave me and sleep with other women because no one wanted a woman who looked like I did.
So I read “Hunger,” and cried, and thought about my body, and felt both smug and ashamed, because I had a secret: I had an appointment for weight-loss surgery in less than two months.
Sure, I had to see all of my family while I was fat, and they would all see me as my mother’s fattest daughter and the one who was starting to look like her. But in a year, I’d be thin. And then I’d put it all behind me.
Well, it’s been a year.
I had weight-loss surgery on Nov. 20, 2017. I told a select group of people on Facebook. Honestly, I would have told the world, but there were three men I’ve slept with that I didn’t want knowing about it.
How screwed up is that?
I was afraid they’d think I was weak, that I’d taken the easy way out, that I was cheating. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I’d ever been fat, much less that I cheated my way out of it. Especially not to ex-boyfriends. So I blocked one of them because he’s an asshole, and the other two? Well, I’ve given up caring what ex-boyfriends think about the size of my ass.
Turns out it’s more important what I think.
For fourteen months, I’ve been vague about the weight loss with people on Facebook. “A doctor helped me with it,” and “keto,” and “low-carb,” and all the rest.
I’m assuming that anyone who really cares about me knows, and it’s really none of anyone else’s business.
But I swore that the day I lost 100 pounds, I’d write about the weight loss surgery.
I didn’t want to, because it’s fraught. People keep congratulating me, because weight loss is always a good thing, and being thin is always the goal, right?
What does that say about my friends who are not thin, and who do not have weight loss as a goal, when they see me getting kudos and pats on the back, because thin is the right thing to be?
What does this say about my tenuous grasp on feminism, that I’m just starting to understand and embrace (man, I thought that because I read “Backlash” when I was in college that I was woke and I knew what feminism was, and I’m such a baby at this that all I know now is that I don’t know anything.) How can I support all women, everywhere, and still say, “WHOOHOO! I just lost 100 pounds!” without sounding like I think everyone should?
And weight loss is one of the messiest issues out there. Everyone has to eat. Everyone has to live in a body. And I’m firmly in the camp that there’s something wrong with our food system and our society and our culture that is making people fat.
It’s not at all about calories in and calories out, but of course it also is. It’s not about food choices and self-control and portion control and exercise, not a bit. But of course it also is. It’s not about what you eat, or about carbs. And yet, it also is.
It’s never about before and after pictures, which I might just have to post anyway.
Because is there really an after? Is there really a before? It’s just me, living in a body.
But this morning I woke up and I saw this article about how you had gastric sleeve surgery, the same one I had. You had the surgery right after I did. Somehow I missed it.
So you and I have been on this journey together, even though I didn’t know it at the time, and I don’t know you.
And then, when I stepped on the scale this morning, I was down 100 pounds today.
It turns out, Roxane, that you already wrote the article that I wanted to write. The one about shame, and self-doubt, and how it’s not about hunger, but of course it is.
And so here I am, outing myself as a cheater, as someone who took the easy way out, as someone who is conflicted and happy and relieved and saddened, all the same time.
My saggy boobs and my face that’s aged ten years and my size 12 jeans are all part of this new me, that’s really not any different than the old me, except that now I’m acceptable to my family and to myself in the mirror.
I’m finishing up a book about my mother, and I turn 50 in April.
The goal is that by the time I’m 50, I’m who I’m supposed to be. I’m in the body I want to be in, and I’ve finished writing about my mother, and I can go on to the second half of my life on my own terms.
I want to go talk about the book when it’s done, and I want to meet with editors and agents. And I want to look like a “normal” woman, and not be a fat writer. I want to look like someone my mother would have been proud of. It took cutting out half of my stomach to do that.
So, here I am, today, 100 pounds lighter.
Not much wiser.
Grateful for your wisdom, and for your words, because they’re so much more raw than mine, and because they have so much truth.
And now I have to decide if should celebrate losing 100 pounds by having a bowl of ice cream. Is that how this works?