I have never liked running. Before I lost weight, I thought I didn’t like running simply because I was physically unable to run and believed that once I lost the weight, I’d magically become one of those cross country runners sporting an armband iPod and gloating about my runner’s high. Fast forward one year and 175 pounds lost. I weigh 125 pounds, wear a size four and guess what? I still can’t run more than a mile before dissolving into a huffing and puffing red-faced mess.
MSNBC has a great story out today on people who’ve discovered that the skinny dream is just that… a dream. The story profiles three women, all of whom thought their lives would be just fabulous once they lost the pesky weight holding them back, and discovered that weight loss isn’t a panacea for life’s problems nor has it made them a better person. Self-described “accomplished fat girl” Jen Larsen had a master’s degree in creative writing, a great job working in an academic library, a great boyfriend and a slew of friends.
By age 32, she believed she’d be writing a book, “doing something important,” she says. The only thing holding her back, she thought, was weight. “Not so,” she now says. “The only thing that’s different is the size of my ass.”
Larsen thought skinny came with a mega-boost of self confidence. And a huge dollop of happiness. She thought she’d be dynamic and brave and ready to take on the world, just because she was thin.
“I think fat people are sold a fantasy, and then get no support in the reality, because we’re simply supposed to be grateful that we’re no longer fat,” Larsen says.
…In a culture obsessed with BMIs, the tears and triumphs of “The Biggest Loser,” and the latest-greatest surefire way to lose weight and keep it off, Larsen’s take on her new lean physique sounds like heresy. But weight loss chat rooms, forums and blogs are filled with people who are wondering why their newfound svelte selves and stellar metabolic profiles are leaving them ever-so-slightly disappointed.
Jennette Fulda, a.k.a. PastaQueen, was a national merit scholar, her high school class valedictorian and graduated with highest honors from college — all accomplished while weighing 372 pounds. “You can be fat, accomplished and pretty darn happy. I think people forget that,” she said. ““I guess we all really think that losing weight gets rid of our issues. But in so many ways we’re still the very same person, not that skinny woman we dreamed about.”
It’s something that Darliene Howell, 55, knows all too well. A yo-yo dieter since the age of 6, Howell says she’s tried “every diet on the planet” and has counted calories, points, carbs and proteins “until I thought I was losing my mind,” she says. She finally lost 100 pounds on a liquid diet. “I’ve weighed 150, 250 and even 300, and each time I lost weight I thought I was going to live the skinny dream,” she says. “My life was supposed to have changed. I thought I was supposed to be more popular, more attractive, if only I were thinner. Well, that didn’t happen.”
I think many of us suffer from the delusion that is the “skinny dream” — that if we just lose weight, everything else will follow. We will become vastly more interesting, creative, outgoing, self-assured. Guys will beat down our doors laden with bouquets of roses and people much cooler than ourselves will clamor to be our friends. We’ll finally land the dream job we’ve always wanted, become a veritable social butterfly, get the guy and live happily ever after on that thin, thin cloud of delusion.
Reality check: weight loss, in itself, is unlikely to bring about any of the above.
I’ve been morbidly obese and I’ve been on the low end of the “normal” range of BMI and have now settled somewhere comfortably in between. Before my weight loss, I also suffered from the delusion that my weight and weight alone was the only thing holding me back from becoming the person I wanted to be. I discovered all too quickly that happiness can’t be found in the junior’s department. If you read the so-called weight loss success stories, they’re chock full of just how awful and miserable an existence life was before weight loss and how fabulous it is after. And yet, I have never understood (or fully believed) these people who lose weight and lay claim to some newly found self-confidence that has just laid buried beneath fat, like a diamond waiting to be mined. If anything, I was even more insecure after my weight loss than before! I still battled the same self-doubts and fears. I still had the same old fat girl self-image. I still had the same money problems. I still had the same unresolved family issues. The only thing that changed was that I went from being morbidly obese to morbidly afraid of regaining the weight.
This is not to say that weight loss did not change my life in any significant way. I sincerely believe I would never have landed a contract job with a major computer corporation had I weighed 100, 75 or even 50 pounds more than what I weighed at the time. Sales clerks, professors and classmates and even some family members treated me more nicely than before. It was easier to find fashionable and affordable clothes in my size. My personality even changed after my transformation to the point where my sister, the person to whom I was closest to at the time, remarked that I was like a new person. It wasn’t that weight loss freed some skinny girl inside me clawing her way out, but rather that it took a while to reconcile my split identities between living Life as a Fat Person and Life as a Thin Person. For a while, I felt like an imposter infiltrating a thin insider club, a fat girl masquerading in a thin suit, laying claim to a title I had no right to claim. I always thought I wanted to be part of them, the Thin People, but after my weight loss, I found myself literally disfiguring myself with body piercings in an attempt to salvage some element of my Fat Girl identity, to show that I wasn’t one of them.
Although I struggled with my identity, being thin did not grant me membership to some exclusive club in which being thin absolves you of all your problems. If anything, the compulsive calorie-counting, over-exercising and general obsession with my weight only created more problems and took away from the time I could have dedicated instead to facing the existing problems I had, like, oh, resolving longstanding issues with my mother, my poor self-esteem and dead-end job situation. And surprise… once I committed to face the real problems head-on, my issues with food and body also began to resolve themselves.
How about you? Did you (or do you still) suffer from the delusion of thinness? How did your skinny dreams measure up to reality?