“You were always pretty, but now you’re beautiful!”
An older man told me this after I lost 50 pounds in 2011. I like to think that my reply sounded something like this: “Honey, I’ve always been beautiful!” But honestly, I was too stunned to respond. I don’t mind– in fact, I love–hearing that I look great, but when I hear that I look better, I am immediately frozen with a mixture of rage and shame. Did I look that bad before I lost weight? Should I feel shameful about how my body looked last year? Should I somehow distance myself from my old, fat self?
Within that backhanded compliment lies the false dichotomy peddled by the weight loss industry: every individual is actually two separate people, a fat person and a skinny person. We see this in those god awful before and after images in weight loss commercials. You know the ones I’m talking about: the before picture always features some woman in bike shorts that are two sizes too small and a tiny sports bra, which would make almost any woman have stomach rolls; additionally, the woman never wears any makeup, her hair is flying all over the place, and she is always frowning. Always.
This image is contrasted with the after image of a dancing woman wearing a flowing red dress, pristine hairstyle, and natural makeup. She is confident, ecstatic, and skinnier. This “after” image, we are told, is the ideal to which we should aspire. The before and after pictures are lined up side-by-side, reinforcing the notion that fat self and skinny self are different people.
But I refuse to accept this false dichotomy because I don’t want to see myself as a before or an after. I don’t want to look at pictures from early 2011 and cringe at my double-chin or flabby arms. I want to look at those pictures and love myself, because despite what the weight loss narrative has led us to believe, fat me is still me, and hating myself is unacceptable. The reality is that I don’t see those bigger years as sad, pathetic, or shameful times; I had some pretty amazing life experiences when I was well over 200 pounds. And my “before” pictures tell a different story from the dominant narrative: a story of love, adventure, and strength.
At my heaviest weight, the man I love more than anything in the entire world got down on one knee and proposed to me. Despite the myth that bigger women are chronically unloved, my now-husband declared to the world that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.
I love this picture because the raw happiness and excitement radiates off my smile. To this day, I believe that this is one of the most beautiful pictures of me.
Another myth is that fat people are slow and sluggish, but this next picture tells a different story.
I am 217 pounds in this picture. I had trained with my friends for a 5k, but accidentally ended up running a full 10k. My friends, who had ran somewhere between a 5 and 10k, joined me to cross the finish line. I never thought my body was capable of running 3 miles, let alone 6.2. I ran the entire track, never stopping for water or bathroom break, amazed at how my body continued to move despite my exhaustion and lack of preparation for the event. I have since finished a half-marathon, but nothing will ever compare to the sheer awe I felt that day when crossing my first finish line surrounded by friends and pumped full of endorphins.
You see, I don’t know how any weight loss company could use the above pictures for their ads. I look blissful in the first pic, and fierce as shit in the second. These pictures do not reflect the myth that all big people are deflated, lonely, and sad. Furthermore, why would I want to separate myself from these images? When I look at these pictures, I do not see a woman who is simply pretty; rather, I see a beautiful, strong woman who is surrounded by love and friendship. I see a woman capable of pushing herself physically and mentally. Honestly, I see me.