But Now You’re Beautiful: My Defiance of the Weight Loss Dichotomy

“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.

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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.

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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.

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But Now You’re Beautiful: My Defiance of the Weight Loss Dichotomy

22 thoughts on “But Now You’re Beautiful: My Defiance of the Weight Loss Dichotomy

  1. What a great post, Ruth. It’s tragic that so many believe that weight, health, and happiness can be measured by a scale or measuring tape. You’ve always looked great because you are great.

    1. Thanks, Kate! I don’t think I could have written this 50 pounds ago because I had so internalized the message that beauty and success are measured by the scale. And you are pretty great yourself!

  2. Sarah says:

    I love this, Ruthie! I have been struggling with my weight for yearrrsssss. This is a really great perspective to have, especially because I have felt shame about my “fat self” before and it’s nice to think that I don’t have to. I have also received many a backhanded compliment following my fluctuations, and I agree, they are super insulting! Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. It really helps. You have always been beautiful. I remember this because when I was a freshman in college you convinced me to give blood even though I am deathly afraid. You told me that somewhere a kid was going to get in a car accident an the only way he would survive was because he had a blood transfusion thanks to me, and then he would grow up and cure cancer. That kind of compassion is how I’ll always think of you 🙂 Keep on doing you!

    1. Oh Sarah, this comment made my day. Thank you! Like you, my weight has always fluctuated, so I am over of labeling my weight as a battle zone. We are beautiful, no matter what the scale says! And I so remember that blood drive! Donating blood is a great way to realize your own bravery.

  3. Roxanne says:

    What a great story and message! You are a true inspiration to many, especially me! You ARE beautiful and ALWAYS have been-inside and out. I love you! ~Rox

  4. That was awesome! I want to point out the the after pictures also include a lot of tanning bed time, LOL!
    And yes, you do look “fierce as shit” in that second picture, I love it!
    PS I saw this link on Lindsay’s facebook page, and I am so glad she posted it. Would you mind if I put a link on my blog? http://www.damandalynn.wordpress.com
    Thanks for letting me wake up inspired and feeling strong today!
    Amanda

    1. You’re so right– lots of tanning time for those after pictures! Thanks for stopping by, Amanda, and I’d be honored if you shared my post on your blog! I’ll be sure to check it out.

  5. Yes, but you did lose 50 pounds and I am happy that you did so … However, this is written by a woman who has been able to lose the weight and can wax poetic about how she loved herself 50 pounds ago. What about all those beautiful women who have tried everything, and can’t see to lose the weight and keep it off. I would LOVE to have heard this from you 50 pounds ago … and hear the message to those beautiful women who for whatever reason, can’t accomplish the weight loss!

    1. Hi Peg,

      I appreciate your comment. I absolutely realize that I am writing this in a privileged position, having lost the weight. I am sad that I wasn’t able to write this in 2010; I am sad that I had internalized all of those negative messages about weight and size and I could not see my own beauty. I am aware that the weight can and may come back (my weight constantly fluctuates), and I hope I can carry this message with me throughout all of my sizes. I agree with you and wish so deeply that there were more messages of support and empowerment for all women!

  6. Mia says:

    Thank you for sharing this! After I lost weight, I got the same “compliments”, and it’s hard to know how to respond. Actually, I still do. But, after reading this, I have some good perspective 🙂

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