Last week, I talked about becoming size-aware. That size awareness kept me in a place of hiding for most of my life. I dressed to be invisible, in larger sizes to hide my body. I’ve talked about this before. However, a funny thing has happened to me on the way to getting healthy.
Then: Two years ago, I nervously walked into a Victoria’s Secrets. I’d received a gift-card nearly a year before, when I’d hit my goal of losing 100 lbs, but I’d been too self-conscious to use it. I finally had the courage to spend it because, in a month, I’d undergo abdominal surgery, and I thought – literally – that soon I’d finally “be able to” wear cute clothes. Sigh.
Rare have been the moments in my life where I thought I could wear cute clothes. Before abdominal surgery, it had been since early college that I’d last felt that way (left). Even then, it was a short-lived thing, a year and a half or so. Only once I was at a healthy weight and I underwent reparative body surgery did I feel comfortable in cute/fun clothes again.
Now: So you’d think, with all my life-long self-consciousness, that I’d stop wearing cute clothes while/after regaining 50 lbs. Except I didn’t and haven’t. I kept shopping at VS for underclothes. I started playing with patterns and leggings and clothes that made me feel good even at larger weights (below). I kept taking silly selfies and photos with family and friends. And while I still feel size-anxious from time to time, I’ve also spent a lot of time not giving a flying f–k what anyone thinks about how I look.
When I went to Dallas on vacation last month, none of my friends cared how big I was. I doubt anyone even noticed. I certainly didn’t. Not once on vacation did I think about my size or hide from pictures or worry that my friends – or strangers – were judging me. I was having too much fun to think about any of that! A few weeks later, I was at the zoo with family, wearing a completely pattern-clashing hoodie, skirt, and leggings. I saw one stranger visibly look me up and down, and knew they were looking at my outfit, not my size. And you know what? I wasn’t in the least bit self-conscious about it.
I may not be 100% perfect, but I’m getting better at being visible, and at not letting the world’s opinions affect me. I’m learning confidence and body positivity. Recently, I came across a quote from a book I plan to read in 2016 (Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls): “Our bodies are installation art that we curate publicly.” And a similar quote from one of my own novels: “You’ve turned your skin into a canvas. Made yourself into a work of art.” I love this concept, and am trying to internalize it. As the creator, I can make this piece of art anything I want it to be, and never mind that the world will always be divided – as it invariably is – on whether or not it’s “good.”
I used to compare my body all the time to former selves, to friends, to strangers. “I think I’m about the same size as that person.” “I’m the biggest/smallest person in this room.” Etc. This was terrible, because it meant that I was continuously reinforcing size hyper-awareness, and it led to judgy thoughts (toward myself and toward others). Like in that quote from Zoe Heller’s The Believers: “Years of attending to her own physical failings had made her, if anything, more closely attuned to the nuances of bodily imperfections than most.” Exactly! Worse still, it led to judgy thoughts that were cloaked in impassive, clinical observations, so that they didn’t seem judgy, just factual.
I am happy to say that I’ve mostly trained myself out of this habit by now. As I’ve focused less on my body, I’ve focused less on others’, and vice versa. I’m less judgy of everyone, including myself, thanks to trying to break this habit. I’ve also freed up a lot of mental energy, giving me room to notice more important things, like a person’s style or laugh or kindness or quirks.
Dear younger Manda,
There are some people in this world who will judge you on size, shape, beauty, whatever…no matter what you look like, or what you wear, or what you do. Most people, however, pay far more attention to how you behave. If you’re laughing and smiling and playing around, that’s what they’ll see, far more than your size. Remember that quote from The Bell Jar about how if you do something incorrect or strange, but do it in a confident manner, people will think you’re witty and original, not incorrect or strange. It’s true. And really, it’s kinda more fun to take silly, ridiculous selfies and to wear bizarre combinations of patterns than to try to fit into the norm. Forget everyone else, and not only will their judgments cease to matter, but they’ll mostly cease to come your way at all.
Love, modern-day Manda