Obesity is an epidemic that is now being speculated to be the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, according to a study performed by Cleveland Clinic. Beyond the health issues come the social impacts. Discrimination and weight stigma are two issues that those who are classified as obese have to deal with on a daily basis. Weight stigma means that you are viewed differently just because of your weight. It means having to beat the connotations that one is lazy. It can even mean enduring social rejection or bullying. Weight discrimination is more institutionalized, such as not being offered a job despite meeting the qualifications, due to your weight. As a former morbidly obese woman, realizing the world around me was treating me differently due to my weight was one of the hardest things to wrap my mind around after losing 100 pounds. Along with recognizing how society used to treat me, also came some personal realizations.
I will use this as a disclaimer, as I don’t want this article to be misinterpreted: I feel blessed and thankful for the new life I am leading and I definitely feel healthier; however, there is a side of losing weight that is not talked about enough. I am here to uncover those truths, at least from my own experience.
1. I am not any happier just because I lost weight.
What this means is that simply, my weight did not define my happiness. In fact, I remember my middle school years with much nostalgia because during those years I received a lot of compliments about how happy I always seemed. They were right; I was happy, yet I was also obese. So when people claim I must be happier now just because I lost weight, I feel like it erases the current struggles I am going through. It also further stigmatizes the fact that those who are obese should not be or are incapable of being happy. It sets up a dangerous precedent because it puts your life on pause. “I’ll be so much happier when I lose the weight” was something ingrained in my mind by my peers, my family, and myself. As I now know, happiness comes from within yourself and is not defined by a number on the scale or the size of your waist.
2. My issues with self-esteem and self-confidence didn’t magically go away.
This is one that I have an internal conflict with from time to time. I do certain things that I would have never done 100 pounds ago, such as post bikini pictures, wear crop tops, go to certain events, etc. However, there are far more occasions now where I have sat in front of a mirror and cried because I felt like I was still “fat” or because I didn’t like how my loose skin looked. I also have a new body shape. For about 21 years of my life, I thought I was apple-shaped, only to find out I fit more under the hourglass guidelines. Feeling like a stranger in your new body is not anything new for those who have lost a dramatic amount of weight, and body dysmorphia among those who used to be formerly obese is often reported by psychologists. I always swore that being “skinny” would be the solution to my self-esteem issues, but alas, that is not the case. Just like happiness, self-confidence comes internally. There are countless beautiful women who love being a size 20 and will own it like the queens that they are. Those people have attained self-confidence because they decided that their worth isn’t based on superficial means. Unfortunately, this is something that I have struggled with. I had no doubt that I would magically be able to be happy with my body once I reached a certain size or certain weight. It is frustrating to think that you had the solution for so many years, reach the solution, and find that you had the wrong solution all along.
3. My mental health has not gotten any better.
Anxiety and depression were things that I felt stemmed from being overweight. Being anxious around new people because you felt like they were judging you, or thinking that someone laughing around you was laughing at you. Feeling like a constant bother and being afraid to speak up for yourself in fears of being insulted back or your weight being brought up. Being sad because you felt like you could be so much more if you were to fit society’s view on what makes someone attractive. Unfortunately, my anxiety and depression have not gotten any better; in fact, some of my lowest moments have been a post-weight loss. The same fears have stayed and new ones have arisen. The biggest one has been the fear of being defenseless. I guess I felt like my weight protected me. I always joked that no one would ever be able to abduct me because they’d have a hard time picking me up. (Now I realize that crime does not discriminate.) Being in a smaller frame has made me feel unsafe and weak, which is weird because although I am 100 pounds lighter, I am still 5’9 and someone who works out often. I have anxiety about never being able to be taken at face value, but as my weight has also risen. Now I’m not “the fat girl” but “the girl who lost 100 pounds.” My weight is still brought up among old friends or people who have not seen me in a while, and although the comments come from a good place, I would much rather have people inquiring on how I’m doing with the change rather than assuming all aspects of my life have gotten fixed just because I decreased the size of my body.
4. “You know I liked you in high school, right?”
No. No, you didn’t. In fact, you were probably someone who made fun of a guy for liking me or wanting to be with me when I was obese. Comments like these always hurt. People think they are being a romantic, confessing their love for me 8 years later. I should be swooning over their confession, and should definitely give them a chance (not). The reason those comments are the ones that hurt the most is because they are the epitome of how society views “fat people.” A lot of overweight women report that they often feel to be a “dirty little secret,” that men are willing to hit on them in private because God forbid they are caught in public with someone who carries more weight on their body than others. Now that I am a more acceptable size for society, you see men coming out from the woodwork, asking for a chance, asking me why they didn’t pay attention to me sooner. You knew I was there. I have not changed as a person. I’ve had the same goals since 5th grade. My heart is still the same. My morals are still the same. The only change has been physical. But all of a sudden, I am more interesting. It really puts into perspective what people focus on when they first see you and how you may be automatically written off due to your physical size.
5. I will forever be the “fat” girl.
What I mean by this is that my new size will not erase all of the struggles that I faced in my past. In fact, I was morbidly obese up until I was almost 21 years old. Being overweight is still much more familiar to me than being a healthy size. However, others around you don’t see that. New friends may not even know of your past. People talk about overweight individuals left and right, not realizing that I am one of them. When people say they hate “fat people”, that they are just lazy, that they need to put the chips down and go for a walk, those comments directly affect me. It makes me sit there and wonder, “Wow, if they would’ve met me 18 months ago, they would’ve somehow hated me?” Yet people are supposed to value me for my heart, my morals, and for the type of friend that I am. When I was overweight, I still dieted, I worked out, I probably worried more about calories than I do now. (Which is pretty ironic). The cause of my issues with weight is a whole other topic that deserves more than a brief mention, but it should not matter. We do not know what others are facing. We do not know why they have not lost weight yet. What we should know is that we should not value human beings for how they look, but rather for what’s on the inside, no matter how cliché that may sound.
These are all struggles that I feel are overlooked when someone goes through such a dramatic change in weight. Becoming a whole new person is hard, and being educated on how to address someone in your life who may have gone through these changes can make a world of difference. One time, someone stopped to ask me, “Hey, you look great but I’m just checking up on you and making sure you feel as good as you look.” I am forever thankful for that interaction because it gave me a space to speak my truth. Regardless, I am okay with these struggles. Every day is an opportunity to learn more about myself, and for that I am thankful. I am also thankful for all the years I have added to my life. I continue to try to lead a healthy lifestyle and strive to keep a healthy relationship with food. Through my experiences, I have become more passionate about health, fitness, and have definitely become an advocate for the body positivity movement. I’ll end my piece with three pictures to showcase some of the physical changes I have gone through the past 2 years.
The weight loss community has something called “Face to Face Friday” where you post a before and after picture of your face every Friday. Like most people, I carry a lot of my weight on my face as weird as that sounds. So if I lose or gain weight, you notice it there right away.
Author: Steff Galardo