When flying, I prefer the window seat rather than an aisle seat. The first time I flew on a plane I was 18. Eighteen years old and I probably weighed about 230 pounds. I was uncomfortable with the amount of space I took up, so I liked ensuring I had a little more room and the window seat afforded me that luxury. I could easily squish myself up against the wall of the plane and not impede on other people’s space. As my weight climbed further, so did my fear of boarding a plane. The small aisles, the fear that someone would have to move so I could get into my seat, the fear that the seatbelt wouldn’t buckle. At 275 pounds, it didn’t, so I would make it look like I buckled it and hold my breathe until the flight attendant walked past.
I haven’t weighed that much in 10 years and yet that fear still creeps in when I begin to board a plane. I immediately feel apologetic if I have to sit in the middle seat, and I try to take up as little space as possible. The seatbelt fits, but the thought still crosses my mind that I will have to make it bigger (and will anyone notice). I still request a window seat whenever possible and I still sit as close to the actual window as possible. I still panic when I get up to leave and I try to get my things as fast as possible so I don’t inconvenience anyone. I’ve lost over 115 pounds, yet in my head I still feel like I am taking up more space than I should and I overcompensate.
When your life has had a significant change, it’s difficult to get your mind to catch up. Shawn Achor talked about setting goals in his book “The Happiness Advantage”. His premise was that we are goal-oriented people. So we set a goal and say “I’ll be happy when…” You work hard and you hit that goal. You’re happy for a minute, you set another goal, and off you go telling yourself you’ll be happy when you hit that new goal. So in theory, the goal is always changing, and you are never quite fulfilled because you keep changing the goal line. Quite the vicious cycle, eh?
I think that might be part of it for me, but I think it’s something else too. I think about how many years I avoided the scale, I kept seeing my clothes’ sizes increase, I would see offensive linemen’s weights and I would weigh more than them yet I would tell myself that the numbers had to be wrong. Or maybe I just carried my weight well so even though I weighed the same, people couldn’t tell. I would see photographs of myself (on the rare occasion I was in one) and tell myself it was just a bad picture. I would wear really big clothes and hope I somehow blended in.
If for all those years I told myself those stories, why should I believe my reflection now? My family always told me I was beautiful. My husband fell in love with me and married me (my wedding dress was a size 24, although I told myself wedding dresses ran small). I see these women who wear a size 2 and understand that while I am no longer considered “plus-size”, I am still not as small as them. I still have this back fat that I want to get rid of, and these thighs that still just won’t shrink.
So I keep working. I look in the mirror to remind myself I do not take up the same amount of space. Without the mirror to remind me, my mind still tells me I look about the same as I always did. I look at my reflection more than I should, as if to make sure I haven’t gained that weight back in the last 5 minutes since I looked the last time. The truth is though, I’m not sure I’ll ever think I am “thin” or “small” or “fit”, because there will always be people with different body types that are just naturally smaller than me.
My husband keeps a picture of me on the fridge to remind me what I looked like before, so I stop getting so down on myself. I look at it and I don’t think I look like I’ve changed that much. I am proud of myself for the commitment I have made to being healthy, but I know I can always do better. I wonder when I will truly be happy with the way I look. When will I finally align the image in my head to what I see in the mirror’s reflection?
To be honest, it’s easier to keep working towards another goal, I can always lose more, or build more muscle, be stronger, faster. If I stop having a goal to work towards I might get complacent, start eating what I want again, stop writing it all down, stop exercising, and then…gain it all back. That fear is what overshadows the happiness. The happiness won’t drive me to keep the weight off. The fear and loathing will. How much sense does that make, yet it’s my truth.
Note: I am not writing this to get compliments, I promise. I am writing this because I think a lot of us end up feeling this way. All we can do is keep trying to be kind to ourselves no matter what we look like. Life’s too short and it’s what’s on the inside that counts more.
(On the left: My younger sister (the one with the camera), me, and the amazing Roman Forum behind us. On the right, that’s me 15 years or so later.)