Compliments (or how to take it when you become visible)

I was invisible when I was fat. People (most people, certainly most men) saw my, let’s just call it ‘ample’ figure, and stopped seeing me. Even though I weighed more, I felt less.

Once people became friends with me or saw me as someone with valuable insights or opinions, then they moved on from my fat, and saw the important part of me, my intelligence, my personality. They never mentioned what I was wearing or how I looked. I’m sure they thought it would have been rude to comment on my body to my face.

Then I lost weight, a lot of weight, and people started looking at me and seeing all of me. It’s what I thought I wanted, but I didn’t realize how hard visibility is, or at least seems. I thought nothing could be scarier than meeting someone new when you know they’ve categorized you as a fat person. Worse. You’re positive they’re wondering how much you weigh and probably speculating on how much you eat. Even the fat people you meet are like that.

Even among friends when the subject of fashion or weight or God forbid swimming suits arose, I tried to avoid eye contact and change the subject.

I hated people saying things about my weight. I hated hearing the advice and the oblique criticisms. Phrases that begin, “have you tried…” and “if you only did…” just mean if you were a different person and acted differently and changed the things we don’t like about you, then you would be better. Not helpful.

I hated hearing my parents talk about what they could do to stop my weight gain when they thought I was asleep. I hated knowing that people thought about my weight at all, but it was confirmed over and over that they did.

Sometimes I heard comments when people thought I wasn’t there, (or asleep), and sometimes I had to hear what people thought about me second hand. It’s weird how people might think they’re doing you a favor by telling you a cute boy thinks you’re too fat. I know they think that by letting me know boys I might want to date might want to date me if I lost weight will be the key to motivating me to lose weight. Again, fat people know we’re fat, and we definitely know what most people think of fat. Many of us do want to lose weight, but continually telling us what good lives we’ll have doesn’t make us lose weight. There’s so much more to it than that, and in the meantime you’re making us feel like shit. So stop. Please.

But then I lost weight, and sometimes what people said when I started losing weight was even worse than what they’d said before. Wait a second. How does that work? It doesn’t seem logical, but suddenly I leapt from the safety of my chubby bubble into full-scale visibility. And when people notice things, a lot of times they open their big old cake holes without thinking first.

“Look at you! You’ve lost what probably amounts to a small person!” “Wow! You look so much better!” “You used to be so fat! I can’t believe how small you are now!”

The above are all meant to be compliments. They also are very awkward reminders that not so long ago this person bestowing the ‘compliment,’ thought you were a cow. That’s the weird thing. Most people want to acknowledge your hard work and accomplishment, but even that reminds you that they remember what you looked like.

It’s something that’s not easy to explain. Why should it matter that people remember what you looked like before you lost weight, if what they’re seeing now is so much better, or good even? All I can say is that it just is. It’s as if the weight you lost is still hanging on in ghost form. You can never forget about it, and maybe you shouldn’t.

That leads to the other problem. When people say something about your weight loss and how great you look now, not only do you have to acknowledge that they remember you as fat, but also you both know the way you look now may not last.

You can always regain the weight. I did. A couple of times. Then seeing someone who has seen you before, after and back again is a humiliation of a different order.

Maybe I was just too sensitive. The longer I am this weight the less what people say about my former physique matters. Now, comments like the ones above don’t bother me at all. I might even laugh. There may be just a slight sting, but it’s gone soon. I do have to admit that when someone posted an old picture of me at my fattest on Facebook, it felt like a punch to the gut. I quickly changed my FB settings. Never again!

The thing that helped me get over it is to realize how nice it is to be included. I’m serious. When you’re fat, and you’re not willing to insert yourself into conversations or games or whatever, nobody is going to look your way and ask what you’re thinking. You are overlooked.

I remember when it became clear to me how different things were. The before and after weight loss experience. I was at dinner with my husband and another couple we had dined with previously. Both were business dinners so I wasn’t very engaged either time. But at this second dinner, post-weight loss, I noticed how much the woman smiled at me and engaged with me. I remembered at the first dinner how little she talked to me. You might chalk it up to one person having two different nights, but after that I noticed it all the time. When first meeting both men and women, they wanted to talk to me. People I had known before were more interested in what I had to say, both men and women. I just knew. I can’t prove it, but I know I’m right on this. I just know.


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