“You keep losing weight, and you’re going to disappear!” says a colleague. She couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The fact is, I’m no longer invisible. I seem to be gaining more visibility every day. I’m not sure what to make of it.
Most people imagine that the feeling of losing 100 lbs. is dramatic. It isn’t. It takes quite awhile to safely lose that amount of weight, and so you have plenty of time to adjust to your new old body as the weight comes down.
In fact, losing is similar to the experience of gaining the weight in the first place. There is nothing uncomfortable about the process of storing fat, outside of your pants getting smaller, and then the chair getting smaller, and then your car getting smaller.
Losing weight is no sudden relief. The changes are gradual but in reverse. Things get bigger. Eventually you adjust the seat in your car, pull the chair closer to the table, get smaller pants. But there is little drama. Little fanfare. Seeing people you haven’t seen in a long while will bring comment, but that initial surprise is over quickly too. And life returns to a new normal.
Except, of course, for the lack of fat prejudice. Now you get to walk through your day, meet people, joke with people on elevators, buy your groceries, buy your clothes, without having to work around or through the auto-assumptions people had about you when you were fat. Not all people, but it’s certainly been proven enough times by the folks at the Rudd Institute and obesity researchers the world over that we make these assumptions.
And I know what I experienced. I know how hard I worked to climb up over my wall of fat to build credibility every day. I had the self assurance and luxury to dismiss most biased behaviors, and working independently most of my life, I could almost always walk away from it. But for many people, prejudice against their weight is a barrier to changing jobs, gaining promotions, getting the housing they want, entering the hottest parties at the best clubs, being accepted into fraternities or sororities, even being taken seriously by their doctors. Thousands of social situations, dozens of times a day, the overweight person has to negotiate assumptions about who they are that just don’t match what they know about themselves.
So now, for me, the experience of not managing all of that is a bit startling. Where I’m used to meeting people and then being immediately dismissed, overlooked, passed over, today when I meet people for the first time, there are questions. Where am I from? What am I reading? Where did I get those shoes? What a lovely handbag. I blink, and step back as if the lights are too strong. I’m not used to having this much conversation this quickly. Are you talking to me? I look around. Indeed. I often handle it awkwardly.
It’s as if I’ve cast off a big shell, and now I feel vulnerable. I’m soft-skinned, exposed to light and rain and air. People can see me, when apparently they couldn’t before. Or thought they couldn’t. Or didn’t want to. And so, they want to know more when they didn’t before. Being left to myself, able to achieve a certain invisibility in a room was a useful stance for an old introvert. I could observe the room. Able to look at everyone, pick up on nonverbal clues, I could sponge up the subtext of any meeting. But now, when I look at someone, they usually look back.
Whoa! What are they doing?
I can’t passively observe. I’m present. People can see me.
I’ll file this under rewards, because for the most part, I think, it is a reward. I believe I like being visible more than I liked being invisible. But invisibility had its uses. Some days, I actually miss it.
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