Friday, September 23, 2011

The Other Side of the Looking Glass

When I was growing up, I had limbs like toothpicks. I was a picky eater who preferred going hungry to eating something she didn't like, and I lacked the ability to eat large quantities of food. As I grew older, I found that I responded to stress or despair by eating less, if I ate at all. So as a high school student and as an undergrad at college, I had a BMI that fluctuated between the top of underweight and the bottom of a healthy weight range.

But even though I was skinny, I sympathized with others who weren't. I got upset with others for using the word, "fat," and I insisted that others who were skinny like me should be more understanding toward those who didn't have our fast metabolisms. And my fast metabolism drove me crazy. I seemed incapable of eating enough to satisfy my appetite. People tended to assume I was healthy because I was thin, but I didn't exercise, and I knew I wasn't consuming enough nutrients - at times, I wasn't consuming enough calories, either.

In grad school, though, things changed. My body changed in general - I went from vision that was better than 20/20 to an optional prescription for glasses - but I also noticed I was a little wider. My metabolism wasn't as fast as it had been before. I wasn't worried about my size, but it got me thinking that I really should start a more regular exercise routine, as I had long intended to do. So I began exercising 5 or 6 days a week, and while I probably didn't lose pounds, I developed muscle tone and felt a bit trimmer. The exercise routine seemed effective, so I stuck with it.

But I eventually settled into a routine of exercising only every other day, at the same time that I grew used to eating richer foods. My lifestyle changed for various reasons (mostly grad school stress, but also a string of seasonal bugs that prevented me from exercising regularly in the winter), and all those reasons were pretty understandable. But I still gained a few pounds, and suddenly I found myself in the uncomfortable position of worrying about my weight, for all the reasons I know are wrong.

I know my health isn't at risk - my BMI has changed from the bottom of a healthy weight range, to the middle, and in general I have an active, healthy lifestyle. My doctor isn't concerned either. But her nurse asked if my weight was something I wanted to discuss, and that question alone is enough to make me wonder what others see when they look at me.

I know I shouldn't care what others think of me, but I still do. It still bothers me that others say I "don't look big" now, instead of saying they wish they were my size, like they did in high school. It bothers me that the bathing suit I bought a year ago is now  a tad snug. And it bothers me that others think I look my age, instead of younger than my age like they used to say. Mostly, though, it bothers me that any of this bothers me. That I worry about my size for social and asthetic reasons, not for health reasons.

When so many other people face health challenges and significant discrimination for their size, it feels almost self-indulgent to worry because I'm in the middle of my healthy weight range. But it reminds me of something a guest on the Colbert Report said awhile ago: we all experience the stigma of fat on a psychological level, even if we merely experience it through the fear of gaining weight.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Jon, I think you meant to post this as a reply to the question of the week. Would you be able to copy and paste this comment over to that post?