On food: Part 8. What constitutes a good body?

A few weeks ago I hit a big milestone in my weight loss journey. I hit a weight loss total of 100 lbs. I told a couple of people about it (like my sisters-- we are always talking about shit like this), but it also seems weird to “celebrate” something like this. So mostly, it was just another day. I try to remind myself every day that weight is just a number that holds no moral value.

I feel like transitioning to living in a different kind of body brings with it a whole range of mental adjustments. On the one hand, there’s all this freedom of movement that I didn’t have in a larger body. My body likes movement now, whereas before it did not because of my chronic back pain. I don’t have the back pain I had before. These are super-welcomed results. These were the two stated outcomes I was looking for from this surgery. And so if my weight loss stopped now and I didn’t lose a pound more, I would feel like I made a great choice for my life. Now mind you, I still weigh just a tick over 200 lbs-- 208.4 as of this morning to be precise. Yes, I just admitted to the public that I weighed over 300 lbs. Actually, 311 to be precise-- and it was probs actually a little higher, I could ask my nutritionist if I wanted to-- she weighed me regularly but did not tell me what it was because of my eating disorder. There was a time I couldn't handle that information. While some people will undoubtedly think “My gosh, she’s so brave to admit that number,” I think my response would be, “Nope. Get over it. It’s just a number that holds no moral value.” We are shamed into thinking that we can’t admit our weight or that certain benchmarks mean certain things. The only thing it is is a measurement. Zero moral value.

As much as I enjoy the benefits of this surgery, not all of the outcomes from the surgery are as welcomed as pain relief and increased mobility. One of the things that this surgery brings with it, especially if you are 40+, is extra skin. It’s just a thing. My skin grew and expanded to accommodate the extra weight I had on my body. That skin doesn’t go away because some of the fat underneath it went away. What that looks like for me is that in a lot of places, my skin is loose, wrinkly, uneven, and jiggly. And so, despite no longer being morbidly obese (what a terrible term, btw), I am now just regular obese and wrinkly. Still fat. Just not as fat. And probably a little more of a socially-acceptable version of fat. (Please remember, I do not consider the word fat to be a pejorative term-- it is simply a descriptor).

With all of this brewing in my mind, a couple of weeks ago, I reached out to a message board for people who have undergone weight loss surgery to help with the mental adjustment I would need to feel comfortable and confident in a new kind of body that also does not fit the societal mold of being a “good” body (ie- with extra skin). There is something comforting about shared experiences.

This was what I posted along with my weight stats (which is a thing on these boards):

"Hi guys. Before surgery I promised myself that I was not gonna get bent out of shape because of loose skin. However, now that I am here experiencing it-- I am feeling a real lack of confidence because of it. My husband is a champ. He’s the most evolved human being ever and has never been critical of my body in our almost 20 years of marriage. (He is an average weight individual and he is happy with me whatever I weigh.) But my self confidence has taken a dive. Especially because of my boobs. (So far down from an H cup to DD. They look like 80 year old boobs and I still have a way to go in terms of weight loss.) Have you guys dealt with this feeling? How do you guys try to re-frame this negativity in yourself? Thanks!"

Within a few minutes I had these three responses:

"Have you considered just a lift/reduction. And then implants when you're ready to do more plastics?"

"I'm dealing with that now with the same exact cup sizes! I feel weird and now my DD cups are getting flappy. I'm trying to be patient and saving for a breast lift but it is hard."

"I am in the same boat 4 months out-- almost same loss and for a year before surgery I said loose skin wouldn't bother me. I still have another 70 or 80 to lose. I'm already afraid to wave because of arm skin. I'm thinking skin removal will be added to my to do list."

Did you catch that? I asked for some help re-framing negativity I was feeling about my body, and all three of them essentially suggested I have plastic surgery. Actually, the first person suggested I have plastic surgery now AND later. Let me make something very clear-- I do not have a problem if people want to have plastic surgery. You do you, boo. I mean that. If that’s what you choose for yourself, that’s great. But that is not what I was asking for. I was asking for ways to help myself feel comfortable in my current (baggy) skin.

And that’s when I realized that body positivity is the ability to feel positively about your body no matter what your body looks like or is able to “accomplish.” I put accomplish in quotes because I recognize that the things we all accomplish within our own contexts may not look like accomplishments to others. For example, when I was very large and had back pain, it was painful to bend over to tie my own shoes. If you’ve never been fairly fat (or pregnant), I don’t expect you to understand this. But being able to bend and move freely, to tie my shoes without experiencing pain, that was an accomplishment for me. Many straight-sized people wouldn’t look at being able to tie their own shoes as an accomplishment, but others, who have experienced this context, will be able to see it that way.

Body positivity is celebrating all that your body can do, even when it can’t do the things another person might be able to do. Body positivity is being able to feel good about my body despite it not being what society tells us is a good body. My body can do the things it needs to do to be a human, and a woman, and a thinker, and a student, and a mother, and a wife, and a lover, and a friend. But my body could also do all those things before I lost 100+ lbs.

A couple weeks ago I got dressed up for the first time since Covid. A friend was hosting an online gala to raise funds to combat human trafficking. It was supposed to be an in-person event with cocktail attire, but Covid. I already had the dress, and so I got dressed up anyway because I wanted to feel pretty and sexy, and like I had a reason to get glammed up. I asked Nick to take a few pictures. And he did. And then I realized I hated the way my stomach looked, and so I adjusted the dress and asked him to take some more. And he did. And then I realized you could see my extra arm skin real bad and asked him to take more. This happened a few more times until I finally found one that I felt okay about and then I posted it on social media. Isn’t that what social media is for? It’s where we present the best, usually-filtered version of ourselves. 

And so, in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to present a photo that accurately portrays the current state of my wobbly arms. 

There is no moral value to arms. They just are what they are. But here’s why I love this picture (that I am tempted to hate) of my arms-- do you see that baby muscle starting to grow? I am starting to get stronger. I am starting to work my muscles more and I am providing them with the protein they need to get bigger and to support my body, to regulate my metabolism, to protect my bone health, and be useful to others when they need help. These are GREAT arms. They may not look like the societal standard of the quintessentially-perfect arms (ie- the flawless Michelle Obama), but they are GOOD ARMS. And yes, they jiggle all about and wave like a flag in the breeze. But they also embrace the people that I love the most. And the people who love me, who truly love me, they love me, Gwenn Mangine--- not my body. They don’t give a shit what my arms look like. So you know what I decided? Neither do I.  Know what constitutes a good body?  Having one.

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