How Losing Weight Has Challenged My Ability To Love My Body
It's been years since I've walked the halls of my high school, where bullying and body shaming was a sport to many kids with internalized fatphobia and a plethora of their own insecurities. And though I've managed to put a lot of distance between now and then, body positivity is still sometimes a struggle with the memory of body dysmorphia and self hatred still in my figurative rearview mirror. It took me years of actively trying to love myself to silence the voices pushing me to hate the body I'm in. And though my straight-size privilege afforded me much less bullying and pressure than I might have experience as a plus size person, my mental illnesses and chronic pain led me to consider more permanent options regarding dealing with my body. For a long time, I was able to love my shape and dress size unapologetically without interruption. That is until I was re-diagnosed with a chronic illness and experienced considerable weight loss in a short period of time.
Since my first doctor visit for treatment this year, which I made after I noticed symptoms characteristic of a relapse, I've been dreading the scale. The day I was officially re-diagnosed, the nurse told me I weighed 119 pounds. Since I'm usually anywhere between 130 and 135 pounds, this number alarmed me. I guess I was sicker than I thought, I said to myself. Relieved that I was now on the path to recovery, I pushed my discomfort to the back of my mind.
After undergoing a ton of treatment, and as my soreness and headaches began to disappear, I returned to the doctor feeling optimistic. But this time, the scale said 113. My mind reeled as I was bombarded with multiple questions about diet and exercise. I wondered if I was losing control of my body yet again.
I have multiple tick borne illnesses, and weight loss is one of the symptoms that patients can show from these conditions. This was reiterated to me by my doctor and parents. My mom also suggested that it could just be a change in my metabolism, or my body's reaction to cutting out sugar from my diet per my doctor's advice. I was scared. I wanted to know I would get better and gain the weight back to the number I've grown to be so comfortable with. But no one offered support or advice for gaining the weight back. After all, why wouldn't I want to be thinner?
Of course, weight loss isn't universally good. There are many people, plus and straight size alike, who love the number they see on the scale. There are many people who don't pay the number any mind at all. Rewarding all people for losing weight implies that there is such thing as a "healthy weight" that applies to all bodies, and that skinny is always better than fat. But anyone in body pos circles know that the glorification of weight loss is BS, and often damaging to the minds and bodies of the people who obsess over reaching a certain goal as a result. There are people like me who unwillingly lose weight from chronic or terminal illnesses. When friends greet me with "you look so skinny!" or when people ask me what my secret is, it not only invalidates my unhappy feelings but also triggers old body image issues to come to the surface. Lately, I've been fighting with myself to silence the old Meg that responds with, "wow thanks! I've always wanted to be skinny."
I think part of why losing weight feels so scary to me, besides losing control over my body in a medical sense, is the fear that my old body image issues will return if I can't sustain the weight I'm currently at. And I fear that they will return again if I do manage to gain the weight back, growing out of any new clothes I buy to fit my smaller frame this summer. I faced this head on the other day in an H&M dressing room.
With the hotter months approaching, I've been wanting to update my wardrobe by getting some cute new dresses and rompers. I saw a dress in H&M's window with what I thought to be the Perfect Summer Print. So I joyfully entered the store to try it on. As the dress draped over my body in the harshly-lit fitting room, I noticed how huge the dress felt. It was practically swallowing my frame. That was the first time I noticed that my body was in fact changing.
Desperately trying to shrug it off, I casually asked my partner (who was waiting outside the dressing room) to grab me there same dress in a size 4. The second dress fit much better, but it still looked a little large. I broke down crying as quietly as I could for reasons I can't exactly explain. I wanted to laugh at myself for being so overdramatic, but I couldn't manage to break my gaze from the mirror. In that moment, my reflection changed to the familiar teenage person who hated their body I changed back into the outfit I arrived in, and stared obsessively at the way my high waisted jeans no longer hugged my skin, something I hadn't noticed until this moment. I noticed the XS shirt I was wearing, which I bought to wear as a crop top-like garment, was now a baggy tee. My younger self celebrated finally being the size they wanted to be, while my current self angrily tried to resist these toxic feelings.
Before my world caved into a spiral of negative thoughts about my appearance, I paused. Body positivity has taught me that my body is beautiful no matter what, no matter what society says and no matter how sick I am. I've worked on this for years, and though the negative feelings never truly go away, all my progress can't just be erased because of one small change in my body. I am beautiful. I knew that before, and I will know it again.
I didn't have the strength to try on a size 2. Instead, I convinced myself that the loose and breezy aesthetic is perfect for summer anyway. I bought the dress I was so afraid of in the name of body pos, and as the only act of self care I've been able to muster since my weight loss. After paying for it, I felt a wave of relief come over me. The dress itself wasn't scary. It was the dressing room, manifesting as a microcosm of the darkest parts of my mind that day. As soon as I left it and decided to get the dress anyway, I was free. And luckily when I wore the dress the next day to my trip into the city, I felt as beautiful and body positive as ever.
I'm still grappling with feeling better about my changing body. But I keep reminding myself that the self love I've so compassionately instilled in myself isn't going anywhere. No matter how much weight I lose or gain, no matter what size dress I'm wearing, I'm still my beautiful and worthy self.
Images: Meg Zulch