I have tried to write about this topic at least a half a dozen times in the last three years, but every time I do something inside of me freezes up. I don’t like to talk about weight loss. Not over coffee, not in a blog post, not even inside the safety of my counselor’s office. I have talked about it in all those settings before, but every time I do I feel like I’m getting repeatedly punched in the gut afterward. I feel exposed and vulnerable in a way that is unique to discussing physical appearance. I always fear coming across as superficial and insensitive if I am completely candid.
Three years ago I was more than sixty pounds heavier than I am now. Every once in a while this information will get leaked to a friend who didn’t know me before I lost weight. I will bring it up to tell a story or say it to feel a sense of pride, but each time I do I immediately regret it. It feels like pulling back the curtains of my life and inviting them to sit front row to view the worst of my weaknesses. I feel shame about letting myself be known and I feel guilt as I am confronted by the truth of the situation: I am not proud of losing weight; I am ashamed I had weight to lose in the first place.
I spent a lot of counseling sessions this past year addressing how post-weight-loss Chelsey is such a bully to pre-weight-loss Chelsey. It first came up because my counselor asked a question related to what I remember about starting the healing process. She used gentle words to describe the 22-year-old girl who sought help and sat in her office in a tangled ball of hurt and grief three years ago. My immediate gut reaction was to say coldly, void of empathy, “that girl was fat.” Not “that girl was brave” or “that girl was hurting” or “I am proud of the choices that girl made to get healthy” but “that girl was fat”. I would actually drop kick someone in the jaw if I ever heard one of my friends get talked to this way, but it was so easy to disregard the value of who I was before I lost the weight. It was so easy to treat myself like I didn’t start to matter until my jean size ventured below the double digits.
This conversation began to unearth another truth in my heart: I have never been able to separate my sense of worth from my physical appearance. I have spent the last three years trying to hide the fact that I was once overweight because I thought that would somehow make me less than. I have wished I could just erase the girl who struggled with eating disorders and food addiction; the girl who didn’t know how to take care of herself; the girl who was carrying around years of unresolved trauma and numbing it with cartons of chocolate peanut butter ice cream. I can’t remember a time in my life when hearing the words, “you are pretty” or “you are skinny” didn’t immediately translate in my mind to “you are loved” and “you are enough”, and I truly hated myself for not being enough; for not making sure I was worthy of affection.
The crazy thing about losing weight is it really doesn’t change much. Sure, your physical health improves and you get a little more attention and you feel a little less self-conscious in a bathing suit, but internally, being able to run three miles and fit into a size small top alone changes nothing. If you have issues seeing your worth at 200 pounds you will have issues seeing your worth at 135—you are still the same human believing the same lies. Deeply held heart beliefs are not swayed by external circumstances. We see examples of this in relationship status, job situation, family health—external circumstance changes can bring joy and a sense of accomplishment, but they cannot satisfy us and they cannot alleviate the tension of being internally displeased. Things that are feeble and easily changed become dangerous when we try to make them our source of safety and security. Our idols cannot fulfill our deep desire to be loved.
The other day I was reading something I wrote a couple months ago about body shame. It started with me talking about walking in the bathroom and bursting into tears when I saw my body in the mirror. I don’t remember this exact moment, and I don’t usually have such an emotional reaction to body shame, but as I read it I was struck by how I never anticipated this part of weight loss. Right now I weigh less than I did as a freshman in high school. I don’t say this out of shallowness or conceit, I say this to say that, for over ten years I thought that being the weight I am now would grant me some sort of access to love and acceptance that I had previously been denied. I’ve done a lot of things over the last ten years to try and obtain the body I thought I should have to find the belonging I so deeply craved, only come to find out that it's not the answer. The deeply rooted shame doesn’t disintegrate along with the fat cells.
I have a million more things to say about this, which is why this is only part 1, but I will end by saying that this can feel really sticky to talk about because we all like to stumble around pretending like we’re not susceptible to idolizing beauty and numbers on the scale. But our culture’s obsession with beauty (and my obsession and your obsession) ultimately points to a deeper need to be loved and known, and if we don’t confront our idols we can’t find the place where our need is ultimately met. As my beloved counselor would say, “it’s about your body and it’s not about your body. It’s about weight loss and it’s not about weight loss.” Meaning, when we get caught up in seemingly silly things, there is usually a whole bunch of background story and deep scars associated with that thing, and it is essential to bring it to light. Your body cannot hold the weight of your worth.