People who gain weight at a fairly rapid pace (I went from around 160 to around 300 in about 2 years) tend to get stretch marks. Some people I know don’t have them, and some people’s are worse than mine. I also have that arm flap thing happening. It’s all skin and I've worked on it for years. It’s definitely decreased, but people still point it out. I don’t prefer that either. I never wear anything that exposes my abdomen. I don’t change in front of people. I get weird about the angle of my arms in pictures.
I wonder if men feel the same pressure when they lose massive amounts of weight. From what little I understand of gender differences in biochemistry, testosterone and related male sex hormones make it easier for men to lose weight and build muscle. And on the flip side, women’s bodies are better designed to store fat. It’s not really a surprise then that women tend to have more body image issues than men, especially when you consider the messages we are getting from the media on this issue:
I can remember so many trips to the dressing room either alone, with Carly or with my Mother that ended in tears. As my body gained and then lost weight I had so many low moments in regards to how I feel about my body. One of the most incredible and honest and brave things I've ever seen is this series of photographs from artist Julia Kozerski. She took photographs of herself in dressing rooms throughout her weight loss journey. You can see such a range of emotion in her images. It made me feel connected to the greater experience of being a woman and almost brought me to tears.
I've been wanting to write about this for awhile because I made a promise to myself that this blog would be filled with radical honesty. I wish I could say that I don’t have these issues anymore. I have a lot fewer low moments, but every day I see that visceral reminder that my body will forever bear the scars of my mistreatment. Most days now have high moments too. I can fit into size 8 shorts at Old Navy, a number I thought was impossible. People who meet me now typically react to my before pictures with a statement along the lines of “I would have never thought you could be fat”. Several times this month I've been told I’m skinny without it being prompted by any discussion of weight.
Unfortunately, those negative internal messages are a constant in my life. I sometimes feel like an imposter because people can’t see what’s under the clothes. Women have learned to be quite deceptive in our use of fashion and make up to cover our perceived ills. It makes me sad that I can never wear a bikini, that there’s a sagging pouch of skin covering what I know are pretty strong abs, that I fear ever having to find a new romantic partner because I don’t think anyone would find me sexually attractive, and that any progress I make moves at a glacial pace.
Fortunately, there are positive examples to draw from every day. The Internet can be a magical place for self-expression. I adore this video about the thigh gap because it points out how ridiculous some of our beauty ideals are. Even better: radical honesty from people portrayed in a positive way. This piece from runner Lauren Fleshman details the true story behind her incredible post-baby ab photo that spread quickly around the Web. Women and weight loss winners need to continue to build an online presence that is honest about these issues. I am hopeful that our beauty ideals can and will evolve to a place that is more attainable, sustainable, and accepting.