Sunday, August 1, 2010

It's Not an Identity

There are no full-length mirrors in my home. The reason for this is two-fold. First of all, it's so small that there really is no place for one and I have a tendency to break mirrors or something happens beyond my control that shatters them (one once fell off my bathroom wall at my feet). Second, I have not wanted to look at my body for a very long time.

Not having a full-length mirror is both a good and bad thing. I'm sure that on the way up to 380 lbs., I might have been more aware of bodily changes if I had been looking at myself everyday. Maybe willfully ignoring your body is something fat people do so they don't have to face their self-loathing on a daily basis. Not torturing myself like that was probably a good thing. Now, I can't easily reassure myself that things are changing except by external environmental and lifestyle factors, like fitting in a chair with arms or being able to stand up more easily. Perhaps a full-length mirror would be a good thing now. Perhaps not...

Sometimes I leave my home feeling pretty good about myself, or at the very least not feeling bad about anything. I may have noticed some small change in my thinking or in my body and have my progress in mind or I may simply be in that brief, blissful state of not thinking about my weight or body at all. When you've been fat all of your life, you spend most of your time in front of other people thinking about your body because others are going to remind you of it. It's part of the way you develop your fat anger, fat PTS and defensive nature. Every time you walk out the door, it's into the war zone.

These days, it's possible for me to "forget" for brief periods of time that others define me by my body. That's when I walk out the door in a state of peace. Sometimes, I'll even walk for an entire half hour without someone drawing attention to my body. Even when others aren't there to bring me down, there are sometimes those reflective surfaces. I walk by a window or a mirrored metallic surface and all of my peace is tossed aside. At the moment that I catch a glimpse of my 240-something-pound-body, I'm no longer "me" as defined by my positive internal dialog, I'm once again this horrible fat person who still looks awful after losing the weight of an entire person.

One thing which I have realized as of late and that I'm going to start actively working on changing is that my body is not my identity. I think it is because all of my life people have focused excessively on it and judged me by it. They think they know everything about me and can define me with a glance. One of my husband's male friends when he first met me gave me a quick, vaguely-disgusted once-over and then pretended I didn't exist. He didn't even speak to me after that because my body was all he needed to "know" me.

There are two sides to this consideration of identity. The first is that I need to stop looking in reflective surfaces and feeling bad about myself when I otherwise felt good or at least neutral. "Fat" isn't an identity, no matter how hard the greater world would like to believe it is. Alternately, and this is perhaps of greater importance, "thin" also is not an identity. When I reach a state of no longer being overweight, I will not be defined by my body and I need to make certain that I don't attach value to a smaller body simply because people have been telling me all of my life that I lack value because I have a bigger body.

I have been thinking lately about people who have lost weight and continue to ruminate on their diet, exercise, and form. I have also been thinking about how they continue to write and talk about their BMIs, calorie counts, and exercise habits and how they wish to "inspire". While I am happy for people to be who they want to be and to achieve their goals, I'm not "inspired" by their continued focus on their bodies. I realize that for them "thin" is an identity, just as "fat" was an identity. They are the same people in different bodies, but their definition of self remains strongly tethered to their physicality. They have moved away from one bodily and food fixation to another.

For me, this type of body-based-identification is simply not my goal, so I cannot be inspired by the continued efforts of the super-fit out there. I don't want to be defined by my body anymore. I want to escape that place, not find another corner of that same room to live in. Essentially, moving from a socially condemned body status to a socially sanctioned one is what I see many people doing. Certainly, escaping the punishing state I find myself in as a fat woman is part of my goal, but no part of it is finding approval or praise from the same sources that have been abusing me for so long.

The thing is that people who have never been fat and have unremarkable and average-looking bodies in no way attach their identity to their form. They don't think of their average-looking body as defining themselves the same way that they don't look at their food choices as defining themselves. Their body isn't a factor in their self-image or the perceptions of others. They are who they are and their body is just a container. This is what I want to be at the end. I want to be me, not my body.


MizFit said...

I adore this post.
your insights and your honesty.

we have no full lengths here either. and for me it was almost an accident (we moved 3 years ago and I tossed em then)

and yet I fully believe there are no accidents.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, Mizfit.

I've never owned a full-length mirror in my entire life, not even when I was a child.

NewMe said...

Your post makes me think of a common sight on weight loss blogs: the headless fattie.

OK, people want to remain anonymous for many good reasons, but I think often the headless body shot is just a way to self-flagellate: look at my gross body, look at how disgusting I am. Without a head, you are not a person, just a gross body, unworthy of respect. The message is that only when your body looks "right", in other words slim, will you be able to demand respect and be considered a full human being.

screaming fatgirl said...

NewMe: I certainly can see what you mean. I think that the headless thing is saying that you can't show your face as long as it's attached to that body.

I knew this post was going to upset some people, and I lost a follower after making it. I had my husband read it before making it because I didn't want to come off on knocking people who are living a "thin" identity, just make it clear that it wasn't for me or what I really wanted or was inspired by. However, I think that there is a deeper truth out there which people aren't ready to face because then their worldview might crumble. I know people are happy being body-obsessed when they are thin.

Anonymous said...

Yet again, you blow my mind with your eloquence.
Of course, you also give me something to think about in your way.
And by "your way," I mean, something that resonates as utter truth, but I've never seen or attempted to put into words.
For what it's worth, my "thin" pictures also eliminate my face
I'm an equal opportunity face blocker :)

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, and thanks, Mrs. Happy Pants. I was a little insecure about this post, to be honest, and the positive feedback makes me feel better.

I don't blame you for covering your face. We do want to be anonymous. It's not all about divorcing yourself from your body. Sometimes, it's really just about hiding who you are from a sea of people who might use your posts against you.

Karen said...

Great post!

Sarah said...

Oh mirrors... My house is covered in them. All vintage and antique. Even my full length mirror is old school, real glass, solid hand carved wood frame. I love all things vintage and the wavy glass, peeling flecks on the back, the crazing and chips reflect back my imperfections perfectly.

As for the shift in the focus of identity. I hear ya. I'm just back from a two week vacation and while lovely, I cringe when I hear, isn't awesome that you can do x y and z now? Umm, yeah, but I've been at this weight for almost 6 years now. Not that I don't remember who I was, but that identity is so foreign to me now, I just want to be normal, to live normal. Replacing one obsessive mental mindset with another was not what I was after when it came to weightloss and now maintenance... although I did not know it at the time. Letting go has kept the weight off I think.

btw-- I'm sure you are working on it, but I hope for the day when you catch a glimpse of yourself are defined by your positive inner dialog. That brief moment where you like what you see, and have to look again to make sure, is powerful. It was for me at least and I remember it distinctly. My lifetime of fat lasted until my mid twenties... I can only imagine how much more difficult it might be to see that with even more years of fat anger and the like. You will persevere.

PS. Interesting note about inspiring. I just want to serve as example. It can be done, end of story. My way is not your way but it is possible with thought to beat back your biology. I don't need a parade, but I do want to cheer along the route of others.

screaming fatgirl said...

Karen: Hi, and thank you. :-)

Sarah: "I'm sure you are working on it, but I hope for the day when you catch a glimpse of yourself are defined by your positive inner dialog."

This is definitely what I'm working on. It's difficult though, but I think dissecting how boy image and identity are wrapped up in one another is a step along the path.

There's nothing wrong with inspiring or being inspired by people who have already lost weight. Just because I'm not inspired, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with it! Also, inspiration doesn't have to be the goal. It can simply be that people want to talk about their lives.

Thanks for commenting!

RedPanda said...

This post has been rattling around in the back of my mind since I read it.

Do you think that, while you say, "I want to be me, not my body", right now, that you may change your attitude as you lose weight? As you lose weight and become fitter, you may consider your body as less of a container for your mind and soul, and more of an outward manifestation of accomplishment.

That's how I feel, anyway. I certainly wasn't blessed with a good figure, or natural athleticism, an enjoyment of movement, a good sense of balance, or any of the physical attributes which never-been-fat people take for granted. But I've earned those things the hard way.

Sure, my body doesn't fully define who I am, yet it is definitely a factor in my self-image.

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, RedPanda, and thank you for your comment.

I can't say for sure whether or not I will change, but the truth is that I don't want to because I believe that incorporating my appearance into my self-image is not a good thing to do psychologically. My form will degrade. This is inevitable. I can work with it as best I can, but it will not improve. My mental capacity, my psychological fitness, and my spirit (if one believes in such things) can and will be improved.

The bottom line is that I do not wish to be defined externally by my body. During my entire life, I have had others views of me imposed on me based on my appearance. I have always felt this was WRONG. I can't embrace the idea that it is suddenly "right" to be defined by my appearance because I am considered more appealing by societal standards. Why would I want to define myself internally just because I found my body more acceptable?

I don't care what people look like and I think others should not care as well. I realize this is antithetical to the nature of the human beast, but I also believe that the thing that separates us from animals is that we are capable of transcending our biological nature and our genetic predisposition. If we choose to be enslaved by our basic tendencies, then we might as well close up shop on the human race and write us off as anything other than a version of a roach or a rabbit. Frankly, existence has no point if all we're going to do is act on our basic neurological and genetic programming.

At any rate, I don't believe I will change my mind, because it would mean changing my values. Those values are pretty well-defined, as you can see by my prattle. ;-)

Sarah said...

"The bottom line is that I do not wish to be defined externally by my body. During my entire life, I have had others views of me imposed on me based on my appearance. I have always felt this was WRONG. I can't embrace the idea that it is suddenly "right" to be defined by my appearance because I am considered more appealing by societal standards. Why would I want to define myself internally just because I found my body more acceptable?"

So this is interesting to me. I must say you give me a great deal to think about and I love that we can all reach same goal on a different road. I feel even more so now that it is WRONG to judge people by their looks especially when a whole new world has been shown to me. Mind boggling. Going from overlooked to paid attention to is quite something. And I struggle with it. Often.

I'm really grateful for your blog.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, Sarah, for your kind words.

I agree with you that it is great that we can all reach the same goal with different paths. I think part of the reason weight problems defy easy "curing" is that the process has to be highly individualized. What works for one does not work for others.