Thursday, July 21, 2011

Above Average

When I read the thoughts of others who want to or are losing weight, they seem to ruminate on and be more than prepared to step into the shoes of "normality". I guess this is because I've been greatly overweight for most of my entire life and many of them may have either spent more time at "normal" or closer to it. I've spent more time at or over 300 lbs. than under it. Living like other people do isn't something I'm accustomed to and it's an emotional transition.

I've talked before about identity, and part of my identity is that of someone who doesn't fit in. Part of that is how other people have objectified me and marginalized me based on body size. Part of that is also the basic facts of existence in a world designed for people of average size when you are far above average. This includes not being able to fit where other people fit when it comes to spaces, but it also, quite obviously, includes clothes.

When it comes to clothes shopping, most people squeal with delight at the prospect of fitting into smaller clothes, shopping in another department, or looking "better" (frankly, I think most people just look "different" when they lose weight, not "better"). For me, this remains something odious and stressful. Part of the reason for this is that I don't care about clothes much and I hate wasting money on them. Part of it is old associations and new confusion associated with a changed body.

Shopping for clothes for me used to be "easy" because all I had to do was get a mail order catalog and order the biggest plus size items they had and hope they fit me. Most of the time, they did. Sometimes, they didn't. This system allowed me to stretch fabric over my form to conform with standards of modesty in a socially acceptable way, but the process was utterly utilitarian. I didn't know how I was going to look when I made new purchases, and I didn't care. Now, I have to care because I work outside my home again.

Yesterday, I went to the store at which I found my first off the shelf clothing which fit. There is no such thing as a "plus size" there, so I can only shop from the larger sizes of "normal". I hadn't planned to deal with clothes there because I don't believe I "need" anything, but I decided that I should push myself to try on some clothes. The main reason for doing this is that I don't know what size I am and doing so would give me an idea. It may shock some people to know that I'm still wearing pants I wore 200 lbs. ago. I've just progressively taken them in as time has gone by.

I realize to some extent that I hang on to my oversized clothes as part of my former image of myself and a rejection of my femininity. I wear XXL T-shirts that fit me close to being a dress and pants that are too big even after being cinched and modified. I need to let go of these habits as a way of letting go of my perception of myself as a shapeless lump. To that end, I need to try on clothes and find things that fit.

This may sound like an easy and possibly even enjoyable thing, but for me, it is fraught with stress and paranoia. I still have to find larger things among normal sizes for starters, but it's more the fact that I'm still fat and I think "everyone" is watching me paw through the clothing racks and thinking, "she's too fat for anything there." This is very likely the result of the spotlight effect error, and not reality, but my feelings are my feelings. I can't deal with them by invalidating them. They can only be dispatched if they are recognized.

Not only do I feel like I'm being judged by people who are sizing me up and determining that I have no business looking for clothes among normal sizes, but this experience also taps into my feeling of being a "fraud". I don't belong in clothes designed for women because I don't have the "right" to be portrayed in a feminine manner because I'm a valueless, gigantic wad of flesh. I'm only fooling myself by painting myself with make-up and trying on "girly" clothes. I "don't belong" in the women's clothing department.

I realize that these thoughts are irrational, though they have been reinforced during nearly all of my adult life. I didn't invent them in my own fertile imagination. They are the clear messages from society for extremely morbidly obese women and I merely internalized them emotionally, despite rejecting their validity on an intellectual level .

The irony is that I know that I am not my body. One of the coping mechanisms you acquire when you live in a body society rejects so roundly for most of your life is the notion that you are your soul, psyche, intellect, or mind. You divide "you" from the meat sack that you inhabit because not doing so would be to exist in a constant state of self-loathing because you'd evaluate yourself as society does. No one can live like that for long.

However, you know, beneath the surface, that you also cannot escape your container, nor the responses to it. No matter how hard you try to distance yourself from your physicality, it is right there with you. It's a conjoined twin with your personality. Pretending it's not a part of you only helps cope with the pain of social censure but it doesn't change the fact that it is inescapably as much "you" in corporeal reality as your mind or soul.

On the surface, I have rejected this for as long as possible, but part of healing is welcoming my body into a partnership with my mind in which it doesn't take second place and isn't regarded as my enemy. For most of my life, I've felt my body has betrayed me and I've hated it for it. My mind has to shape its thoughts toward looking after the body rather than shoving its interests aside in favor of catering to the psyche. No matter how hard you try to separate mind and body, you can't in this world. That's a task for the next one, if there is another.

So, I made myself try on clothes, but not because I'm so infatuated with my new figure or want to "look good", but because it's part of a process of learning to respect my body and view myself in a less pejorative light. I still hate shopping for clothes, and I still don't care about how I look. And, I still hate how my body looks in most things, but this is how I'm moving forward.