Sunday, July 24, 2011


There is a concept in art called "negative space" which has nothing to do with being "positive" or "negative". It relates to looking at the space around the object rather than at the object itself. Imagine a wall full of framed photos. Fill the photos in with black and the wall space around them with white. The white areas that encase the silhouettes are what is referred to as "negative space".

Identity is a tricky thing, especially when so much of who you are is defined by what is around you ("negative space") rather than what is inside you. People think they are their affiliations and roles rather than human beings. Women are wives, mothers, Christians, teachers, sex objects, cooks, maids, etc. Men are husbands, fathers, yard workers, mechanics, etc. (I realize those are stereotypes, bear with me.) People think they are in relationship to other things around them, not that they simply are.

I have long pondered the metaphysical notion of who I am stripped away of all negative space considerations. If I strip away those aspects of my identity which define me as a writer, a thinker, a wife and partner, etc., what is left? What is left if I toss out all of these negative space identifiers and just look inside the silhouette of me? This isn't a question for this blog because it explores something which is not related to weight, but pondering this issue did reveal a truth for me that is of value in relation to the theme of this blog.*

That truth is that for very fat people, especially those that have been greatly obese for most of their lives (from childhood to adulthood), the negative space is a little bit bigger and a lot harder to escape. It cuts into your silhouette and carves away some of your ability to define yourself by internal aspects. Your appearance and how it is perceived by the outside world is just another negative space identifier because it has to do with how others perceive you more than how you perceive yourself. One has to wonder, incidentally, what it would be like to live life without the aesthetic appraisal of ones appearance. Would you not think about your appearance at all regardless, or would you think yourself beautiful because you were the standard by which you judged such things?

Such notions aside, I realized just how hard it is to divorce oneself from the aspects of identity that relate to appearance under these conditions. My husband, who has asserted that he is happy with his appearance because he feels he is neither stunningly gorgeous enough to be appreciated for his looks (though I find him so) nor unattractive enough to be viewed punitively for them, has made me consider the value of having a neutral outlook in regards to appearance. It is far easier for someone who hasn't received praise or censure for their looks to simply know who they are because it hasn't been tattooed deeply upon their self-perception.

I've been struggling as I continue on in dealing with my issues to strip away the effects of these negative space identifiers. That is, I've been trying to stop feeding myself mantras about how unappealing my body is and how it relates to who I am. Unfortunately, this is not so simple because I continue to have such notions reinforced. When those old tattoos start to fade, someone is ready to apply a fresh coat of ink to the ones which say "fat", "strange", "ugly", etc. I can't control the behavior of others in this regard, but I can at least recognize when I'm the one who is parroting those judgements rather than hearing them externally. A lot of this identity business as time goes by and I lose more weight is coming from inside of me rather than outside, though some of it still comes from others. 

I realized today that a large part of the problem I'm dealing with right now is coming from inside, and it has to do with my age as much as my body and my weight. I'm transitioning from one negative identity which says I'm a fat, disgusting, blob, to another negative identity as I lose weight. That new identity is "old". My skin hangs off of my body in wrinkly, crepe-like sheets. My face shows more lines as body fat leaves it. I can see varicose veins that were always there but masked by fat. I realize that I'm moving from one inescapable identifier which society censures to another which society does not censure but sees as showing diminished value. This is not a happy transition.

I would like to say that I'm boldly moving away from allowing myself to be externally defined and focusing on the deeper "me", but the grim irony is that that was a lot easier when I weighed nearly 400 lbs. When your body is that big a hindrance to your life, you have to focus on who you are, not what you look like. It also helped that I avoided the world as much as possible. Losing weight has introduced a lot of new psychological variables into my life and this is just another one of them. 

I can pretend it doesn't matter or assert that the world be damned in its estimation of my value based on appearance, but that in no way will change how the negative space around me interacts with me. I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned has come as a result of coming out of the cave I hid in at a very high weight and walking into the light of the real world is that you're only fooling yourself if you think you can exist as an island unto yourself physically, emotionally or psychologically. My identity shouldn't be defined by others, but I also can't escape the consequences of their efforts to do so.

*This blog isn't my only outlet for writing and in no way represents the rich and round nature of my life (which is hidden from view as much as possible to protect my anonymity). It's merely the funnel through which specific thoughts are sorted out and away from the rest of my life, which is far vaster and broader than my readers' might imagine based merely on the content of this theme-based blog.