Q. I’ve lost a lot of weight in the past year. I mean, basically the net weight of a couple of pre-schoolers. I’ve got a little ways to go to get to my goal (which is whatever weight I land on while I train for a couple of half marathons). As I am impressed with my ability to essentially leap tall buildings in a single bound, I am utterly miserable with how I look without my clothes on. My sex life with my SO wasn’t great over a year ago, and now it is basically nonexistent. I am terrified that he sees what I see: loose skin…everywhere. I feel less sexy now than I did before, which is unexpected. It is to the point that if he catches me getting out of the shower or mid-dress, I cry. I know that he loves me and is proud of me (and would very much like me to be naked all the time), but I am struggling with even being seen in my underwear. With my clothes on, I feel strong and pretty badass. Without, I am a self-defeating pile of sobs and misery. I feel like I am living two realities defined by a few swaths of fabric. What can I do to get to a place where I can be comfortable with having sex and maybe, I don’t know, enjoy it again?
A. Oh my sweet. The things we want are so horrible to us sometimes.
Before I stumbled upon your question, I happened upon this article by Kelly Coffey. Coffey was once 300 pounds and quote, “Smoked like a house on fire, drank like a blues guitarist, ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and never, ever exercised.” Over time, she began working towards losing weight, a number that soon was as much as half her original body weight. People responded. She looks great. She looks amazing. She is beautiful. She is worthy of our praise and affection now that she fits within a certain size.
Thinness is so very valuable, isn’t it?
It’s so valuable that I’m sure plenty couldn’t fathom why Coffey, who after losing nearly 150 lbs and gaining entry into the categories of “worthy,” “beautiful,” and “healthy,” would write a treatise on why she missed being 300 pounds.
There’s the weird disconnect between the size of me in my mind and the size of me — of my physical body — in the world. The “me” in my brain is big. My voice is big. My feelings are big. My attitude is big. Ten years ago, all that bigness was reflected in my body — fat, round, impossible to miss. Now, my personality and my body feel mismatched, like my mind is walking around in shoes several sizes too small. I miss feeling like a cohesive whole. I miss inhabiting the grander space I once did.
Flesh is all too easy to crave and despise, isn’t it? We want control over our constantly failing, disappointing bodies that can never, ever, ever bend or morph or fit into those tightly controlled portions of what having a “good” body means. I do not know what having a good body means. I don’t think anyone can ever have one. Or if they do, they can’t have it for long.
But the weight is gone and whether you loved it like Coffey or hated it so much you would have torn it from your bones, the fact remains that what’s gone is gone and what remains is your loose skin. Skin that used to hold flesh. Skin that used to house a self that is no longer there but that still exists somewhere, just perhaps in a different form. Now instead of hating flesh, you hate your skin that now drags and folds and hangs off your body like some alien life form, just waiting for you to hate on it.
Something had to fill that space.
I certainly am not arguing that your skin is not something you can improve on or is even something you could ever be happy with. If there are options out there, which there are, then I advise you to seek out those options to whatever extent you possibly can. But I do want to drop one teensy, tiny, itty bitty pearl of admonition into your sweet ears. This skin of yours, once it is gone? Will not completely stop the feelings of insecurity and body hate? Far from it. Like what was once fat, which is now skin, after each part is gone, there will be something else left, something hideous and ugly, something which deems you unworthy of love and comfort, something which decrees that your partner should never, ever find you attractive or someone to whom he can turn. There will always be some skin too loose, an ass too fat, teeth too yellow, hair too brittle, something, something, something, always there is fucking something. Even on the best days, with the best bodies, there is fucking something.
Which is hard to really argue in perspective. Not liking your hair is vastly different from folds of loose skin hanging from your body. Not liking your body, but falling into the acceptable body category is far easier than not liking your body and having a body that people both fear and ostracize. But to be perfectly clear, it all comes from the same place: the place of not feeling like you will ever be good enough. My dearest, it is far too easy to fall down this trap. Let us go back to Coffey:
When I was fat, I understood that most weight changes are fleeting and insignificant. At 300 pounds, I wore clothes forgiving enough to accommodate ten pounds lost or gained, so I didn’t think much of it. Sadly, going from a size 6 to an 8 makes me nuts in a way that going from a size 26 to a 28 just never did. I miss the freedom I once had from noticing and obsessing over Every. Single. Pound.
As an obese woman I experienced the world every day in a body that was judged, undervalued, demonized, mocked, feared, despised, and avoided. Those awful experiences gave me more empathy, more character, more personality, and a broader, richer and more inclusive perspective than lifelong thinness ever could have (back off, deep and interesting lifelong-skinny women — I’m speaking for myself here). I also have a much more meaningful appreciation for my health and the body I have today, and I sure as hell will never take it for granted. Not to mention the deep respect I automatically have for every person I meet who doesn’t fit the (white, straight, middle-class, able-bodied) mold.
Every. Single.Pound. Because while it’s easy to think that there is just the “losing weight,” the truth is honey, anytime we reinvent our physical selves, there also comes the weight of losing you. It doesn’t mean that our past or future selves are bad per se, only that transition and change always come with having to lose or give up something in order to gain something else. What do you put in that empty space where the weight of you is now gone? Either the worthiness you want to bestow on yourself that you have always, always, always deserved or the hating of loose skin or fat rolls or something else, some other flawed body part which will never be fixed. The choice is not completely yours — society will make damn sure of that. But if you can take the smallest amount of that space you can, just at first. Take that space that is about the size of a finger tip and instead of concentrating on how much you hate your current body, think to yourself, “This is my body. It is okay.” No value judgement, no worthy scale of 1-10. Just okay. This is your body, plain and neutral. If you can carve out that one bit of space where for just a minute you can not project some sort of value judgement on your body, your one, precious body that you get in this entire damn life? Well, it’s one more minute of not hating what your body is than you had before.
Dare to not hate it, my dear sweet thing. Dare for just a minute to not hate yourself, even though you think everything in the mirror might convince you otherwise. This will be a Herculean effort. You quite literally might feel like the condemned Sisyphus, pushing negative thoughts out of your mind up and up and up, until everything tumbles back down and you have to start all over again. You will not succeed every day. You will not change overnight. This will not be the miracle drug that perhaps surgery or pills or exercise might do you for.
But what this does do is create space from hating yourself, of not feeling worthy. It plants, little by little, the thought that even if your body is fat, even if it is draped in loose skin, even if it is X,Y, and Z reasons to be condemned and fixed and hated and scorned, that all of that? Doesn’t mean shit. Because you are worthy. Your body is worthy. You know that. You’ve always known that. Where it was forgotten somewhere on the line, I can’t tell you, but I swear to you, it is one of those deep, stomach busting truths that you carry with you since you were a baby. You know it. I know it. All you need to do? Is find that tiny space in your mind, the one the size of a finger tip, and begin to convince yourself of it again.
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