Losing Weight, Losing Protection

As of last week, I weigh 224 pounds -- a loss of 119 pounds in a little over one year. At a size 18, I am about fifty pounds away from my goal weight and the national average size of 14 for women, according to Mode magazine. The last time I wore a size 18 I was thirteen years old. I realized this when I tried on my denim jacket from the seventh grade and it was a snug fit, but a fit nonetheless. And I stared at the mirror and started to cry.

I have spent a lifetime being invisible in an obese body, and now that I am merely fat I feel vulnerable and exposed. Granted, at 224 pounds I still can try to make myself "disappear" when I need to. The beloved and I were walking to breakfast today and we approached a shaggy biker on a payphone who was eyeing a confident, trim blond strutting in platforms and tight black jeans ahead of us. I watched how he never took his eyes off her, and how she knew it, liked it, encouraged it with a toss of blond hair and a shake of her tail feathers. "The mating ritual," the beloved murmured.

And I felt my shoulders hunch protectively, my stomach protrude a bit, my walk turn into a waddle, and my head bend, chin to chest. As we walked by Biker Dude, he switched his attention to the passing cars and his phone call.

Why did I fall back into this posture? Why am I afraid to be noticed in this new, strange, shrinking body?

A hundred pounds ago, I wrote about being self-confident and embracing my body. I wrote about posing nude for porno photos, I wrote about going to singles nights for "big, beautiful women and the men who adore them." I wrote fuck you letters to people who treated me as less than a person for being larger than average. I meant every word I wrote, and I still do.

But here on the other side of the looking glass, I see how much I came to depend on my size as a barrier between me and ... everything. I used weight as a hurdle I made others jump before accepting me. When they didn't take my challenge, it was the weight's fault. This way, I was able to make them villains and myself a misunderstood heroine.

The smaller I get, the less protection I have.

I still insist on wearing my clothes from a hundred pounds ago. Not all of them -- some lucky drag queen got my favorite size 28 velvet dresses, and my underwear had to be replaced because it kept falling down around my ankles. But I hide in old sweaters, in a giant pair of jeans that I pin up at the waist. Because I work for a law firm, I had to replace my corporate drag with new dresses and skirts. While I could easily shop at a Strawberry's or a Gap, I still insist on using mail order catalogs from Lane Bryant and Silhouettes, purveyors of plus sized clothes. And I have trouble asking for a size 1x or an 18 -- I inevitably buy size 20's and hide in the extra room. The beloved is amused. "Isn't that new? Why is it so ... roomy?"

"Well, you know. What if I ordered the wrong size?"

"You did order the wrong size, dummy."

"No, I mean a size too small."

A pause, then he smiles. "Then in another month it would fit, wouldn't it?"

The women I work with at the firm also tease me, especially when I wear my hundred pounds ago sweaters with a new, almost the right size skirt. "Looks like you're wearing two skirts, girl. Why don't you buy something form fitting and show off that new figure?"

I have discovered my feet. Now that I can actually see my feet, I buy shoes, get pedicures, and paint my toenails. One hundred pounds ago, I had three pairs of shoes and a pair of sneakers. Now I have twenty. I don't mind splurging on my feet, and I love showing them off in sandals. Mentally, they are the only part of my body that has not betrayed me. They should be rewarded for staying the same while my legs become less elephantine, my breasts less pendulous.

One hundred pounds ago, I had three chins. I am down to one and a half. My moon face was wrinkle free, and now I see lines, planes, angles. Fat ages better than thin. I worry about laugh lines now, and feel stupid for caring.

One hundred pounds ago, no one could sit next to me on the bus. Now I inevitably have to share my seat. One hundred pounds ago, I worried about leaving a pool of sweat behind on the chair. Now I don't look behind me when I get up and walk away. One hundred pounds ago, I took cabs everywhere, because I hated the looks I got from people on the subway when I tried to push past them to get out at my stop. Now I have a metrocard and I am constantly refilling it.

One hundred pounds ago, my male friends would call me and we would hang out together, just us. Now, their girlfriends insist on coming along. And I feel the difference in their eyes when they look at me. I used to be neuter to them, or at best, one of the guys. Now I am potential competition.

One hundred pounds ago, I was a "Ma'am." More and more, I am a "Miss."

Despite my ambivalence and my trying to hide in my one hundred pounds ago shell, my one hundred pound difference was clearly brought home to me recently in, of all places, a McDonald's. Because of my weight loss surgery, my stomach can only accept just so much food, so my usual meal at a McDonald's is a cheeseburger and a small orange drink. I was on line and a heavy woman, about my pre-surgery size, was ahead of me. She ordered two Big Macs, two large fries, a supersized Diet Coke -- that used to be my meal!

Behind me, I heard a teenage boy say to the other, "Damn, man I can't eat that much," and they broke into giggles. The woman did exactly what I would have done. She asked for her order to go, paid, and shuffled past the boys with her head down, invisible.

I wanted to turn around and hit those kids. I wanted to take the woman's hand in mine and comfort her. I wanted to let her know that I SAW and I UNDERSTOOD. I tried to make eye contact, tried to smile that "fat chick" smile we acknowledge each other with.

She would not look at me. I was no longer in the loop.

I sighed and placed my order, waiting for more giggles from the Terrible Two, waiting for the "You think that's gonna help, Fatty? You're still too fat!" and the laughter.

None came. I was outside that loop, too.

I paid and left, my head held high. Visible. Painfully visible.

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