Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Quality of Life

So here's the thing. A couple of people have posted on the WLS entry that their quality of life has been drastically improved by weight loss. And of course, there are eight hundred gazillion people on the internet ready to tell you that their quality of life has been drastically improved by successful weight-loss dieting.

I get it.

That sounds sarcastic, like, "Shut up already." Seriously, though, I do, because what I'd call my own "quality of life" is better now, at a size 20, than it was at a 26/28/I'm not quite sure what my size was when I weighed seventy pounds more than I do now.

Here are some reasons why:
Mobility. Not so much "fitness" (I don't think I was particularly unhealthy at that weight, and I'm not particularly unhealthy at my current weight—noting that in neither condition am I particularly "healthy," because I smoke cigarettes sometimes and I drink a bunch and eat food packed with preservatives by the handful, and I have never had a lot of upper body strength, though my legs are tough and my cardiovascular fitness isn't bad. Also, I'm pretty bendy) but fitting into things. Chairs. Spaces between tables in restaurants or people in crowds. Airplane seats, good Lord.

Clothing. The difference between the way I dressed when I was bigger and the way I dress now? Vast. And partially, this really is just a reflection of how I feel differently about myself, which I don't think can be brought down to how I feel about my size. But now I am all knee-length skirts and jeans that fit me and cardigans buttoned so that they don't make me look boxy. This morning I came upon a picture of me from the summer of 2004. Badly-fitting black jeans (not in the punk-rock way; I am so not punk-rock), button-down sweater of the shapeless variety, bad hair. Yikes. And a lot of that? Is because I have about twelve times the clothing options now that I did then. A lot of straight-size XLs fit me; every standard plus-size line makes my size (though junior-plus lines often don't). This means I can dress more like the person I want to be (that would be, these days, the person I am). It means I can dress for occasions, tailor my clothing to an image, and ultimately have a lot more power over the way I present myself.

Body shape. I'm more proportionate now than I was then. While I'm (obviously!) still fat, I'm fat in a sort of all-around fattitude kind of way (with the exception of my upper arms, which is really more about weight loss and skin sag than fatness). I have a more defined body shape, like, oh, here is my waist, here are my hips, here is my jawline, there are my breasts. This means that I don't stick out in the same way, and that I "pass" for unfat more easily. I mean "unfat" here not as actual size, but as social identity.

...And here's where I run out. I think that's where the real impact of my changes of body size have ended for me. I'm very, very cognizant of those quality of life changes, but I really think that for me "quality of life" is mostly about how I feel about myself, and that does not, it turns out, have a direct causal relationship to my degree of fatness.

Let's talk quality of life.

I've said a little bit of this in the comments section already, but: the things that are troubling my quality of life right now have nothing to do with being fat and everything to do with my academic neuroses. I am currently unable to finish writing my last couple of papers (...ever...in my entire college career...) because I have some twisted self-sabotaging separation anxiety going on, and it makes me anxious and crazy in addition to having an impact on my grades. Anything to do with being fat? Well, yes, actually, but not caused by fatness, even a little, and not about my body or even the way I feel about it. All of the things that stress me out? Not about fatness. They're about graduating (less than a week) and whether or not to move in with my boyfriend and saying goodbye to my friends and getting a job and thinking about applying to graduate school down the line...not about fatness. I don't seem to care very much about fatness these days. I have a family who paid my way straight through private college, and who are proud of me, and my thesis advisor tells me I can get into top modernism programs when I decide to apply to grad school, and my boyfriend wants to read my thesis because he likes me a lot, and my friends back home are eager to have me back, and my friends here are sad to see me go, and the sun is gold on the avenue outside the coffee shop I'm sitting in, and there's dumb Sugar Ray on the radio, and fatness doesn't have anything to do with any of those things.

Fatness does have to do with this: when a kid in a car leers at me, gives me the once-over, checks out my ass, I am not sure if it's because he thinks I'm cute (uncomfortable), or because he is internally mocking me (more uncomfortable). It makes me feel too visible, either way, and it makes me feel bad about my body, especially my worry that it is the latter. But. You know how much time this takes out of my day if I don't dwell on it? Five minutes. Tops. Including writing about it on the internet.

I wonder how much of the burden of fatness can be obviated by changing one's thinking. I think it is a lot. I am often accused by those whom I love of being too abrupt about this changing-one's-thinking process. It's not that I don't recognize that it's not that easy. On the other hand? They're your thoughts. You bring them into being. If they're not working for you, bring other thoughts into being. Clearly, I am very, very privileged here: I had the kind of health insurance that would put me away for a month to let other people tune up my thinking. But the things I learned there have changed my life, so much for the better that it takes my breath away when it sneaks up on me. Being fat is not crippling anymore. Being fat does not make me an outcast anymore. And that means that fat never did those things. It means that the problem was not fatness, but the way I thought about fatness and about myself as a fat person.

I like this way better. I am not saying that I am perfectly happy, but am I happy? Yes. I am proud of my achievements, mental-health and otherwise, and I am proud of the person I've become, and that no matter what, there were people who loved me to help me become that person, and there are people who love me who will continue to help me be the person I want to be.

There are people who love you, too.

When I started talking about being fat, I was blown away by how willing my friends are to just take it in stride. Even the ones who don't agree with me. A friend was just sitting here across from me talking about how she's reluctant to buy clothes right now because she's at her heaviest. At "her heaviest," she wears maybe a six, but probably a four. I told her she should always have clothes that fit her. And she decided to buy a pair of jeans. A few months ago, she had made a comment about the Padded Lilies, whom we were thinking of bringing in for an arts event, a comment about how synchronized swimming is hard, and how can fat people do it? I said this: "I do hard things, and I'm fat." She nodded. No more was made of it.

Fat is not really as isolating as we let it be. We let it be isolating because it is a social identity of outsider-ness, of alterity. We feel that the whole world is made up of real humans and we are fat imitation humans. We feel that no one will empathize, no one will get it, no one will want to get it.

People want to get it, and we can tell them. People love you. People love me. I started presuming that I can talk to them about being fat, like they presume that they can talk to me about feeling too fat. And then you don't have an isolating thing anymore, you don't have a boundary that cuts you off from the world. Talk about it flippantly. Assume that it's fine to talk about being fat. It is.

My point here, and I am certainly rambling away from it, is that while there are substantive downsides to being fat, there aren't nearly as many as we think there are. Maybe I still won't be hired to be a cocktail waitress. But when I walk into a grad school admissions interview and tell them that I am interested in James Joyce and canonicity and gender studies and the semiotics of the body, especially fatness, I will cock my head and I will smile and as God is my witness, I will never lose out on a place in a grad program because I felt shy and awkward and stupid and fat fat fat in the interview. Never.

And that means, hopefully, that I'll get into more grad programs than I otherwise would. I'll have a better range of options. I'll be able to pick exactly the right school, a school with professors I admire and a beautiful, beautiful library. And I will sit in the library doing research for the professors whom I admire and love the work I'm doing even if I still don't know for sure that I want to be an academic for ever and ever, world without end, amen, and that is quality of life, oh yes, even if I get up from the table and can't walk home from the library as quick as I'd like to, that is still quality of life, and it is the quality of life that is not conditional.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


I finished my Major Academic Project; I celebrated its finished-ness; I am now sitting in the sun on my balcony with a glass of champagne from one of several bottles my mother sent in celebration of the finished-ness (my second glass, as a matter of fact) and also pineapple chunks; I am so happy it hurts.

I bought a graduation dress at Anthropologie, and, somewhat ridiculously, it is a size large. The sweet, perky salesgirl sized me up and asked me if I was sure I wouldn't like to try a 12 instead of a 14 in that halter dress. I was sure. I was only taking the 14 from her hands because otherwise she would know that I wear a size far above that size, which is a little scary to admit in Anthropologie. And actually, as it turned out, the 14 was only a little too tight, which says something odd about Anthropologie's sizing, as I wear a 20. But I tried on a stretchy red jersey dress in a large, and it fit just fine. I wanted an extra-large, to see if it would be less cleavagey (busts in plus clothes are always too big for me; in straight sizes, always too small), but the dress didn't come in extra-large. And so I will wear it with a cardigan, and peep-toe heels, and try not to let my bizarre bust fall out in front of my professors and my father. But the point is: shopping at Anthropologie. How the clothes fit, some of them, when really they shouldn't. How fat is something different when you have money. How the salesgirl will check the size of your ass, surreptitiously, and decide it's not really that big, and certainly, you are not a fat person. You are dressed too well to be a fat person.

And from other dressing rooms, you can hear it, women are buying three dresses at once, a little jacket, they are calling for an extra-small because the small is too big (this makes sense if a large will fit me, actually). For me, the one dress and cardigan was more than I could afford—my mother was paying, in authorization to use her emergencies-only credit card.

And maybe something clicks. Something about social power, and semiotics, and lifestyle fantasy.

The feminist movement used to talk about "click" moments. Moments in which you sense something falling into place. (Shopping at Anthropologie, and how proud I was to say my dress was from there, and how my sister reacted as if my size had changed rather than that I had discovered that Anthropologie makes very stretchy clothing: click.)

Or: something about the shifting boundary between fat and unfat. Who is which? Fat is a social identity. It is interesting that I call myself The Fat Girl, because I am only The Fat Girl to myself. In high school, we had a different Fat Girl. She was much thinner than I was. She wore maybe a sixteen. I wore a twenty-six. But she wore drab clothes and looked like she was waiting to be kicked (I also did the former, but not the latter: I looked like I would cut you if you kicked me). She was somehow doughy. She had a receeding chin and low cheekbones, a gummy smile. She was fervently religious. She was The Fat Girl, not me, and people made fun of her. I made fun of her too, though not for being fat.

Or: sometimes now (often?) I don't even feel like a Fat Person, in the way that means "abnormal, subhuman." But more than ever, I socially identify as a Fat Person.