The women in the circle swung hips to the music, beckoning me to shake it in the center. I was supposed to shout out a word to define the wild abandonment of my body in movement, or at least that was the assignment given by our coach. I danced a little, shouted the wrong word (fun), and felt my cheeks flame red.
I am a grotesque monster.
I am untouchable.
I am an island of shame.
It was the eve of my 40th birthday and after 4 years of internal and external change I thought I was over this shit, but The Chasm, The Canyon was back, laid across my feet and I couldn’t traverse the widening gap to meet these gorgeous, strong, and talented friends on the other side.
Later, we sat around the fire pit in reflection on the evening’s activities that were meant to further personal growth and development as female leaders and entrepreneurs. I did a quick check out of little substance, declined the wine, claimed I had kids waiting for bedtime kisses, and drove home, sobbing.
When I got there, I said goodnight to the kids, walked by my bedroom mirror and thought “Who’s this bitch?” And for a full 3-4 seconds, I didn’t recognize myself.
Her voice, livid.
I am a haunted woman, by none other than me, myself, and the 130+ pounds of flesh that I melted away.
I take small comfort in her existing as a spirit outside my current body, because, honestly, where does 130 pounds go? They say we breathe out the melted fat, as an exhalation over time… maybe I breathed her a new home. The old Katie, like a feral beast, living out her rebel days amongst the flora and fauna in cold landscapes where she will never sweat. She is at peace in her green cocoon of quiet. Nobody calls her fat. Nobody gives her pep talks. Nobody underestimates her. Nobody tells her she isn’t good enough.
But sometimes she slinks back in anger to eat my scraps of self-doubt, pain, and backstory.
I owe her an apology. She didn’t deserve how I and others treated her.
I exist on a scale somewhere between 256 and 126. I have never fit the standard of feminine American beauty, until maybe now. These days, I have strawberry blond hair, tan skin, lean legs, a small butt, and the kind of collarbones that I obsessed over my whole life. I weigh what I did in the 5th grade when my “best friend/evening telephone boyfriend” said “you’re super fat” and never spoke to me again.
I look like the girls I hated and was jealous of for most my life. #mindfuck.
In middle school, I weighed about 165, moved schools three times due to a nasty divorce, and when the most popular boy in my final school told everyone that I was a freak, it stuck, and I spent the rest of my high school years fighting the label. When the girls in the 11th grade threw food at me in the halls while chanting “That fat bitch… so rough-n-tough with afro puff,” I retaliated with an article in the school newspaper calling them shallow idiots. They threatened to beat me up, mooed like cows.
Girls are mean.
I was just as mean.
I became that sarcastic fat friend you all know and love, but clearly wouldn’t kiss or ask on a date.
My first boyfriend hid me from everyone because he was embarrassed of my size.
My second boyfriend told me I “really was beautiful” while he was breaking up with me and then published a short story a few weeks later in our college’s literary journal about a girl who looked beautiful, like “Goddesses in Renaissance paintings,” but when she took her clothes off was a monster with rolls of flesh that made his dick go limp, and because our college campus was so small most people knew it was me.
This barely scratches the surface of the things men (and women) said… and continue to say.
I spent the first 30 years of my life hating every inch of my body except my ankles and hair.
I spent the first 30 years of my life worshipping or demonizing all the women around me… taking inventory of their bodies, the way they moved and smiled, the way they covered themselves.
I spent the first 30 years of my life learning to squash any inkling that I was deserving of love or desire and spent decades cultivating inner beauty and doing big things that made it easier for people to like me.
I can’t seem to find Body-Positivityland, a utopia filled with women, writers, and activists that I admire. I want to join them, but I’m not sure I’m allowed membership anymore because I had gastric bypass surgery after thirty years of battling diets, depression, suicide attempts, and body dysmorphia. I was shamed as a fat person by the world and now I feel shamed as a skinny one.
Some of my friends and family passive- aggressively punish me for losing weight and changing. Some think I cheated by having a surgery to lose the weight—as if I my new body (and subsequently all the gifts in my life that showed up afterward) were handed easily to me.
What they don’t understand is that my obesity (theirs too) isn’t truly “The Obstacle” in life… for me, it was my brain space and the nastiness I, others, and culture poured inside its skull-shaped container. Through writing and leadership activities, I was able to process my backstory to move forward and achieve what I wanted in life, love, and work. I am happier and healthier because I work daily to change my brain space, not because I lost 130 pounds. However, part of my happiness is tied to an undeniable privilege… the world bends itself to you when you meet the acceptable standard of female beauty.
Basically, I’ve been Ursula and I’ve been Ariel. Trust me, Ariel has it better… but man, do I love and see Ursula. What I want to scream is that women can be happy at any size, but only if we learn to live with all those demons clamoring with pitchforks and fire inside our brains. And these demons are so good at disguising themselves as “harmless” things. I’m a smart, talented, fierce woman and I couldn’t figure out how to do it until I had the surgery and was forced to actually deal with what it means to replace my perfectionistic shaming and diet culture obsessions.
These days, when women tell me they want to lose weight, what I hear is that they want to change their brain space, not their bodies per se, but when I offer that back, many don’t believe me. #nomagicpills
Perhaps the hardest part is that most people don’t know how to change; they hold competing interests in two fists and damn the sky for why they can’t do the thing they so desperately want to do. On top of that, we rarely let people change because it foists a mirror upon ourselves that is difficult to see and understand. We are comparative social creatures who learn from others, and our human frailty and ego makes it nearly impossible to thrive off a contrast and comparison mindset.
I refuse to spend the next 40 years of my life feeling fractured and split in my female form.
I refuse to abide by the stupid dichotomy of before/after. Everything that matters happens in between.
I refuse to say that losing 130 pounds made me a better woman.
For decades I have feasted upon a single lyric by Cyndi Lauper: “I want to be the one who walks in the sun” from her famed “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Somewhere in the hallways of my brain, I wrote a note on the wall in Sharpie that declared fat girls don’t get be in the sun, out in the world, living gorgeous lives. That was for other girls- the chosen ones.
That was my word for the dance. Sun. Not Fun.
I want to be The Sun.
I can dance; but it’s clear to me that at moments she becomes me and I become her and we are still entangled in a dark game of mutual body shaming. Clearly, I have more work to do. Here’s what I promise:
I’m telling all the truths. The resonate ones and those dissonant ones, too. Fat bitch. Skinny bitch. All the Bs in between.
Welcome to The Canyon. This is about traversing the chasm of change, the fractured feminine experience, fatness and thinness, sex, beauty, the ache, and the canyons we must leap.
See you on the other side- Katie