Once a year, the grocery store checkout magazines come out with their “Half my Size!” issue, featuring people who have dropped a significant amount of weight. They stand in one leg of their old jeans or flex in trendy athletic wear, smiling like “happily ever after” has finally arrived for them.
These are the covers I always stop to look at, studying the shining, well-lit faces, and think, I’d love to see you a year from now. Because as someone who has maintained significant weight loss for over a decade, I know from experience that after “happily ever after,” things get interesting.
First, without the layer of padding your body is used to, there’s the cold. And when you sit down, it will be a shock to find there’s room to spare on the seat. You will spend hours at the mirror, your eyes adjusting to a much smaller image, studying the stranger in front of you for a hint of the person you were.
There will be the thrill of buying clothes you’ve lusted after for years, of choosing things you like instead of only what fits. You will run into people you have known for years and they will scream in surprise, exclaiming how “AMAZING!” you look. This will make you feel both fantastic and horrible. You start getting asked on dates, and instead of praying that they like you, you get to ask yourself if you like them.
You start to discover things about yourself you never knew, preferences you never had the chance to explore because your options were limited. Your social circle changes; people may drop you out of jealousy or a feeling of betrayal. The good ones will stick, because they already loved you. You start finding new people with whom you have mutual interests—the interests you are just discovering for yourself.
When you meet people who didn’t know you before, they will think you have always looked like this. They assume you share the same experiences: of course you know what it was like to have a boyfriend in high school. Of course you went on that ride at Disney World, because, naturally, you would fit in the seat. Of course you know what it’s like to wear a piece of clothing until it falls apart, instead of discarding it because you can’t close the zipper. The things they take for granted are still a marvel for you. You play a quick game of catch-up, learning nuances that they’ve known for years, collecting experiences they’ve long had and forgotten. It will make you feel like an imposter, like with one misstep they will discover the outsider you once were, the one who watched life happen from the sidelines.
After a year or two, your big weight loss is old news. The accolades stop coming; people don’t gush over you anymore. You’re officially like everyone else. You thought this was what you wanted more than anything, but now it feels like a disappointment. You come down with a crash, realizing that the loneliness that accompanied you everywhere when you were fat doesn’t just disappear. If anything, it’s bigger now. You consider going back to the way you were, because at least you knew yourself.
The dream that life would be perfect after you got thin starts to show cracks in the foundation. You still lose jobs and get your heart broken. The basement floods. People you love die. You are no safer now because you are thin. The only difference is that there’s less of you.
More time passes, and thinness is no longer a novelty. It becomes a way of life. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember when you were fat—but you never forget that you were. You feel it every time you see someone trying to squeeze through the aisle at the movies as people snicker behind them, or come across a post on social media making fun of a fat person. Because no matter what you look like now, those people are still you. You are still fat on the inside.
But it occurs to you that this is something you can be grateful for, because you have the kind of compassion most people don’t. You know what it is to be marginalized, laughed at, and ignored. You know what it means to be treated like something less than human. And you realize that for all the pain it brought, it was also a gift. It made you a better person than you would have been without it.
To those people on the magazine covers, I wish you the best of luck.
It’s tough on the other side.