Fictional Normal

I just got back from a two-week cruise. I could tell you about the surreality of no longer being camera shy (as though not having my picture taken would hide the fact that I was fat), or the subtle shifts in how I viewed my fellow passengers, but what I want to focus on is the food.

There are two types of dining on a cruise. The first is the all-you-can-eat kind (which some passengers seem to take as a personal challenge) and there is the sit-down kind. Our evening meals were all the sit-down kind with the same two servers, so we got to know them quite well. The dinner menus were normally two or three appetizer selections, a few soup and salad options, several entrees, and a few desserts. I normally ordered either an appetizer or salad, and an entree, and then dessert. Every time, I would eat a few bites of the dish and be ready for the next one. It took a week to convince our servers that this was just how I eat. I was never going to finish anything, and I didn’t appreciate being harangued to keep eating. Yes, the food was excellent. No, I wasn’t going to have any more.

At the all-you-can-eat places (the breakfast/lunch buffets and the fast-food type places near the pool), I realized that I no longer felt self-conscious about going up and getting an ice cream cone or plate of fries. I was going to eat what I was going to eat, and didn’t particularly care what anyone thought about it. I was surprised, though, at the number of people who piled their plates full at every meal, and then sat there looking miserable as they ate. If food is your comfort, shouldn’t you at least enjoy it?

Here’s where things got weird. Over the course of two weeks, I gained weight just like a lot of people do. And by “gained weight,” I mean that I was .1 pounds over my normal range. In the past, I would likely have gained at least 5 pounds while on vacation, and I would have done what everyone does: I would have stopped eating and started working out 12 hours a day. And in the past, I would have either lost none of the weight, or actually gained another pound or two. That was the reality I dealt with, and the whole time, I was angry that I wasn’t “normal.” “Normal” people didn’t gain five pounds on vacation. “Normal” people lose the five pounds once they get back. (I know this isn’t necessarily true – but in my mind, this was how it worked for everyone who wasn’t me.)

When I got back, my eating habits went back to what they always are when I’m at home, as did my exercise routine. And just like that, my weight was back to what I usually expect. I’m now what I used to think of as “normal.” But am I?

I’m starting to realize that the reality I experienced before was much closer to normal than the one I experience now. That not everyone can step back into their normal lives and lose their vacation weight in a week. But I also realize that I had been sold a lie by a commercial culture whose main aim is to get me to hate myself enough to buy endless products to improve myself. The “normal” I had aimed for was a fantasy that I would never have achieved on my own. In so many ways – from the variety of clothing options available to me to the way I do my grocery shopping – the definition of “normal” has changed radically for me. “Normal” is a fiction used to make me feel like I’m not part of the group, and that I should want to be.

I don’t want to be part of the group, especially any group whose main focus is how I look. I don’t think anyone should be subjected to that. The way to break out of that mentality is to first recognize that if your definition of “normal” comes from outside yourself – from the media or your social group or even your family – it’s fictional. Normal comes from inside yourself. Normal is where you feel healthy and comfortable in your own skin. It should never be anything else.

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