Everything Is Ugly

I mentioned in my last post that finding clothing is hard. I’ve always had a distinct sense of style (nearly all of my clothes are black, white, or red; I like close-fitting more than flowy or loose; I like something dramatic like diagonal cuts, metal buttons, or bold prints), so it’s not like I’m going to the store thinking “I would like a new pair of pants. Let’s see what’s on offer.”

Back when I was a size 20/22, there were only a few stores I could shop at – Lane Bryant, Torrid, Universal Standard, Ashley Stewart. When you’re a larger person, finding clothes that fit can be tricky, since fat tends to spread itself unevenly around a body, so each configuration is unique. When I went clothes shopping, it was always a treasure hunt: where in this conglomeration of clothes was something that fit? Once that was narrowed down, it was a matter of choosing the thing I liked most or, more often, the thing I hated least.

Only now that I am an easier-to-fit size do I realize how ugly most clothing is.

Part of that judgment is a hatred of “fast fashion,” mostly sold in stores that cater to younger people who have both a limited budget and a desire to keep up with trends. The fabrics are usually thin and cheap, the construction is shoddy, and the colors are often offensive. Bile green? Really?

At the other end of the spectrum are the higher-end mall clothing stores also targeted at younger people, but in a much higher income bracket. In these stores, the clothes all look alike, change very little from season to season (the waistband gets marginally higher or lower, the leg length or circumference changes a bit, the plaid patterns vary) but the clothes are outrageously priced and the stores surround themselves with a nimbus of fragrance that makes them impossible to approach. The people who shop at those stores tend to conform with the norms of their social set so much that they look like flocks of birds feeding, running, flying in unison.

If one is older, there are other stores at the mall, and most of them carry clothes that remind me of stuff my mother would wear. My mother who’s 80 years old. And has great-grandchildren. Not that my mother has terrible taste, but her clothes tend to run toward the strictly practical. I’m all for a clog or a hiking boot in their place, but they’re not my go-to.

This proliferation of clothes I would never wear is something I didn’t expect back when my options were more limited. It’s like being vegan at a crappy restaurant where your only choice is the french fries and not realizing that all the food sucks.

One of my (many) ex-husbands told me once that I’d be happier if I lowered my standards, but I think he formulated that idea incorrectly. If my standards were already lower, I would probably be happier with the choices I have. The problem is that since I have high standards, lowering them wouldn’t make me happier. It would mean that I’d have more options, plus a lifetime of self loathing from knowing I can do better.

I don’t want that. All I want is the perfect pair of pants. I know it’s out there.

A Country Where I’ve Never Been

I had a meeting with my bariatric surgeon. It’s only my second since the pandemic began, although I was supposed to check in twice a year. I reported my weight to him (142.6 as of that morning) and told him I had been stable, plus or minus about a pound and a half, for the last couple of months.

I’ve been struggling with the idea of having the excess skin from my abdomen, buttocks, and thighs removed. Right now, it looks like a deflated balloon – sort of limp and slack. It’s never going to go back, in no small part because I have never, even for one single day of my entire life, had a flat stomach. No matter how thin I’ve been, I’ve always had a flap of fat hanging off my stomach like an apron. I come by it honestly – my grandmother had the same thing, which she always called her “panza.”

I asked my bariatric surgeon how long I should wait before getting skin surgery, and he said now would be the perfect time. I don’t know why, but hearing from my surgeon not just that I should get the surgery now, but that he considered it the last step of the entire process, made me feel a lot better about it.

Now comes the really mind-bending part. At the age of 56, I will be getting a body that I’ve been wishing for since puberty. I’ll be able to wear any bathing suit I want. I’ll weigh less than I did in high school. I will wear an adult clothing size I’ve never worn.

Before the bariatric surgery, I wasn’t sure how my life would change. It has changed, but not a lot. And I’m wondering if it will change any more once I have skin surgery. Here are the biggest surprises from “I’m now 100 pounds lighter.”

  • When I find something really cute at a store, chances are better than even they won’t have it in my size. When I was heavier I never found clothes in my size because high-end stores didn’t carry them. Now it’s because they’ve sold out.
  • It doesn’t matter how great I look in clothes – my gray hair means that no one’s staring when I walk down the street.
  • Nothing ever fits quite right. It doesn’t matter what size you are, there is no way to buy clothes off the rack and have them fit perfectly. The places they’re too tight or too loose may change, but the lack of fit stays the same.
  • I will never have whatever body type is currently fashionable. And that’s okay, because neither does anyone else I know.

Planning for the Future

My weight has held steady at around 143-144 for the past couple of months, and I have created a nice routine of getting up and hitting the bike, and my eating is generally decent, but I’ve bumped up against a pretty big issue. I know I will have to buy new formals for the inevitable round of holiday parties at the end of this year. I’ve been looking at all the places I used to shop, and every time, it’s the same.

I’m terrified to buy a new formal, because there’s some part of me that says that because I have failed in the past, I will fail again, and if I buy something now, by the time I need it, it will be too small.

Those of you with weight issues know that sometimes, there’s literally nothing you can do. I would pare down my calorie intake to the barest minimum and work out for an hour a day (on top of holding down a job and maintaining a household) and I might still see the scale creep up. When that happened, it was easy to drown my sorrows in pizza, thinking “Fuck it. I can’t lose weight, so why am I making myself miserable?”

These days, when the scale starts creeping up, it does so by ounces, not by pounds. And normally it doesn’t take much to get it back to where it should be – an extra 15 minutes on the bike, skip the toast with my morning yogurt, that sort of thing. Still, I am having real issues overcoming the fear of failure.

Now that the weight loss has stopped, I still don’t have the body I wanted, so it’s hard to feel like it’s been a total success. In my dreams, I would lose weight and immediately become supermodel levels of beautiful, and I’m not even close. Decades of living in a larger body have left their marks not just where you’d expect – my stomach, butt, and upper arms – but in places I didn’t realize would be so affected. I now have deep nasolabial folds (the ones that go from the sides of your nose to the corners of your mouth). My neck looks like a cow’s with folds of loose skin hanging off it. Between the crepey skin on my body and the added wrinkles on my face, I went from looking 10-15 years younger than I was to looking 10-15 years older.

I’m struggling to tell myself that it’s natural to want to feel good about yourself, and that even if I don’t change another thing, I’m still a worthwhile person. But it’s hard. Right about now, I’m very much feeling like I traded one problem for another, and I’m not sure where to look for a solution to this new one.

Who’re You Gonna Trust?

Spring is here! And with it comes Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and all the other rich, sweet foods that have always been my Achilles heel. I had gotten pretty sloppy with my eating, but after all those cookies, candies, and pies, I knew I wasn’t doing as well as I should be. Whenever I get anxious about my weight, I do that thing most people do: stop weighing myself. But if I don’t know the truth, I’m free to imagine all sorts of worst-case scenarios.

And that’s exactly what I started to do. Because I wear leggings a lot, my shape is right there on display. Leggings may be able to even out a bit of cellulite or smooth a silhouette, but they can’t disguise the extra pounds you may start to pack on. I would look at my calves and think that they looked huge. My stomach looked bigger. Everything just started looking like I had gained at least 15 pounds, and I was panicking.

Once the orgy of Easter gluttony was over, I needed to get back to some discipline. I went back to recording my food intake (one of my main tools), and weighing in.

Which do you trust – the scale, or your own eyes?

The first time I stepped on the scale, my heart was pounding. It was first thing in the morning, I had just peed, I was completely naked, I had even taking off the three rings I habitually wear. If I could reduce a 15-pound weight gain to a 14.8 pound weight gain, I’d consider it a victory. The little digital numbers started at zero and went up, and….I had lost two more pounds.

This is part of my dysmorphia. At my heaviest, I couldn’t tell what I looked like, and often thought of myself as much thinner than I was. Now that I’ve lost over 100 pounds, my brain is still telling me I’m fat, even though I exercise every day, and I mostly try to stick to foods I know will work for me – salads, chicken breast, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables. But I haven’t said no to treats, and spend a decent amount of time planted on the couch, and all my past experience tells me that if I’m not starving myself and working out 10 hours a day, I will never lose a pound, and in fact might actually gain weight.

The knowledge that most people stop automatically losing weight and start having to be more mindful of their habits 12-18 months after bariatric surgery is always at the back of my mind. My surgery was at the end of October, so I’m right at that 18 month mark. I don’t know what it will look like when the honeymoon period is over. My weight loss has slowed from a high of 10 pounds per week (the first couple of weeks right after surgery) to about half a pound per week for the last six weeks or so, but it’s still heading downward.

How is it that, even as I continue to lose, my perception of my own body is that it’s getting bigger? Now I have two competing feelings to muddle through. Even though my clothes aren’t any tighter and my measurements continue to go down, all I see is the fat. At the same time, even though I’m still more than 20 pounds away from dipping below a “normal” BMI, I worry that I’m never going to stop losing weight. That I’m going to dwindle away into a sack of bones. My desire to keep to a healthy diet and exercise routine is always at odds with my desire not to disappear.

All this is to say that losing weight is great and solves many problems, but getting the pounds off is just the start of the process. Understanding how to take care of a body that’s changing all the time – with age, with the seasons, with stress – and how to feel good about the body I’m taking care of is a much, much longer journey.

Tomorrow Is Yesterday In a Different Place

One of the many things I lost in the fire was all my archery gear. I had a beautiful one-piece recurve bow and dozens of arrows, a left-handed hip quiver, a couple of arm guards – all the stuff. And then I didn’t.

I’ve been part of the local archery club for a couple of years, but first the coronavirus hit and nobody could use the indoor or outdoor ranges, then I lost my house and all my stuff and was relocated too far from the range to make using it practical. In the time since I last saw them, I’ve lost over 100 pounds, and when I went to replace my bow, quiver, arrows, etc., nobody at the archery shop I’ve been frequenting for years recognized me.

I’ve seen lots of episodes of different television shows about exactly that scenario. A person walks into a place they’ve been in many times, and the people there don’t recognize them. On television, the person runs around screaming at everyone they meet until they wake up, or the devil shows up and tells them they’re in hell, or until they go running out of the shot, driven insane by the knowledge that nobody knows them.

In real life, I mentioned that I’d been in various archery leagues and done well. That I am an archery club member. That I was on a team with the club president and his family, that I had just been to the house of the club treasurer. That I’d taken third in the last league I participated in at the archery range all of us frequented.

Nothing. Not a glimmer of recognition.

Then I started thinking about other places I used to go a lot, and other people I thought I knew, and wondering whether they’d recognize me. When I had an office downtown, I would walk down the street from my office and run into half a dozen people I knew. Would any of them recognize me?

That feeling of disorientation I feel is battling with my deep need and desire to be left alone. Maybe this is fulfilling my dream of being able to walk through the world invisibly. Which is better? To be completely visible, but no one recognizes you, or to be invisible?