Sorry Michael, you've been bumped for a bigger story.
Like most of us, after 40 something years on the planet, I’ve enjoyed some exciting experiences and achievements. For example, when I was nine I won a disco dancing competition at the local skate rink and proudly took home a Chaka Khan record (that I never played as we didn’t have a record player, but I couldn’t have been happier), on safari in South Africa I bumped into Michael Jackson (as you do) and while working full-time and pregnant with my first child I earned a Master’s degree. In the context of my little world, I considered these to be major newsworthy items.
Michael and me.
Yet, with all these experiences, nothing has incited more interest and curiosity than my weight loss last year. See How I lost 15kgs in 12 weeks. Nothing. Not even my prized Chaka Khan single.
I really loved my prize winning single.
The interest has been widespread, from men and women, of varying ages, occupations and backgrounds.
When I initially shared this observation with my sister the feminist in her was wildly mortified. ‘Don’t let all this attention about your weight define you.’ I knew what she meant. She didn’t want me attaching my self-worth to a number on the scales. At the time I viewed the reactions I received as overwhelmingly encouraging and motivating. But, as I would later discover, when it comes to something as personal as body weight, it’s hard not to be influenced by all the attention.
My sister - the sage (on the right.)
So why all the interest? I suspect because weight is a subject of universal interest. Most of us care about it. Many of us agonise over it. Lots of us spend far more time than we like contemplating losing it.
It’s why the media is saturated with weight loss stories.
It’s why quick fix weight loss teas and pills make it to market.
It’s why Spanx exist.
Whether we like it or not - we care.
The world-wide phenomenon of weight-loss based reality TV.
So, what did people say? Lots and lots of genuinely well-intentioned nice stuff that made me feel good. There were questions about how I did it and why. Some reflected on their own desires to improve their health and fitness. Others questioned my own health. A risky move had I been unwell but, in life, as we all know, people say a lot of things. For example, on a few occasions, I was quite dramatically pulled aside and told to ‘Stop!’, as apparently I was ‘too thin.’ Of course, at the time, I wasn’t offended. I was elated to be considered a tenant of the ‘thin’ category, having only recently moved in.
Two holidays, nine months apart.
There were, however, three reactions that particularly stood out to me.
1. Wow, you look so different, I hardly even recognise you.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I lost a lot of weight quickly and because I tend to carry weight in my face, my appearance changed significantly. I also altered my hair colour from brunette to blonde. I looked different. The verbalisation of this fact was a perfectly natural reaction and one I wasn’t at all offended by. However, I did start to question, ‘Was I that bad before?’ And perhaps, more importantly, ‘Does this mean, in the eyes of the world, I am better now?’
2. Nothing, absolutely nothing.
I love my mother in law dearly and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind my sharing that for many years I affectionately called her the ‘human scales.’ She can be accurate to the last 500 grams. If I didn’t see her for more than a week I could be guaranteed a visual weigh in upon the next sighting. I ditched my actual scales as a full comparative report was always provided. Yet, when I lost a significant amount of weight she said, weight for it (ha, ha.) Not. One. Word. I had been looking forward to a congratulatory high five. Maybe even a ticker tape parade and a freshly made spanakopita with low-fat feta. But nothing.
Then in a twist I should have seen coming the local school crossing guard handed down the verdict, ‘I just saw your mother in law, she says, my daughter in law too skinny. My son too fat.’ And there you have it.
My MIL's typical celebratory spread - but it wasn't to be.
3. You looked great before.
My husband, my family and close friends all insisted I looked great at any size. When I recently joked about my face’s ability to store a disproportionate amount of fat, my mum said, ‘But I liked your chubby face,’ and she meant it. Which is lovely, but you know how it is with those close to us – I thought, ‘they have to say that.’
The other night I was at a primary school dinner. To my surprise, one of my girlfriends said, ‘Suzie, my husband thought you looked great before…’ Another friend agreed and said her husband had made the same comment. These friends were close enough for me to respect their opinion and independent enough for me to feel they didn’t have to say it. It’s funny how the most innocuous remarks can have the greatest impact. I went home that night feeling at peace with my former self. I needed to hear those comments. With all the focus and attention on my new physique I had written off my former physical self.
Happy in the body that delivered my three sons.
You see a worry had been lurking in the darkness of my mind. What if for some reason I put the weight back on? Life can change in an instant. Priorities can change. What if one of my kids needed all my attention and I couldn’t work out? Would my value lessen? Would I be considered a failure? Perhaps it sounds melodramatic (and granted I am melodramatic) but that little comment helped me realise something important. I was happy before all this. The people who mean the most still liked me (as did lots of others too.) It’s comforting to know and important to remember, no matter what happens on the scales, life will go on.
My favourite scene from Shallow Hal. It was some not so shallow comments that calmed my fears.
Finally, back to my sister, and her sage comment about my weight defining me. The truth is my weight, how my body looks, does help define me – but only part of me. I work-out in some form nearly every day. I practically danced my way into the labour ward. So, for me, having a fit looking body feels more of a true visual representation of some of my greatest passions.
But that is where the definition stops. I’m pretty much the same woman with the same sense of humour and outlook on life as I’ve always been. Whilst I am more confident physically - and that confidence has spilled over into many aspects of my life, the essential ingredients that form me and furthermore define me, are the same. The hard part is not getting too caught up in it all and putting too much value and pressure on the physical self. That part I’m still figuring out. I’ll keep you posted.
Have you had a dramatic change to your appearance? How did people react?