After months of egg whites, jump squats, limited wine, sore spin class ladyparts, horrible diet recipe failures involving black beans in brownies: I am, at last, at my goal: a size four.
But I see a size 12 in the mirror.
Um, hi. What the hell? Where is the confidence I was promised? Isn’t it my time to be wearing a bikini for the first time in my life? To feel utterly glorious and radiant? To be able to get dressed in the morning and leave the house in the first thing I pick out because there is no longer such a thing as an unflattering dress that make me look like a refrigerator? Not the scene. To me, I look exactly the same. Still changing clothes 100 times. No bikini. On occasion, refrigerator status.
Apparently, this is a thing — a delightful little phenomenon called ‘phantom fat.’ After a person experiences weight loss, their perception of themselves can sometimes take its sweet, sweet time to catch up to the body’s physical changes. They can continue to carry around imaginary excess weight after the real pounds have been dropped; experts have likened the phenomenon to the phantom pains amputees feel long after a limb is gone. Yes! Experts! This is a real thing and I’m not alone on the crazy train.
I’ve been overweight forever. The ballad of the big girl: I outgrew Limited Too before any of my friends and was in a size 12 in 7th grade. By the end of college, I was at my heaviest, pushing 200 pounds. I’ve disrespected my body in so many ways; lack of exercise, horrible diet, self-hatred. But six months ago, kicked in the ass by an office weight loss competition (and, really, the threat of public shaming if I didn’t at least make a valiant effort to lose the extra weight), I completely revamped my diet, began seeing a personal trainer and committed to a serious, I-seriously-can’t-believe-I-did-that workout schedule.
Now, the weight is gone and I can’t get my head around it. I’m stronger and healthier, certainly—and so proud of what I accomplished. But I expected to ‘hardly recognize myself in the mirror,’ to be able to spew all the standard Soundbytes o’ Victory. But it’s not like that. I still see chubby cheeks. I still see my wide thighs. Still feel my stomach roll over the waistband of my jeans; still feel a pang of anxiety when I sit down in a wobbly folding chair. I’m still stunned by the way a pair of size 4 pants look like a pair of little kiddie pants; floored when they zip. Like, damn, GAP is taking the ol’ vanity sizing thing to a whole new level. Also please don’t let me break this chair oh god.
How could I have known that body image would be something I’d ever have to worry about once I got here? I figured the insecurities would vanish with the pounds.
And yet: a new war. I’m working, slowly, on recalibrating my image of myself — I recognize (to some degree, at least) this distorted image of myself can send me to dangerous places. And in the immediate future, it could very well lead right back to where I came from: why put in all this work if I can’t see anything changing?