This past Sunday, after months of hard work (and lots of procrastination, too) I turned in the fully revised copy of the 35-page honors thesis that I wrote as the pièce de résistance of my undergraduate educational career. The moment that paper was transferred from my hands to someone else’s, I sighed with relief.
Over. Done. Finally.
The ideas for this paper had been rattling around in my head for a couple of years, so to say that this took a load off my shoulders would be an understatement. This was a big deal, and it’s hard to believe it’s mostly over and done with.
I say mostly because I still have to defend the paper—I have to stand up in front of a committee consisting of the professors, mentors, and scholars that I most greatly admire and that have walked with me down this path toward academic completion, and I have to prove to them that what I’ve dedicated the past several months—or years to, really—has been worth the time, effort, and investment. I have to stand up and defend what I’ve done, what I’ve learned, what I think, what I feel. I have to explain why I’m so passionate about this work and this field of study. I have to prove that I have earned the right to join other academics in saying that I really and truly specialize in something and that I have acquired the knowledge worthy of receiving noted academic honors and a standing of excellence.
For the past several months, I’ve been mentally preparing for this, but probably not in the way that you think. I haven’t stood in front of my bathroom mirror and polished up on my public speaking skills—no. For months, I’ve been standing in front of my bathroom mirror looking at myself, turning from side to side, poking and prodding the body that, day by day, is drastically changing. For months, I’ve been looking at dresses online and in store front windows, dreaming of being small enough and confident enough to slip one on so that I could look and feel pretty and feminine and professional and like I belonged in the world of academia that I am (hopefully) about to be welcomed into.
Today, I went shopping for that dress.
And it was really, really, really hard.
I went to a handful of stores—literally, I went to five—and I tried on about 50 dresses, only to end up finding two that I “sort of” liked.
I stood underneath flickering, glaring lights in front of full-length mirrored walls, and I was at a loss as to what to think or do.
I grabbed jackets and dresses galore in all sorts of styles and sizes and cuts and colors and shapes, and unlike most women who probably get at least a little joy out of the “thrill” of shopping, I was absolutely miserable. The whole time. For me, there was no enjoyment in the process whatsoever.
There, in the confined walls of five different fitting rooms, I looked at myself, five different times, and, like a true academic, I critically assessed and analyzed what I saw.
I looked at myself through eyes that can now recognize change and transformation. I looked at myself through eyes that have come to know the meaning of true hard work, dedication, determination, and discipline. I looked at myself through eyes that can now appreciate what it means to physically look healthier. I looked at myself through eyes that can say, “so much better.”
And I was proud of myself. I was proud of the fact that I had to take back all of my first round dress and jacket picks because the XXL pieces I’d chosen were all much too big for my now-smaller frame. I was proud of the fact that I could universally slip on size XLs without bursting out of them or tearing them at the seams. I was proud of the fact that I could physically see the manifestation of my hard work.
But, in spite of being proud and recognizing and admiring my accomplishments, I was also very, very sad. And each time I pulled on a dress that wouldn’t quite lay “just right” because of the loose skin on my stomach or the lumps and bumps of fat that I still carry with me each day, or that wouldn’t conceal my stretch mark and cellulite-laden arms, or that just simply wasn’t flattering on my figure, I cried. And I cried. And I cried.
I cried mostly in mourning of the body that I’ve always wanted and that I felt that I “should” have always had that, unfortunately, is now forever out of reach. Standing amongst those piles of beautiful dresses, I admitted what I’ve subconsciously known for quite sometime now: no matter what I do from this point forward, no matter how much weight I lose, my body is not ever going to be what I dreamed that it would be.
I have loose skin.
And 90 lbs. down from now, I’m going to have more loose skin.
I have stretch marks. Hundreds of them. Everywhere.
And 90 lbs. down from now, they are probably going to be even more noticeable.
I have done terrible, terrible, terrible things to my body.
And 90 lbs. down from now, there will still be evidence of that abuse and mistreatment.
None of this is ever going to go away.
There will always be reminders.
And that makes me really, really, really sad.
I bought a dress that I only sort of like, and I haven’t taken the tags off of it yet because there’s a part of me that wants to return it.
In fact, there’s a part of me that wants to return everything—the dress, the jacket, the shoes—that I bought today and just exchange everything for some slacks and a semi-dressy shirt and call it a day.
I’m not a dress wearer.
I am most happy, comfortable, and confident in jeans and t-shirts, so I’d probably be much happier, comfortable, and confident in something more familiar, like slacks and a shirt or blouse.
I don’t feel like myself in a dress… I don’t feel like myself at all.
But I bought the dress anyways because, if I’m being honest, I don’t even know who “myself” is anymore.
Lately, I’ve been really melancholy and prone to emotional outbursts.
Something is amiss, but I don’t know what it is. My happiness is so finicky and fleeting.
Things that I thought would mean more to me just… don’t.
Prior to pursuing my current field of study (writing and linguistics) in college, I was actually in nursing school. I had taken AP courses in high school, and during my senior year, I also took a couple of science classes through a local university here in Denver, so when I started college in the fall of 2011, I was actually noticeably further along in my studies than most of my classmates.
I hated nursing, though. It made me miserable.
I remember feeling a lot like this actually—a lot like I am now.
I felt out of place and disenfranchised from the rest of the future nurses, doctors, and dentists that I was studying with.
The reason I finally quit nursing school, though, was because one sunny day in mid-October, the girl sitting next to me in a chemistry lecture said, “Even though we’re all miserable and our studying often ends in tears and we’ve all failed quizzes and partial portions of exams because there’s just too much to do and to know… I know it’ll all be worth it in the end. I know that we’re doing the right thing and that our dreams are going to come true.”
I never went to another chem lecture again, and I dropped out of the program the next day.
Do you know why?
I quit because, right then and there, I knew that I wasn’t going to be happy with the end result. I knew that, to me, it wasn’t going to be “worth it.”
Sometimes I feel like that about weight loss.
I don’t feel like that all the time, but I do feel like that sometimes.
Everyone always tries to tell me that whatever I’m worried about isn’t as bad as being fat, and, in a lot of ways, that’s true. But a lot of the things that I’m worried about do matter to me, and they aren’t things that I can just “get over” and immediately say, Yeah. This problem is better than the other problem.This isn’t as bad as being fat.
I wish that I could say that. But I don’t actually believe that—not really.
So therein lies the problem, right?
Therein lies the melancholy, too, methinks.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m “falling off the wagon” or that I don’t see or think about all of the good things that are better than being fat that I’ve gotten out of this journey already and that I will continue to get out of it, because that’s not the case.
I know that, in a lot of ways, I’m a much better person now than I was “before,” and I also know that that’s likely to continue to improve.
However, in the interest of full disclosure, I think it’s worth saying that I certainly don’t see the good or think about the good every single day, and I also don’t have easy, doubt-free days every day.
Today was a hard day, and it’s not the first and it certainly won’t be the last, but it was hard, nevertheless.
Today was a day of doubt.
Maybe tomorrow will be better.