At the time in life when youre supposed to be cute and stylish, not fitting into “normal-sized” clothes is depressing, isolating, and lonely. Explaining the experience to someone who has never had a weight problem is like trying to explain to a swimmer what it feels like to be quadriplegic. I felt like the only overweight woman in my group of girlfriends. My closest friends probably had no idea how much my weight impacted my life.
I wasnt one of those fat girls whose weight kept her from living life—on the contrary, I had a vision inside my head of a thin, fit, stylish woman. Thats how I behaved. Whenever Id look in a mirror or pass reflective surface, I was startled by the overweight person staring back at me.
In my minds eye, I didnt look that way.
That attitude kept me well-adjusted. I always had friends, dates, jobs offers, and boyfriends, and while I certainly wasnt out running marathons, I also wasnt turning down any opportunity to strut my stuff on karaoke night. I was happy—relatively speaking. That same self-confidence also was a bad thing because it kept me from doing something about my weight.
When perception and reality harshly disagree with each other, it can be blinding—so much so that I simply stopped even trying to see. For four years, I avoided mirrors and reflective surfaces. I avoided having my photograph taken, and if I couldnt avoid it, I didnt want to see it. I didnt need any evidence that I looked differently than I thought I did.
These days, every time I flip on the bathroom light, pass a reflective window, or approach a full-length mirror, I have a moment of panic, scared of what Im going to see. No matter how many times this happens, how many pounds Ive lost, or how many pictures Ive developed, there is still a sharp intake of breath and a closing of the eyes. But now its followed by an exhale of relief when I realize that, overnight, I havent gained back 75 pounds.
Next Page: Changing my heart, body and mind [ pagebreak ]At the end of my exercise route, there is a small commercial district. The bank on the corner is walled entirely with windows, tinted enough to make them mirror-like. When I started exercising in earnest, I wore baggy yoga pants and a loose t-shirt to hide any evidence of what my body actually looked like. Id pass the building, timidly look to my left, and glance at the silhouette reflected in the window. Little by little, as pounds were lost and clothing became sleeker, my timidity dissipated. The image in my head became less dissonant with the reality, and I walked a little taller, taking quiet notice of foreign objects like collarbones and calves.
These past six weeks of intense running have changed my body more than last three and a half years of weight loss. My limbs are tighter and firmer, my posture is better, and I move through the world with the confidence and grace of an athlete. But the most significant change in my body has been inside my heart and head.
On a recent Saturday morning, after finishing my seven-mile run, I came to the bank and stopped to wait for a traffic light. I squared up to that window like a woman prepared for battle. Looking deep into the blackness of the empty office, I saw myself for the first time—gone were the baggy yoga pants and t-shirt, gone was the body that wanted to hide behind somebody else, wanted to be swallowed up by fabric, pavement, or an outgoing personality and quick sense of humor.
I looked long and lean, clad in my bike shorts, a tight tank top, and running shoes, a pair of athletic shades on my head, ponytail hanging down the small of my back, and sweat dripping down my chest. It wasnt delicate, it wasnt feminine, but it was HOT.
And so was I.
I couldnt hide behind the second skin of these tight, tiny clothes, and for the first time in my life, I didnt want to. Training for this marathon is as much about running away from the person I used to be as it is about running towards the person Ive become. Ive still got that image in my head of the thin, fit, stylish woman I always envisioned. But these days, rather than shut my eyes, I have to be brave enough to open them wide in order to see her.