"who is that handsome man in the mirror?"

a quantum leap of self-regard

Before I had bariatric surgery, my largest total weight loss came as the result of a period of diligent application of the Weight Watchers program in the mid-1980's. I don't remember the exact loss, I think it was 88 pounds, but since obese people tend to exaggerate successful weight loss (both to others and to themselves, this is what happens when you *really* want something), I'm not sure if 88 was the final total, but it was close to that if not.

I passed that Weight Watcher number, whatever it may have been, this week. Now I am in entirely new territory with regard to the experience of losing weight. I have never lost this much weight before in my entire life.

For some reason (and the novelty of this experience may be it), 90 pounds was a significant number for me introspectively. I can't really put my finger on why, but 80-something pounds was just another number for me, the total kept creeping upward, but it felt incremental. When I hit 90 pounds of loss, I had a quantum leap experience internally.

I had imagined that this "oh, wow" experience would happen at 100 pounds (and it still may, for all I know), not 90. For whatever reasons, 90 pounds sounds like a lot of weight in a way that 85 pounds didn't. I concede there's nothing rational about that, but rationality does not exactly rule my internal experience (to say the least).

Coincidental with this internal experience is a rapidly evolving new experience of being in my body. Things really are really different for me now with respect to how it just *feels* to be me. I can bend, stretch and move in ways I couldn't before. I can feel my ischial tuberosities (sitz bones) when I sit on a hard surface. I can easily bend over and tie my shoes. I can get into yoga poses that I never imagined I'd *ever* be able to achieve before; I no longer have to adjust my belt between sitting and standing positions; I walk normally through Subway turnstiles (instead of turning sideways to squeeze through); and, I can sit comfortably in any seat designed for an adult human.

I am no longer an social outlier with regard to my physical size. I'm still a big guy but I don't stand out in a crowd now at all, I'm just another guy with a troublesome middle-aged beer-gut. Small children no longer stare at me in gaping awe. People don't whisper to each other and point at me when they think I can't hear or see them (obese people are not deaf, folks). I can walk into any clothing store and shop. Elevators don't suddenly drop a half-inch when I step into them. Most importantly, people no longer know what my most pressing personal problem is immediately when they see me. I now can choose to tell people about my weight problem or keep that all to myself.

I've also just changed jobs. I've moved into a new social group. There are now people who know me but don't know that I was once massively obese. There are people who now know me who don't know that I've just lost a lot of weight. I have a choice about revealing all this now. That's entirely new.

Imagine what life would be like if you had to walk around with a sign pasted to your forehead that announced "massive credit card debt" or "pathological liar." For most of my adult life I've been wearing the "Scarlet G" for glutton. Immediately upon seeing me (we didn't even have to meet) people knew that I was unable to manage my body weight.

I did finally defeat most of the crippling self-hatred that comes along with morbid obesity. Unlike a lot of massively obese people I had a pretty good rational understanding of the factors that influenced my obesity which were beyond the reach of any character defects I may possess. I knew that I faced a massively-funded commercial food industry that consciously and deliberately trains people to over-eat. I knew that genetics influenced my metabolic processes. I knew that my body was configured in a way that made me tend towards intractable weight gain. I knew that my modern life as a knowledge worker encouraged illness and inactivity.

Fortunately, I also know that I am still in possession of the character defects I had before I lost all this weight. I won't detail them here (mostly for fear of leaving something obvious out and looking foolishly myopic), but I still am challenged as an ethical entity in the same ways I was when I weighed 100+ pounds more (which was a mere 7 months ago at this writing).

So, I really feel like the same person in a new body. I have been at this weight before more than once in my life, but the last time was about 20-25 years ago, so the physical experience is not *entirely* novel, but it is the first time I have visited these feelings since Ronald Reagan was President.

It's fun. It's joyful. It feels good.

I had wondered if I would end up somehow not seeing my weight loss. I wondered if I would be one of those people I'd heard about who lost a lot of weight but thought they looked the same in mirror, or just still felt like they were just as unattractive as they were before their weight loss.

I'm not. I don't. I see a skinnier, better-looking guy in the mirror.

I never did defeat my fat-ism. I don't find excess fat tissue to be attractive. I don't find the sexually provocative display of excess flesh to be socially acceptable. While I know attractive fat women, my attraction to them is in spite of their obesity, not because of it, and they utilize clothing as a way to be visually attractive rather than displaying a lot of skin.

So, of course, I hated the way I looked. As I matured I went ahead and began to care for my appearance in spite of this self-hatred, but that really didn't help me with how I felt when I looked in the mirror. I knew what the clothing was hiding.

I still don't like seeing myself naked. I'm probably going to need a panniculectomy and other plastic surgery to get the body contour I finally want to end up with, but with clothes on I sometimes look at myself in the mirror and like what I see. It's hard to believe I just wrote those words.

This is an entirely novel experience for me--a quantum leap of self-regard. I don't internally cringe when people look at me any more. I'm not assuming that I am being judged harshly from a visual standpoint when I meet someone in person. If you haven't been unattractive yourself, it may be hard to appreciate that this sort of self-regard has been the norm my *entire* socially-aware life. I literally am finding out for the first time in my life what it is like to enjoy my own visual appearance.

I remember a conversation I had with a good friend more than 20 years ago that startled me at the time and has stuck with me ever since. A very attractive female confidant of mine told me that she can get sexually aroused by looking at herself in the mirror. Looking at her certainly aroused me, but I never conceivably imagined how such an experience could ever be reflected back on one's self.

At the time I chalked it up to her significant ego, but there was something genuine about the way she told me, she wasn't trying to aggrandize herself, she was explaining something to me, exploring it with me as she talked about it. So, the initial negative reaction I had at the time faded as the experience lingered in my memory, but until very recently I never had any notion of how such a concept could come about. It was a foreign to my experience as it could be. It was as if she was describing to me what it is like to walk through walls.

Now, while I'm not turning myself on as I towel-off after a shower in the morning, once I get dressed I can start to see how this kind of visual narcissism can arise.


next - am I hot or not?