Friday 8 February 2013

New Body, New Life? Not So Much...

I'm excited to present a guest post by Anne H Putnam, author of a new book, "Navel Gazing: One Woman's Quest for a Size Normal".  Having had similar experiences myself and knowing that there are others who have been through the same journeys of significant weight loss, only to be disappointed that they're still not one of the cool kids, still not drop-dead fabulous looking 24x7, that there are still jiggly bits, foldy bits and bits that just won't do as they're told... I wanted to have a post up that talks about it and talks about the fact that losing weight doesn't magically make all of your problems and fears disappear.

"I was fat from a very young age – maybe seven or eight – and as long as I can remember an awareness of my ‘chubbiness’, I recall having an accompanying feeling of being worthless.  I felt like I was somehow lesser-than as a direct result of weighing more-than.  So it’s not surprising that as I grew heavier, eventually passing the ‘chubby’ stage and even the ‘overweight’ stage and moving into full-blown obesity, I also felt worse about myself on the whole; I convinced myself that I was a waste of (too much) space, and would never be happy or live a normal life unless I could lose the weight.

Which I did – well, most of it – when I was 17.  I had gastric bypass surgery, which was an unusual and dramatic measure, especially for someone so young, but I was sure it was the only thing that would work.  And it did: I lost over 100 pounds (45kg) and shrank down to a normal size 12 (UK16) in under a year, and as the weight came off I waited for my ‘new life’ to appear along with my collarbone and ankles.

But it didn’t.  Far from being instantly happy and confident in my changed body, I felt nearly as self-conscious and miserable as before.  I could no longer blame my size for my shyness or my awkwardness with boys – on the other hand, I also didn’t consider myself ‘hot’ enough for those things to no longer matter. I had hoped that my body would change so dramatically that my personality could ride on its coattails where social interaction was concerned (quite the opposite of my heavy life, where my self-deprecating sense of humour and quick wit kinda-sorta made up for my bulk), but I was sorely mistaken.

I still felt fat (or on a good day, still-not-thin-enough), and I also found new things to hate about my body: excess skin left over from rapid fat loss; small, uneven breasts that looked like they belonged to an 81-year old instead of an 18-year-old; fine, frail hair where once there was a lush brunette mane.  I bought push-up bras, took vitamins for my hair, and even had surgery to remove much of the excess skin, and while all those things helped my confidence out in the world, at home I still fell into frequent bouts of self-hatred.

I had allowed myself to expect too much.  The surgery was intended to help me lose weight, not to fix my life or even perfect my imperfect body – it did its job, but I was let down by my own unfounded hopes.  It wasn’t until years after the gastric bypass that I finally began to understand that I hadn’t done my part: it was my job to figure out why I was so unhappy and try to fix that, instead of always projecting my anxiety and disappointment about life onto my body.  After years of struggling with my image and trying to make physical changes in order to affect an emotional change, the switch finally flipped.  I needed to work from the inside out.

These days I mostly try to ignore my body; I’m still not emotionally stable enough to ‘love’ it as we’re so often ordered to do, but I make a conscious effort not to hate it.  If I catch myself obsessing over a saggy thigh or a belly roll, I try to distract myself by going out and interacting with people.  I find that talking to someone other than myself, even if that person is a stranger like the newsagent from whom I’m buying a bottle of water, helps me focus my energy on the outside world and away from my self-destructive obsession with my physical flaws.  As long as my body is functioning and healthy, it is doing its job, and I do my best to let it get on with that job without interference from me.

I could never regret the surgery I had or the resulting weight loss, but getting thinner didn’t ‘fix’ me – in fact it didn’t even come close.  I think it’s easy in our society to think that if we can look a certain way, then everything else will fall into place; while losing weight made my life easier in a lot of practical ways, it complicated my emotional world.  In the end, I’m grateful for that complication, as it forced me to examine my self-esteem and work harder on the kind of person I want to be, rather than the type of figure I felt I should cut – but it has been a difficult road. 

The journey is by no means over, but I feel I’m on the right path at last.  And that’s worth more to me than any physical goal."

If you want to read more about Anne's story, you can get a copy of Navel Gazing from all good booksellers (available also on Kindle )...

"For anyone who's ever avoided the mirror, skipped swimming or got stuck in a dress in a changing room . . .

Almost every woman worries about her weight. For Anne H Putnam, it became unavoidable -- by the age of seventeen she weighed over twenty stone and had tried everything, from dieting to fat camp to wearing big t-shirts. When she decided to have weight-loss surgery, she thought everything would change. But now, nine years later and ten sizes smaller, she has discovered that changing your body doesn't automatically change how you feel about it.  Navel Gazing is a funny, passionate and no-holds-barred memoir of one woman's quest to accept her own body -- to feel normal. It will make you laugh, cry, cringe -- and wonder why it's so hard for women to feel happy with the way they look.

By turns funny, painful and moving, this is a story that many women will relate to and will be a great self-purchase.  A classic coming of age story, Navel Gazing addresses the universal themes of self-image (not just weight-related), finding your place in the world, and the small battles of everyday life.  Will appeal to readers of 'Eat, Pray, Love', 'Girl, Interrupted', 'Hungry Years' and 'Menonite in a Little Black Dress'."

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