Project Healthy Holly
Getting healthy after years of obesity is an indescribable feeling that is best measured in non-scale victories (NSVs) along the way. Some of mine have included effortlessly buckling my seat-belt on an airplane, zipping my old ski jacket up for the first time in eight years, kissing the plus sized section of Nordstrom goodbye for good, and not tucking my hands underneath my body to keep them on a massage table. Being overweight comes with a list of everyday things that range from stressful to terrifying. When I think of the amount of time I spent worrying about how I looked, or stressing about what to wear, or waiting to get out of the pool until nobody was looking, I feel a mixture of sadness, and gratitude. Sad that I let myself live that way for so long; grateful that I found a way out. The underlying emotion in that sadness is shame. Shame is such a horrible and loaded emotion, and one that is near impossible to squash. Vulnerability and sharing my story has definitely helped me unpack it, but there are still times when I see photos of videos of myself before Project Healthy Body and immediately feel the hot sting of shame.
However, there is one NSV that happened recently that was completely devoid of any shame, sadness, or negativity. In the decade plus that we have been together (with the exception of wedding), Craig and I have never attended a formal event together. I have never seen Craig in a tuxedo, and he has never seen me in a ball gown. In the list of regular life events that, as an obese person stressed the heck out of me, this was at the very top. Higher than walking around a public pool in a bathing suit with no towel. In fact, I might choose to wear a bathing suit to work for a day rather than sign up for a fancy party, if that paints a picture of my anxiety.
Until now, every memory of getting dressed up has been the same. I love clothing and fashion and pretty things and designers, and accessories, and glittery events – but loving all of those things while being obese did not go hand in hand for me. Typically, there would be a month or two between the RSVP and the event, which would start the clock for the 20-50lb weight loss I would shoot for but never achieve (and usually gain weight for instead). Fancy events also meant stressing over what to wear. This typically included trying on 30 different dresses, most of which didn’t zip up. Standing in change rooms getting hotter, sweatier, and more frustrated and embarrassed with each dress that didn’t fit or didn’t look right. Even when dresses did fit, the image didn’t match my expectations of how I wanted to feel which only added to my feelings of self-hate. For the record, we haven’t even gotten to the actual event yet, and the experience has been wholly negative. And it only got worse from there.
The entire day of the event would be spent preparing. This included starving myself to help create the flattest belly possible – because, you know, that totally makes a difference. Showering and blow-drying my hair would happen with plenty of advance timing because I needed adequate “cool-down” time. Blow-drying my hair was kind of a waste anyway, because it would get ruined at the first sign of humidity and sweat (both of which were all but guaranteed). My pre-event ritual also always included a couple of cocktails, which I called “dressers” – the aim of which was to decrease stress and increase feeling good. All of the primping, and drying, and dressing, and painting, and accessorizing was just an attempt to minimize the size of my body. I would have this image of what I “hoped” I looked like, after it was all done – and it was always a disappointment. Heading out the door to something that should be a positive and celebratory experience with feelings of shame and embarrassment is something that I wouldn’t wish on any woman.
The actual event or celebration would come with its own list of negative experiences. I can recall several occasions where, as a bridesmaid at an outdoor wedding, I would be standing for long stretches of time in heels that were excruciatingly uncomfortable, under the warmth of the sunshine which was magnified in temperature due to the sausage casing of spanx underneath my dress. I can remember the feeling of sweat dripping down my back as I stood there trying to concentrate on a dear friends special day. Dancing the night away at a party is just about my favorite thing on earth – but I was always bummed to be the first to swap my heels for dancing flip flops because I couldn’t take the pain of my shoes any longer. There were several times where my toes would literally be numb for months after an evening in high heeled shoes. The cost of looking beautiful, I would tell (lie to) myself.
Although my recall of these events reads like they must have been truly traumatizing, they weren’t. I had the time of my life at almost every instance – partly because of the booze, partly because of my general and authentic zest for life, and partly because of my inability to recognize my own denial. There is an emotional labor to being fat that we don’t talk about. It’s not that I had a terrible life. Far from it, in fact. I had a pretty great life filled with people who loved me, a career that was fulfilling, and a future that looked bright. I was grateful for my life, and I was living pretty well. But what I know to be true now, is that even the best of times was met with a certain percentage of time spent being pulled away from the present to deal with aspects of my fatness. Every time I shifted my weight to relieve the pain of my shoes, every time I struggled in a stall to get my sausage casing on or off, every time I pulled or adjusted the material of my dress, or ran my wrists under cold water to stop sweating, or un-tagged myself from photos, or got drunk enough to feel pretty until catching myself in a mirror or window – all of those moments chipped away at my self-worth.
Two weeks ago, Craig and I attended our first ever formal event together and it was an experience that has fundamentally changed how I feel about myself. For the first time in my adult life, I felt truly beautiful. Stunning, in fact. I was a like a real-life version of Amy Schumer in “I Feel Pretty” only instead of hitting my head at a Soul Cycle class, I worked really effing hard on myself for 2 years to get there. From the moment I started getting ready to the moment I fell asleep, I felt beautiful. It was a real first.
It was a glimpse into a concept that we talk about in PHB a lot. The idea that we need to love ourselves as we are NOW – which shouldn’t be conflated with the body positive / beautiful at any size movement that has gained in popularity recently. The difference between the two concepts being health and vitality. I aspire to love myself as I am now because this moment is the only moment that I am guaranteed, and I am grateful. I love myself as I am today because I am worthy. I am not throwing in the towel and selling myself the idea that morbidly obese is healthy. I still have weight that I am working hard to lose it because it will help me live longer, and live well.
To be clear, I am still overweight. But the genuine confidence, the glow that comes with good health, and the vibrant colors that were representative of how I have worked to feel on the inside made all the difference. Throughout the course of the evening, I had about a dozen strangers approach me to comment. They said things like, “your dress is as vibrant as you are”, or “you are the most beautiful woman in the room”, or “I wish I had the confidence to shine as brightly as you.” For the first time, I believed them and agreed. I could feel the pride my husband felt having me on his arm, and it felt really, really good. I covered my shoulders and arm with my wrap because I was chilly, not because I was hiding my body. With the exception of dinner, I walk (floated) around from 5pm through 12am without pain or even consideration. I felt the kind of freedom that only comes with the absence of fat-cinching sausage casing. There wasn’t one second where my inner dialog turned negative or critical. It was a dream that was no longer a dream.
I felt gorgeous and in love – with my husband (of course), and most notably with myself. It was a night that I will never forget as long as I live, and it was a figurative line in the sand. This is how I want my life to be, going forward. This was the greatest example of self love that I have ever known, and I am chasing that feeling. This is why Project Healthy Body has been so profoundly important for me. I have written that PHB has likely literally saved my life (it has), but this one night fundamentally changed how I feel on the inside. There is an order to the PHB roadmap, I have learned. For a long time, I was focused on changing my outside appearance. But the real magic happens when we change our insides.
I am Holly and I am beautiful, inside and out.