One of the biggest things I have struggled with post-weight loss is body image issues. The picture to the right is one of my favorite photos of myself. I feel like I look fierce, strong, happy and proud of what I have accomplished. But there are days I don’t feel like any of those things.
At my darkest moment, I was having a nervous breakdown after reconstructive plastic surgery #4 in Dallas, Texas when things still were not looking perfect and the numbers on the scale were reflecting my swollen body weight and not the numbers I was used to seeing in weight maintenance.
The truth is the hardest thing you will ever tell someone. The truth is really scary. It makes you vulnerable, because once you put it out there, no mater what anyone has to say, it is your truth.
But the truth is what I have promised you from the very beginning. So the truth is, there are still things that I don’t love about my body. There are still flaws that I pick out and can beat myself up emotionally over.
The excess skin on my hips and lower buttocks area still causes me skin and rash irritations.
The skin that hangs right above my bra line and pooches out over my tank top dives me insane. It makes me super self-conscious about wearing tank tops in public. But I force myself to do it because it’s a fear of something that I know is really only noticeable to people who are looking for it. Though I just told you all where to find it. So that ends that.
My arms still bother me. Two brachioplasty surgeries and two touch up surgeries later, I still dislike my arms. They just don’t look right and that little indentation that they keep telling me is a genetic traits that is unrelated to obesity or weight loss, absolutely drives me nuts. Every time I look at my arm I see a little fat roll. This makes me really self-conscious about wearing tank tops. But I force myself to do it as part of my acceptance of my imperfect body.
Shorts are an entirely different manner. The skin I see hanging off my thighs if I do a plank in front of one of my group training sessions in the gym is so embarrassing to me that I refuse to wear anything but capri pants unless it’s cool enough outside to wear pantyhose underneath to help shape them and hold the skin in place.
My hair is never quite the way I want it. Coloring it myself rarely comes out the way I intended. But who the heck can afford paying a stylist constantly these days? If I can’t do it myself it’s not achievable.
My eyebrows, no matter how well-groomed I keep them do this wonky thing when I’ve rubbed my face nervously.
My boobs look great in a bra. Outside of one and naked in front of the mirror I obsess over how slightly differently my nipples were placed and how I can see the ripple in one of the implants. These I am told were normal things to expect after getting implants. I’m still not 100% convinced I made the right decision on that. Lord knows after being told at a weight loss surgery convention that one of the main reasons a group of women disliked me was because I was too skinny and my boobs were too big, I really second guessed that decision. [ Read related article here: The Teeter Totter of Weight Bias ]
My stomach still has more skin than I think it should have after three different abdominal surgeries to fix it. I’m sure I have defined abdominal muscles under there, somewhere.
There are areas of my body right under my arms and along the sides of my breasts where the skin is so damaged from obesity that I get these little pockets in the skin that if I’m not watching carefully can get infected. I truly believe that we need to work on getting doctors and insurance companies to realize that the disease of obesity damages the skin and that removing that damaged skin is a part of treating the disease.
My feet are funky. I think I have a hammertoe or something. My little baby toe is pretty much deformed. Even the people at the nail salon snicker at its appearance when I get a pedicure.
When I lay on my back on a bench doing a chest press I have weird excess skin on my back right around my shoulder blades where my muscles move. Dislike.
On any given day, I can look at all of these things in the mirror and I can fixate on and pick myself apart over how something should have looked had I never weighed 420 lbs.
I try hard not to do that. I try to accept that weighing 420 lbs. was part of my story. It is part of what makes me a good weight loss coach, it is part of what makes me good at helping other people fight obesity. It’s all part of who I am, part of the imperfect life that led me to being the perfectly imperfect version of myself that I am today.
Who knows where I would be if my story had been different? Each one of us has a past; we can either allow that past to haunt us or we can decide to define our future. My story has brought me to where I am today. To a career that feeds my passion to help other’s fight obesity and find the fun and potential emotional outlet in fitness as a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach and Fitness Instructor.
During one of my major moments of body image issues, at time where I was upset that my body wasn’t perfect, a woman who I admire greatly asked me if I wanted to be an example of what most of my clients could never achieve, or if I wanted to be an example of what is attainable. This message hit home for me.
Each time that I catch myself standing in front of the mirror picking myself a part I remind myself that I am an example to my clients and my community of what can be achievable after 260 lbs. of weight loss. I am not perfect. Nobody is. But I am myself perfectly. I stay true to who I am and I am an example of my own story. That, my friends, makes me perfect at being my imperfect self. That make me perfectly imperfect.
Learning to accept your flaws and loving yourself in spite of them, and muting those internal negative voices that put your emotional well-being in jeopardy is an integral part of your weight loss journey. If you don’t learn to do that and love yourself success will exponentially be more difficult
So what is my biggest tip for battling the barriers of body image issue that can sometimes present themselves in my life after weight loss? In some of my worst moments, when my body image issues are getting the best of me and my internal voices are being unkind when I look in the mirror, I pull out some old pictures. I look back at the photos of when I actually weighed 420 lbs and would have given anything to lose the weight. I look back and the photos of all the skin that hung on my body afterward and remind myself how miserable I was and how good of a job my surgeons did with what they had to work with.
I stop and remind myself that while what I wanted was to have the body of a porn star, that wasn’t a realistic expectation. Given my story, where I have been and what I have done, the body I have today, though imperfect for all the reasons I mentioned above, is still my body. I eat healthy, I work out on a regular basis and I do the best I can at making my body a reflection of who I am today.
Never let anyone including yourself fool you. Losing all that extra weight won’t make life perfect and it won’t make you perfect. Losing the weight is the big physical part of the journey but the emotional part just begins there. From there you’ll face issues like regain, battling with the numbers you see on the scale, how you handle life without food as form of comfort and maybe the biggest of all, the body image issues that surface when you realize what your body should have or would have looked like had you never been affected by obesity.
From there, it is time to appreciate the journey. Be proud of what you have accomplished and understand that you’re exactly where you are supposed to be in your journey right now. Don’t focus on should, could or would, focus on being your imperfect self and understand that you are perfectly imperfect and that my friends, is exactly what we should be.
Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.
So there I was dancing around the room naked in front of the mirror. For someone who struggles with body image issues after massive weight loss, being able to do that without stopping to find a flaw and pick at something you don’t like about yourself? That is quite a non-scale victory moment in and of itself. I had to stop and double-check and make sure that the blinds were drawn and that nobody could see me rocking out to one of my favorite NKTOB songs as it started playing while I was put on lotion.
I was feeling like I was a sixteen year old girl, standing in front of the mirror naked dancing around like I was on stage with the five boys that owned my heart. Yeah roll your eyes, I was indeed a first generation block head. And no, I was not using my hair brush like a microphone. It was my lotion bottle. Don’t judge.
For months I have been trying to find the extra cash to buy tickets to their upcoming concert in Charlotte, NC. (The closest venue they are playing to where I live) Even after what happened when my best friend and I went to their meet and greet. And with everything else that suddenly came up my suddenly in my life. Well, it just didn’t happen. I probably could have afforded tickets if anyone that I knew was actually as big of a fan as I am. Then I could just buy one ticket but when I’d also pay for the privilege of making someone else go with me, that’s definitely not in the post bankruptcy Pandora budget.
Several months ago, I had the money and could have bought the tickets. But I wavered back and forth, trying to decide if I really wanted to go after my best friend got slighted and disappointed when we attended the Dallas show of their last tour with meet and greet tickets.
I danced around my room sans my clothing last night grooving to not only one, but three of their songs as they came on back to back. I realized how good I felt in that moment. I realized that I had made a mistake. I should have bought the tickets and I really shouldn’t have based my relationship with the band on how someone else felt. Even if that someone was my very best friend.
I make a point out of fighting weight bias and fighting weight stigma and since my friend felt that perhaps she had been slighted by her weight I wanted to rescue her and make her feel better. But there is something else that I have learned in the last year or two since that concert: sometimes we create that bias and stigma ourselves.
See me? I’m the walking billboard. It’s hard being the big girl in the crowd. It’s even harder being the big girl in the crowd when your now skinny friend who lacks the ability to know how not to sparkle comes up with a plan to try to get someone’s attention. While I believe that Tora was entitled to her feelings–they are real and valid and I wish that she never had to feel them–I also came to my own conclusion that it might have had a lot more to do with us and our actions (or lack thereof and personal sensitivity to the subject) and a lot less to do with the band members.
But my question of do I go or not? Can I go after telling everyone that I was upset my friend was so disappointed and felt it was related to her size? Can I support a band that had even a small part of someone I care about feeling that way? Will she be angry at me if I do go? [ See Related Article ]
All these questions made me hesitate and second guess myself, and in the end I decided to take the money that I would have spent on the concert tickets and buy myself something really nice at the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend event I was attending. So I bought myself the 2015 Dooney and Bourke limited edition Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend purse. I heart it. I heart it much.
The purse is lovely, but as I danced around my room like a teenager getting my heart rate going, I remembered something my father taught me. Sometimes you have to focus on how people treat YOU. My experience at that meet and greet was absolutely amazing. If you had told sixteen year old me that someday I’d get to meet, hug and talk to each member of New Kids On The Block I would have signed any sort of pledge you asked me for. I’m talking obsessive-teenager-I-owned-all-the-merchandise-fan here, guys. As a young lady meeting them was one of my biggest dreams. As an adult it was still of the top 5 items on my bucket list.
Each one of them was amazing. They were kind and complementary. Jordan Knight made my century when he rubbed the back of my head not once but twice! Donnie Wahlberg paid me the best comment I’ve ever gotten by someone who doesn’t really know me personally regarding my weight loss when he told me that he wanted to hug me but more than half of me was already gone.
And that moment when Jordan Knight crossed a crowded room to head toward the stage and made a point to walk over to where I was, give me another hug and rub the back of my head that second time, well let’s just say my heart still drops when I think about my hands on his waist and his on the back of my head. In fact, my heart just skipped a beat. Yes, that really did happen. I have it on video. I kid you not.
I’ve had a really rough few months financially. Things went downhill really fast in the beginning of the year when I was trying to juggle taking care of myself and assisting in financially taking care of about five other people. My family in Oregon. My roommate and though not nearly as much as I once had too, my mother. I’m just learning the income flow patterns of the fitness industry. I’m in the second year of a new career and I’m trying to recover from the 6 digits of debt that 3-4 years of focusing on weight loss and reconstructive surgery cost me. I just started drowning fast when trying to stand on my own two feet for the first time ever while still having so many people who need my help.
The good news. I am standing on my own two feet for the first time ever. Even though I did have to declare bankruptcy, I haven’t fallen flat on my face, and that is a better financial me than I have been since I left home at sixteen. I can do this. I just can’t afford the little extras like getting my nails done, concert tickets, traveling for weight loss conventions and flying all over the country to run half marathons anymore. There are no more credit cards that I can use with the best of intentions to pay it back later. Shopping wasn’t really my transfer addiction. Experiencing life was. That’s how I explain it to my closest friends.
I’ve learned a good lessons out of this. Lessons are experiences points I accumulate. Learning them allows me to make better decisions next time. Next time I know what not to do in order to ensure that I get a more positive outcome.
Last night’s lesson was a special one. Last night I remembered that even in times when I feel like the struggle is too hard and road ahead is too long. There are five men out there whose voices can make me stop what I am doing while they are signing. Listening to their music motivates me and gives me a sense of self and a sense of strength that though it is inside of me I can’t always dial into.
When I was a lonely, overweight and sad teenager they helped inspire me to dance around and pretend that someday a boy like them would love me. [ See Related Article ] When I was a 30 something adult suffering from morbid obesity at 420lb. they helped inspire me to move. My first form of exercise was slowly walking around my neighborhood listening to their reunion album The Block. Now that I am approaching my forties as a healthier me who struggles with body image issues, they are the musical source that touches me deep enough that I can spend twenty minutes in front of the mirror dancing around naked without once stopping to find some excess skin I don’t like and tugging on it to see if it tightens up an area of my body that I am insecure about. I can waste hours of my day off doing this to myself if I allow it. True story.
I’m not perfect. I don’t always make the right decisions. I should have bought the tickets instead of the Tinker Bell purse. But live and learn. Maybe next time instead of wishing I had bought nose bleed tickets I’ll be making better financial decisions and buying a front row bar seat so I can remind those 5 men who I am. I’ll see if I can get Jordan Knight to rub my head again and who knows, throw my bra onstage or something. Dream big. I am not lying. I would do this. I’d likely do many things that someone out there somewhere is likely to disprove of. Freebie List. You understand.
Today however, I’m a little pouty. So I’ll allow myself to pout for a moment. I can’t afford $200 for decent tickets for two. OK. I’m done. Now instead of pouting I’ll throw on a NKOTB play list that includes all my favorites songs. I’m talking from the days of Jones Beach 1988 all the way to The Remix. I will enjoy knowing that I’ve had the opportunity to meet them and that nothing has changed in my relationship with them in the last twenty-seven years. They still touch my heart and some other parts of me, with their music.
And… Jordan Knight rubbed my head. Twice! Plus long after the concert is over I will have that gorgeous Tinker Bell Bag around my neck. So there is that.
It’s all about appreciating the experiences you’ve had, being grateful for what you’ve got and finding the joy in the lesson that life is teaching you.
And now, I’m going to go dance around naked to “Block Party” which is the song that inspired my fitness career.