During a fortieth birthday celebration at a favorite restaurant, the honoree, Rob, made an announcement to all of us. After almost a year since his divorce, he was ready to start dating again. We were thrilled by the news because he is a great guy, good-looking and smart, with a lot to offer. Everyone began to think of single women we knew who might be interested in meeting this terrific guy.
David, one of the men at our table, saw a female colleague across the room and excused himself to go say hello. When he came back to our table, he gestured in the woman's direction and said that perhaps Rob might be interested in meeting her.
"Lindsey is fantastic. She's traveled around the world twice, knows her way around Rome as easily as she does New York City, and she's in the middle of changing careers from teaching to law. You two might have a lot in common. She's..."
"Fat. I don't date fat girls," Rob said abruptly.
Everyone was silent, discreetly sneaking peeks at the "fat" woman across the room. Several women at the table told Rob point blank that he was an idiot. David agreed with the women. A couple of men just shook their heads at Rob's comment. I said nothing and my husband squeezed my knee under the table. He knew what I was thinking: I once was the fat girl.
There was a time when I was thirty pounds heavier than I am now, but no one at our table knew me when I was "fat." I don't exactly go out of my way to tell people this little bit of information. I don't say:
"Hello, I'm so happy to meet you and, oh, by the way, did you know that I once had thirty extra pounds of fat on my body?"
It's not because I'm ashamed of it; having extra weight is not on par with having robbed a bank. It's definitely not a crime in my book. No, I don't tell people because it's just not that important to me anymore. But, there was a time when it was important, very important. I spent some prime dating years as a "fat" girl and it was not fun.
I am one of those people who have had to fight weight all their lives. I can't indulge on a daily basis; I limit certain foods that I know, damn well, will make the pounds creep up on me. I exercise and make sure that the food I do eat is nutritious and good without empty calories. (Oh, those delicious empty calories!!) But I will treat myself if I really want something.
I met my husband after I reached the "thin mode" of my life, but he has seen pictures of me from my heavier days. He was surprised, but good guy that he is, said that I looked "attractive, just in a different sort of way." Yes, okay.
Still, I wonder if he would have given me a glance back in college. Popular and athletically lean as he was, I seriously doubt he would have asked me for a date. He denies this, of course, but I still don't think my "great personality" would have been enough to overcome the impression those extra pounds made.
Dating back in college was a horror for an overweight girl. Guys chose the skinny girls over the fuller-figured ones any day, and getting a date for an event became a nightmare. Never mind that I was on the Dean's List, never mind that I was the editor of my college newspaper or that I was a published poet, never mind that people complimented my taste in clothes or that I always had a smile on my face. Forget that I made sure I was always up-to-date on the news so that I could converse on just about any topic. None of that mattered on date night.
The same young men who asked for my help in Composition and Rhetoric or Advanced Statistics didn't know I existed when they were looking for someone to ask out for Friday night. They gave me a casual "Hi" as they passed me by on campus or in town on a weekend evening. They were looking for a hot date and I didn't qualify.
To make matters worse, my female friends were all thin girls. One girl in my dorm who was slender and gorgeous had allergies to many different foods, so she had very little choice in what she could eat. I started wishing I had allergies. This poor girl literally couldn't eat, and I envied her.
It seems ridiculous to me now that I also envied one particular friend who could binge and purge at will. But sticking my finger down my throat after eating was something that I just couldn't do. (I thought about it briefly, but I just couldn't do it.)
I even envied my reed thin, always sick, constantly constipated cousin, who had no problem getting a date whenever she chose. I was lucky enough to be healthy, and I was jealous of these people because boys wanted to be with them.
Because I didn't look like the other college girls, because although I knew I was a fun person, no one seemed to want me, my weight had a major effect on how I felt about myself.
The more upset I became about my body, the less care I took of my appearance. I pulled my hair back into a severe ponytail and wore no make-up. I started leaving my pretty clothes in the closet and took to wearing sweats and any baggy top I could find. No one was going to ask me out anyway, I reasoned, so why even try? And the more I despised my body, the more I punished it by eating.
Then a miracle appeared in the form of a young, new professor. She was not stick-thin, but she certainly wasn't "fat." She didn't appear to be unhappy with her body, and she dressed magnificently, accenting her curves and wearing colors I had always been told would not look good on anyone who wasn't "slender." On her they looked great.
Professor Hamilton was an active woman who loved dancing and playing tennis and had a tremendous amount of confidence. That impressed me as much as her popularity with faculty and students. I was in awe of her and admired her tremendously. Being in her class, hearing her talk about her life, her husband, the fun things they did, was like therapy for me. She reminded me that life could actually be enjoyable.
Tired of feeling down about my body image, I began to emulate her. With effort and determination, I began playing tennis, albeit in sloppy sweats. In three months, though, my activity caused me to drop 13 pounds, and I was able to wear a pair of shorts on the court. Sitting alone in my dorm room became something I did only when I wanted absolute quiet to study.
After nine months I had lost a total of 27 pounds and celebrated by going out shopping for a new spring wardrobe. I hadn't deliberately set out to lose weight, but because I decided to use and enjoy my body, the pounds came off. I wasn't skinny, but I looked damn good. I liked the "new" me, and it showed. Others started seeking my company.
My anorexic friend complimented me on my "great new figure." And the men who once saw me as "just a study-buddy" now saw me as potential dating material. Even though I was secretly annoyed that I had to lose weight in order for them to notice me, I did go out on dates simply because I wanted to enjoy all of college life, including the dating experience.
At the baccalaureate breakfast the day before graduation, I went up to Professor Hamilton and told her what an impact she had made on my life, the way I thought about myself, and my weight.
She looked at me and asked if I felt healthy and happy. When I said yes, she said that was all that mattered. She also said:
Just remember that weight is subjective. One person's idea of overweight is another's person's idea of just right. You decide what is good for you. I've always been happy with my body and never wanted to weigh a number that I have to constantly struggle to maintain. Life is for enjoying. I'm happy with me. No one should set rules for how I should feel.
I never forgot that bit of advice. That's one of the reasons I won't starve myself. I like where I am, and I like me. If the charts say that I should weigh less, and I know that I would have to severely limit my food intake to get there and to maintain it, then that number is not for me. At my current weight I can indulge occasionally if I want. I never again want to be thirty pounds heavier, and I know I won't. But I don't want to be fifteen pounds thinner than I am now, either.
I was pulled out of my own head when the "fat" woman, Lindsay, approached our table to say good-night to her colleague. As introductions were made I found myself face to face with a confident, attractive woman. She was fuller than some women maybe, but thinner than others -- definitely not fat.
David asked her to stay at our table for dessert and coffee, and we wound up the evening enjoying her company immensely. She was charming as she told us hilarious stories of her travels, her law school classes and her job as a teacher. Any person would want to have her as a friend. And unsurprisingly, men are attracted to her, too.
As we got up to leave I saw Lindsay nod assent as one of the guys from our table asked her to share a taxi with him. I looked at Rob. He had been quiet and aloof when Lindsay first came to the table, but later I had seen him having a good time laughing and joking with us. He was actually flirting with her! Maybe she wasn't Rob's type initially, but that was his problem and, seeing the expression on his face when he saw her leave with someone else, his loss. If he can't see beyond what his imagined perfect woman is, then he will miss out on a being with a lot of interesting, successful people.
No one is attractive to everyone, something I wish I'd realized back when I was loathing my body so much. I'm glad I lost weight, but I'm glad because it happened when I decided not to let how I felt about my body keep me from enjoying my life. Just like Professor Hamilton, Lindsay clearly enjoys who she is as she is right now, and other people are drawn to that. If you're happy and feel healthy at your weight, then there is no reason to try to meet what you've decided others see as the standard. Let the "Robs" of the world take note: Attractiveness comes in all sizes.
© 2011 Copyright Kristen Houghton
Kristen Houghton is the author of the hilarious new book, No Woman Diets Alone - There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut available now on Kindle, Nook, and all e-book venues.
To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at KristenHoughton.com You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also the author of "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First" ranked in the top 100 books by Tower Books.com