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Inaccurate Self Image

I have an inaccurate self image, like reverse anorexia. Anorexics typically see themselves as much fatter than they actually are. Even when their ribs show through their flesh, in their heads they still think they’re fat.

In my case, even though I am morbidly obese, the image that I have of myself in my head is normal weight. If I were to draw a picture of myself, I’d probably make myself skinnier than I am without really even noticing it. In the movie The Matrix this is called “residual self-image.” Even though the character of Neo has a closely shaved head of hair in the real world, he has his full head of hair in the matrix. I’m fat, I know I’m fat, yet if I were to enter a matrix I would be thin.

This image gets shaken whenever I see photos of myself or the worst – a video. For my junior year of college, I took a speech class where all our speeches were taped. We then had to review our performance and critique ourselves. This was excruciating for me. The round, obese girl on video was in dichotomy with the image of myself in my head. I did not move like that. I did not look like that. I would only watch a couple seconds at a time, then fast forward through the freak show.

Even though I can see the difference in the mirror or on a tape, these moments of clarity last less than a minute. The majority of my day I do not look at myself. I look at other people. I suppose I am like a cat, raised by dogs who then thinks she’s a dog. Most people in the world are an average weight or only mildly overweight. Finding someone 300+ like me is rare. Being surrounded by people of this size makes me think that I myself look like them.

Even when I work with other fat people, I disassociate myself from them. I worked with an overweight diabetic middle-aged woman at one job who would trudge slowly from the door to her chair. On some level I knew that I could be her in 20 years, yet I would also bar her off from myself in my mind. She was not like me. I was not that fat. I did not look like that. Though most likely I did.

This erroneous self-image is partly what prevented me from acknowledging my weight problem. Even as the pounds kept piling on, my self-image remained skinny and allowed me to live comfortably in denial of the problem creeping up all around me.

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49 Comments

kimberly • November 18, 2005 at 3:50 pm

I can so identify with this.

We all had our pictures taken at work during Halloween and my co-worker sent me a picture of myself saying how she knew I would want it.

Well, I clicked on it and experienced sheer horror! It was un-freaking-believable. I could not believe that I looked like that. I know what the scale says, but that is not what my body looks like.

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jae • June 2, 2006 at 5:51 pm

OMG! I could have written this post! It’s like you just looked in my head. I just started to read your archives, and your blog, really. I’m so impressed with how far you’ve come!! ~j

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Karine • August 16, 2006 at 2:33 pm

Wow, this is so me! Or shall I say was so me. Congrats on your fantastic weight loss. I stumbled on your blog not long ago and have been reading it everyday. It is so inspirational, I love it! You are a gifted writer. I started my own weight loss journey 6 months ago, weighing 280 lbs, and today I weigh 235. Still have some 72 lbs to lose. Keep up the great work!

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Ria • August 20, 2006 at 2:49 pm

Just found your blog – started at the beginning, and am working my way forward to the present – you’re a great writer and WOW on the weight loss. I can totally relate to this post. I was only moderately overweight through my 20s (never weighed more than 200), but gained up to 306 by my mid-30s . . . and somehow didn’t really notice that much of a difference! Am currently working my way back down to normalcy . . . 230 and descending.

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Nau-Dee • March 3, 2007 at 7:44 pm

Yep I totally live the denial too….I love how well you voiced this as its been on my mind! I’ve gotten as far as understanding its denial, disassociating self from other obese people and most defiantly reverse anorexia in image – but I hadn’t answered why this is. I like how you put it that you look at normal weight people and thus you identify with that size….good logic! I’m gonna ponder this a bit but I totally think you are right on!

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Kathy • May 12, 2008 at 8:12 am

I know I am about 2 years behind on your journey and because of the today show you are probably getting a million emails. But this particular blog rang so true for me. I am a professional women dress up everyday and I swear because I had a great suit on I thought I looked good despite weighing 330 ay 5’5! I have lost 50 lbs recently and am looking forward to easily double that I am 52yo and it is time thanks for sharing all this

Kathy

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Wendy • May 13, 2008 at 9:10 am

OMG I could have written that. In fact I did, but less well, in my own blog a few weeks ago!

I want to show this to those people who think weight control is simply a calories in v calories out ratio, because I have never found a way of explaining how it just isn’t that simple. If it was just that simple, non of us would be fat would we?

I have a lot of reading to do now to catch up!

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Becky • May 13, 2008 at 11:00 am

I saw you on the Today Show and was so impressed with your success. Congratulations. This blog really spoke volumns to me. I am a minister’s wife and on a telecast on Thurs evenings for our church …. I am in the praise team and when I watch back the program, I am mortified by the way I look and think “This cannot be me” …. I know that it is me and that I am obese but then I forget and think “I’m not THAT fat” … but I am. Thanks for bringing insight to me in this matter.

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PHAT DIVA • May 19, 2008 at 6:01 pm

I have always tried to explain my inaccurate self image to people and they don’t understand. I love how you have simply articulated the disease I suffer from. D-E-N-I-A-L I AM A FAT GIRL!

Now that I am have totally embraced my problem I can move ahead. You would think the pain in my knees and back would have been simple signs to set-off my war on FAT! Ugh!

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Laurin • May 21, 2008 at 1:48 pm

I just bought your book on amazon.com and thought I’d come over to the blog that started it all. I’m really enjoying it so far, and I can TOTALLY relate to this entry! I know I’m fat, but I guess in my head I have trouble wrapping my brain around exactly HOW FAT I am (342 at the moment). I am always dismayed when I see pictures or video of myself.

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Marcia • May 26, 2008 at 2:46 am

WOW…I was just explaining this very phenomenon to my friend today…and then I read your post. How freaky…but good to know this is normal as I read comments left by others!

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Tonya • June 5, 2008 at 12:04 pm

This is me to a tee! Looking at photos & videos of me conflict with the me in my head. Until now, I’ve made the choice to assume the image in my head is the real me, thus my current 319 lbs! I now have a personal trainer and am working towards becoming what I imagine I already am. Kudos on this post!

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Regan • June 15, 2008 at 11:13 am

The worst was when this happened to me with my wedding photos…I’d even lost weight before the wedding, but I still looked HUGE in the pics. I was kinda mad at the photographer, but then I realised it’s not his fault I’m fat. So I decided to do something about it! It’s just a shame I can’t have the wedding over again…

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Lori • June 22, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Wow, I’m amazed that other people think this way. I thought I was the only one. I never realize how fat I am until I see myself in pictures or video…and then I am mortified. I’ve finally decided to do something about it, and in the last 6 weeks have gone from 255 to 245. Love your blog!!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Rachel Berkshire • July 31, 2008 at 9:17 am

Wow! You are just what I needed. A REAL person who seems to have crawled into my chubby head, looked around, and started spilling all those thoughts I never spoke. So glad you were on my TV today. Sadly, I was eating Captain Crunch as I listened but it did really hit home. Thank you!

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Renee • August 3, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Like everyone else, it’s as if this post was written about me. It was my son’s birthday over the weekend and, of course, tons of pictures were taken. I’m not usually in any of them since I’m the photographer of the family, but when I saw those pictures, I was mortified. How did I let myself get this big?

I’ve recently stumbled upon your blog and I’ve only read this post so far, but I can’t wait to read more. Please know that you are an inspiration to a lot of people, myself included.

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Laura of Harvest Lane • August 4, 2008 at 10:59 am

I am absolutely amazed. I have never heard anyone speak of this in denialself-image problem. I am right at the 300 pound mark give or take a few pounds. It’s scary even typing that. My friends are half my size. I now understand part of my problem.

Thank you for sharing.

Laura

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Linda • August 5, 2008 at 7:03 pm

This past weekend was my epiphany of the same sort – I was photographed at a reunion with female classmates. Of course I knew I was heavier than they, but when I saw that my bulk could have made 3 of them, it’s time to get on the reality train. Day 2 of my journey, and I plan on ordering your book this evening.

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Sara • August 7, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Solidarity, sister.

I suffer from the same self-image issue–like my internal eye only sees through the lens of a fun house mirror. I call it ‘fat blindness’ and I wonder if it will ever go away…

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Lilia • August 7, 2008 at 9:03 pm

“Reverse anorexia” EXACTLY! So this inaccurate self-image phenomenon happens to ther people. I, like many here, thought I must be crazy because my clothes are yelling that I am fat yet in the mirror what I see is a swan. It was weird how the pounds piled up. It does seem like it happened overnight, one day I was a size 8-10 and the next I was having trouble getting into a 20. The process actually took over a decade. But by golly it won’t take me ten years to get rid of all the extra weight!

You are undeniably beautiful, EXTREMELY talented, enviably articulate and extraordinarily determined. You are my hero. You are my Carrie Bradshaw, only better. THANK YOU for helping me find the way out of my prison. I began in May 2008 at 233 lbs. This morning the scale read 209 lbs.

I will be forever grateful to you.

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Lilia • August 7, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Oops… I think I hit “post” twice… ***Sorry***

Oh well.. this gives me another chance to tell you: YOU SO TOTALLY ROCK!!!!

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Alicia • August 14, 2008 at 7:12 pm

Oh my god! I’m at a loss for words right now … this is me to a tee, as everyone else has said. I have tried and failed at least 4 or 5 times in the past two years. I’m now up to 190, and I’m only 5’3″. This past year, I didn’t realize how big I was until my boyfriend bought a scale “for himself”. I’ve gained 50lbs in the past 7 years and that’s just unacceptable to me. I hope your candidness and personal drive can give me the strength to succeed as well. Thank You!

(I guess I really wasn’t at a loss for words!)

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E • September 3, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Same here. I’m 200 lbs now, 5″3, but in my head…I’m definitely 20 lbs less. It’s so hard to see yourself as your really are, when that person is not who you want to be

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Lori • November 2, 2008 at 9:22 pm

It’s funny that I am reading this now. Well, not funny ha-ha, but funny how someone’s words can so echo what has been ricocheting in my own head. Repeatedly, because apparently I am slow, I have been shocked by pictures. I keep thinking, “I can’t believe I am that heavy!” I don’t feel like I am 50 plus pounds overweight, but the pictures are showing someone I don’t see when I look in the mirror. How odd………when I was younger, I always saw myself as much heavier than I really was. What a lot of wasted years of not really seeing myself as I am.

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Jackie • November 9, 2008 at 2:53 pm

I am 29, 5,2″ and at 157. I have continuously gained weight. And like everyone else, when I look in the mirror, all I see is the person I was when I was 120lbs. It is frustrating how I thought I was fat when I was at 117lbs. That was just too much weight on short girl, but now how come I can’t see what I really look like? How do I change this? My stomach is getting bigger and bigger and until I put on a girdle, I can’t seem to feel or see the weight I am carrying. It’s like it is invisible to see in the mirror. Please help me start somewhere rather then write this concern and then turn around and so, o well, it’s hopeless, lets go find something to eat.

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mar • November 22, 2008 at 9:11 pm

wow. it’s unreal that i just read this post, because i was trying to explain this to my personal trainer at the gym today. it really is the most bizarre thing.

i’ve been seesawing with my weight forever, but i hit rock bottom last week when i was on a conference call with people from another office. i looked at the self-view of the screen and there i was. round. earthy. orbiting. planet-sized. i couldn’t believe my eyes. i had to keep looking away.

when i’m walking down the street, i don’t feel fat. i don’t waddle. i see other fat people and i am disgusted, but truthfully, i’m probably larger than they are by at least 25 pounds, if not more.

it is really so bizarro, and i’m kind of glad i’m not the only one.

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Jessica • December 22, 2008 at 9:44 pm

This is exactly how I feel! I have tried explaining it to my mom a few different times. I am always shocked when I see a video or picture of myself. I see myself much differently!

I have been identifying with you a lot while reading your blog. I have asked for your book for Christmas from my hubby. I look forward to reading more!

Thank you for putting it all out there for us.

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d • January 4, 2009 at 3:44 pm

you hit the nail right on the head. i am suffering from this. i know im fat but ive always had a skinny image of me in my head, maybe that’s why i feel bad whenever i see fashionable clothes that i know look good but they wont fit me…they never did. and if they ever did, they never looked good on me.

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Rebecca • January 7, 2009 at 2:35 am

So why does the self-delusion work in the mirror, but not photos?

I blame my camera-phobic husband, in part, for my “reverse anorexia” (great term!). He hates cameras so much that if someone aims one at him, he sulks. And he would NEVER think of aiming one at me!

Kind of strange…my mother was the same way.

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Julie • January 18, 2009 at 3:33 am

yes this is me. i am amazed when i look at the size on my clothes and cannot understand why they don’t say “12″ cos that is me, after all! just spent 10 days in a motel, sheesh all those mirrors, esp in the bathroom! wake up call big time. but i still “feel” size 12 in my head!

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Christy • April 26, 2009 at 10:46 am

I am so glad I am reading this blog. I have been experiencing this phenomenon for quite some time and reading about it has slapped me with enough reality that I’m determined to do something about it. As long as I stayed the “slightly overweight” girl in my head, I could justify not doing anything about it. I’m tired of running every time the cameras comes out or trying to excuse what I see in the dressing room mirrors. I am going to start reading your blog everyday so I can take along a friend on my weight loss journey.

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Deb • June 16, 2009 at 10:05 am

Wow, I thought I was the only person with this problem. I grew up skinny, and started putting on weight when I got a job sitting at a computer all day. 20 years and 100 lbs later, and I’m still shocked when I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window reflection, or see photos of myself.

So many self-help books tell you to “think of yourself as thin” as an aid to weight loss. Well, thinking I’m thin has only allowed me to deny the fact that I’m 100 lbs overweight. Thank God I found this blog–it’s nice to know I’m not the only one with this problem.

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Kimberly • June 26, 2009 at 4:33 pm

For the longest time I was very clumsy. I would bump into the edges of walls and cubicles. I realized that it was because my brain did not realize how big my body was. I was athletic in high school, but then I gained 150 pounds after marriage. My brain had no concept of my true size. I’m less clumsy now, even though still pretty big, so I guess my image has caught up with me thoughts. Now I have this new odd habit of whenever I see another overweight person, I immediately compare myself to him/her. “I probably weigh more than her because I’m taller”, or “I’m definitely bigger than her”.

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Pippa • September 11, 2009 at 1:59 pm

My friend has been telling me about your blog and finally linked me to it today, so I’ve been catching up on the archives. What’s funny is that I was thinking along these same lines this morning as I was brushing my hair. Only somehow I have both erroneous body images. There’s a piece of me that still thinks I look the way I did in high school – kind of chunky (my doctor at the time would have liked to have seen 10 pounds off) but not bad, and then I surprise myself when I can’t squeeze through tiny spaces. And yet there’s this other piece of me that has, for as long as I can recall (at least since sixth grade, possibly earlier) felt grossly obese even though I was a totally normal weight kid – just with a larger frame than some (I actually am “big boned”). So part of me thinks I’m really fine, part of me thinks I’m horribly obese and beyond helping… and in reality I’m somewhere in between. I topped out somewhere around 290 (I’m 5’8″) and as of yesterday morning I’m down to 256.7. Two rounds of the Master Cleanse have helped enormously – it kills the junk food cravings and helps the metabolism to work more efficiently – and I’ve finally started dancing again. Plus finally been through enough therapy to look at some of the sexual abuse and other issues that kept part of me wanting to be fat for “protection” (don’t have to deal with the abuse if you’re so fat that nobody wants to have sex with you). Still got nearly a hundred to go, but it’s a darn good start for one summer! But it’s a major relief to see that I’m not the only one who (even partially) sees myself as actually *smaller* than I am.

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Jo • September 20, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Just found your blog today after reading your book, so I’m playing catch-up.

I’ve never heard this phenom expressed as well as you have in this post & in your book. I lost 140 lbs. about 5 yrs. ago (have regained about 50–working on that), and while so many people who lose a lot of weight struggle w/ identifying w/ being normal-sized, I never did; I finally felt like I looked the way I always FELT I was! And get this: I didn’t lose my weight til I was 54-55 years old, so I was obese for DECADES!! I still always felt like that wasn’t really me or that it was just “temporary”!

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traci • October 19, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Wow. Just started reading your archives and pulled this up first. How many people have said that they COULD have written this post or already DID, but less well? Well, you can add me to the latter list! I read this with my mouth hanging open. This is nearly word-for-word the same as a journal entry I made less than a year ago. I made the same anorexia comparison…and also made the point that I am always looking at others, not at myself, so it is easy to continue the delusion that I didn’t really LOOK like I was morbidly obese…

I’m on my own weight loss journey (down 62 pounds at this point) and looking forward to reading more of your blog. I just placed my order for your book too!

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andrea • October 20, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Just found your blog. This is the first page I’ve read and like everyone else, it could have been written by me. I remember thinking that I felt like a skinny person in a fat suit; that I could just unzip it and the real me would step out. I also didn’t identify with other people who were fat; they weren’t like me….but I got fatter and fatter. I avoided scales successfully, but it was my joints (ankles and feet specifically) that finally got my attention. They ached so badly if I did anything halfway energetic, that I felt like I was going to be one of those people needing a motorized scooter in my 50′s just to get around. How horrible that would be! So, last November I bought a scale that could weigh me and found out I was 380 pounds. I started Nutrisystem on Nov. 1, 2008 and so far have lost 105 pounds. I feel great and can’t wait to get rid of the rest of this baggage. Congrats on your success!

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Lori • April 15, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Wow…I seriously thought I was the only one that felt this way. To read this blog entry, then all of the comments of others that have felt exactly the same way is amazing! Congratulations…you are an inspiration!

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Michelle • December 18, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Just found your blog today! I definitely can relate with the reverse anorexia theory!!! I have been in total denial about my weight!! I constantly compare myself to others, especially other weight challenged and think yeah, but I hold my weight so much better and I am so much cuter!! 272 on a 37 year old 5’5 frame is definitely not cute!! and also not healthy!! I am realizing that telling myself these things is my way of dealing (or should I say not dealing) with my weight!! thank you for sharing your story , I will keep on reading !!

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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