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Fat or not?

I was chatting with a friend this week when she congratulated me on all the weight I’ve lost and how proud I should be of myself. As usual I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t think “Oh yeah, I’m the most awesome person on the planet. Bow down before me and balance this bowl of seedless grapes on your head for me” was going to fly. I ended up playing it down and said “Well, I’m still fat” as if this should negate my achievement or something. Like I was Michelle Kwan and someone had just congratulated me on winning the silver Olympic medal and all I could muster was “Well, it’s not gold.”

But when I got off the phone I reflected on my statement and realized it was sort of a lie. I honestly don’t think of myself as being that fat anymore. From a math and statistics view this might seem silly since I’m currently hovering right on the line between obesity and overweight according to the flawed yet ubiquitous BMI system.

However, from a life and living perspective the majority of things that sucked about being a fat person have disappeared from my life. I’m mobile, fit, and I can fit in most chairs and transit vehicles, be it cars, trains or planes. I can find clothes, I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by how I look. When I play the “Is she fatter than me?” game at restaurants or the grocery store, I actually get to win a lot of rounds.

Which makes me wonder, is there some official dividing line where I get to say I’m no longer fat? Is it when I can no longer shop at Lane Bryant? Is it when my BMI finally hits 25? Is it when my body fat percentage reaches a new low? Is it when my boobs finally stick out farther than my belly? I suppose regional and time variances come into play too, considering Kate Winslet and Kelly Clarkson are total fattys by Hollywood standards, but a bit on the thin side if you’re looking for a 15th century Botticelli beauty.

To an extent, being fat is a state of mind. While you’d be a bit delusional to be a 500-pound person who thinks they’re thin, once you start moving into the more “normal” body size range it just becomes a matter of opinion – the opinion of the culture that you live in, the opinion of the people you interact with every day, and most importantly your own opinion. You can be an 80-pound anorexic and still think you’re fat.

I remember wondering at the beginning of this journey if I would always think of myself as a fat girl no matter how much weight I lost. “Fat” has been one of the first five words I’d pick out when writing the “definition of me” for so long that I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to adjust to a time when it wasn’t. So while that time might still not have come, and I still have extra pudge on my belly and my butt, I find that more and more I’m leaving the “fat” state-of-mind.

There were times when if I’d found a magic genie in a lamp I would have wished for him to make me thin this instant. But I’m glad my life never crossed over into a state of magical realism and that I’ve been taking this slowly. In the almost two years I’ve spent slimming down I’ve had time to gradually slide into a thinner self-concept, which was just the right amount of time it took for that self-concept to fit, just like those cute size 18 jeans. (I told you I was still fat!)

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20 Comments

Greta • November 2, 2006 at 2:32 pm

I use the BMI chart and consider that I am no longer “fat” when I am no longer in the obese category. Then I just call myself “overweight” or when I get a bit further away than 1 pound from the obese category I consider myself “normal”.

At my age, 55, having once been more than 60 pounds heavier and still thinking of myself to a degree as a “fatty” I am always surprised to see that many of my contemporaries (in the 50-70 year age group) are a whole lot heavier than I am and somehow I think they might think of themselves as “normal” too.

You are right. Whether we feel “normal” or “thin” (REALLY feel it), is an issue that encompasses MANY things. I feel “thinner” when I am exercising a lot. I can feel hard muscles on my legs and arms and feel energetic and lively. That is “thin” to me. I feel “thin” when I am losing and conversely if I slip up and start regaining I feel VERY VERY fat even at weights that felt tremendously thin when I first got down to them. Sometimes when I stay the same weight for a very long time I start feeling “fat” again. I think that is when my brain somehow catches up to reality because though I am quite “normal” I am not “thin” so there’s always plenty of potential to lose more.

I pretty much quit trying to lose weight once I got to about 10 pounds over the top of the Weight Watchers weight range for my height, so at my normal maintenance weight I am still a bit “overweight” according to the charts, though I have big bones (REALLY I DO!) and lots of muscles (REALLY!) so that compensates somewhat for being a bit above normal. I still dream of being “thin” though. Maybe someday I will be ready to take on the task of losing another 20 pounds, but being this weight is so darned much work I just don’t know about that.

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YP • November 2, 2006 at 3:16 pm

I know exactly what you mean. I used to wonder whether I’d ever be THINK, or just a fat person trying out being a bit lighter for a while. And I agree that losing gradually is important to let your mind keep up with things.

I’m astonished now that people do actually think I’m thin. I have people I’ve met in the past few months referring to me as a “beanpole” or “skinny”, and I wonder whether they’re really talking about me. For me it started to happen mentally somewhere between 25 and 30 on the BMI scale, around the time where I really started embracing the thin lifestyle and things like running for their own sake rather than as a means to an end.

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Chris (Diary of a Fatman) • November 2, 2006 at 5:45 pm

Self concept is a bastard! I have fewer and fewer days right now where I feel good about myself since I’ve gained back about 40 of the 58 pounds I lost last year. I’m back up to about 280 now, but was about 240 at the lowest last yet.

At 240, I felt pretty good, but still considered myself to be really fat. (which on paper I was, even at 6’3, I was still just over the “obese” line for BMI) There are a few acquaintances that I have that weigh about the same (230-240ish) that I’ve never considered to be overweight, let alone obese.

My sister in law who was even bigger than me (and is only 5’4 or so) recently had a gastric bypass. She says that she is having a hard time adjusting to the rapid weight loss. She said that she just doesn’t feel like herself. Luckily, counseling was a requirement for her program and she goes to a support group of people that feel the same way.

Isn’t it funny how wrapped up (no pun intended) we get in our own fat that it becomes a part of us we can’t shed (or at least not easily shed)?

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K • November 2, 2006 at 6:51 pm

Good question.

I would never call myself thin, but equally I wouldn’t call myself fat – especially not within earshot of someone bigger than me (because whenever that happens to me, I think “You say you’re fat? What does that make me, then?”)

Like YP, I now go running and so on because I enjoy it, not because of the weightloss benefits (losses have been very slow for a while now, but I’m still at it). Which must mean I have reached some kind of accommodation with my appearance. Actually I’m still at the upper end of “overweight” according to BMI, but if you go by clothes, I’m about average (for Britain).

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interesting • November 2, 2006 at 9:25 pm

interesting post. I think what makes it even more interesting is looking at your progress pics.

I mean, it’s clear to me you are not “fat” in your most recent one, and you are “fat” in the first one.

But where did you stop being “fat”? it’s weird.

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Patty • November 2, 2006 at 10:23 pm

I started out thin, or I guess normal sized for about my first 25 years and then got bigger and bigger the last 15. So, my self image took a beating. It’s funny how I used to fool myself that I really wasn’t that big. But the camera doesn’t lie, and I finally had to accept it not hide from the camera. I’m still on the journey to get down to normal territory, whatever that really is for me, I’ll know it when I get there but will try for the bmi/ww guidlines. I can identify with you that it will be hard to shed the ‘fat’ word to describe myself or to use when someone compliments me on a job well done so far. It will take time for me as it has for you to get at peace with myself about body image/self esteem. It will happen though. Your doing so great, and have a good week.

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Jenna • November 3, 2006 at 1:24 pm

I’m a Weight Watchers member and recently my leader has been asking lost who reach goal/lifetime how they fell now that they are thin. Invariably they say, “I don’t feel thin.” These are women who wear 8/10/12 clothes and look great.

This is a profound post. When are we thin?

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Jester • November 3, 2006 at 1:40 pm

Darling PastaQueen —

You touched on another issue that I’ve run into in this weight loss journey: responding to the “you must be so proud of yourself” comments. This was really hard for me. I don’t know about other folks, but I was raised to feel that “bragging” about yourself or your accomplishments was . . . unseemly.

I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can graciously accept the compliment and say, “Yes, I am.” But it was not easy.

As for the self-image: I started this journey when I walked down a dark corridor at work, facing a window, and didn’t recognize the shape of my reflection. I was overweight, but I didn’t see myself as THAT overweight. Now, 97 pounds later, I still have a hard time recognizing my shape reflected back at me.

But self-image is not just limited to size/shape. When my stepmother divorced her 1st husband and took back her maiden name, she said, “I don’t know who this person is — she’s a 22-year-old child. I’m a 36-year-old woman.” We all have a vision in our heads of ourselves, whether it is related to weight, personality, intelligence, etc. And reality doesn’t always intersect with our vision. And does it always have to?

Jester

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Janice Bridge • November 3, 2006 at 1:43 pm

Again, a very thought provoking entry, PastaQueen.

I remember reading one of your (much) earlier posts about the Dove advert that used fairly ‘normal’ sized women in their white undies. . . .and (paraphrasing) you said “Women if you are too small to buy clothing at Lane Bryant, you are NOT fat!”

You may need to apply this rule to yourself VERY soon!

Body image is instilled very early, and is one of the most difficult things to modify – probably even more difficult than actually losing weignt. In 1982 (when Pasta Queen was learning to walk) I reduced weight from 270 pounds to 180 pounds. I was on weight watchers then, and they insisted that I reduce to 170 pounds. . .and I simply couldn’t make it. So I left the program, put on 20 pounds in the first year, and averaged an increase of 10 pounds a year until I crested at 330 in 1999. I recognize now that I never learned to recognize myself in the lower weight body, so I ate until I reached a weight that seemed “normal for me”. . .and by then the habit of over eating was so ingrained I just kept it up.

Between January and October of this year I went from 300 pounds to 165 – a size 26 to a size 12 in ten months. This time I am working VERY HARD to recognize myself in a lower weight body!

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Marla • November 3, 2006 at 3:29 pm

I think it’s all the thinsg you listed – except maybe for BMI, since it is so flawed. For me the definition would have to include buying regular-sized clothing at regular stores. That’s not the most important thing about losing weight, but it’s still such a milestone. Even if you’re only working for your health and fitness and totally ignoring the beauty aspects, it’s still, to me, such a humiliating and stressful experience to have to shop in separate stores or departments.

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library mistress • November 3, 2006 at 3:55 pm

My step mother lost 30 kilos and said one day, “I’ve lost that much and I’m still that fat”. She plays violin at a concert every year on New Year’s day, and I forced her to look at the photos of the last two concerts to show her how much she had lost… This helped. – She is really incredible, has lost 40 kilos now. I hope I’ll also get there someday.

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lulu • November 3, 2006 at 5:13 pm

I know, or at least I remember, the exact point at which I would have described myself as slim (which means not overweight, no excess fat but not bony. In Britain, “thin” is usually used to describe someone whose skeleton is visible). We hadn’t heard of the BMI then, but I knew I was slim because when a new boyfriend invited me to a poolside barbecue I wore a swimsuit under my sarong and during the evening actually got into the pool In Public. I was 5 feet 10, 132 pounds and measured 38-26-38. Unfortunately, that was twenty years ago…

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K • November 3, 2006 at 5:45 pm

No, Kalmia’s method wouldn’t work for me. I can’t really pinch anything much at my waist, but my lower half is a different story, unfortunately.

I’ve been thinking more about this – I really don’t know when I could draw a line and say “Now I’m thin.” But I have a fairly clear idea of when I’d be able to say “This is where I’m going to stop.”

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yes • November 3, 2006 at 7:39 pm

Ugh, that corridor thing is depressing. I always think my reflection is somehow fatter than I actually am in real life.

I have gained a good 30 lbs and feel like I look exactly the same. I know clothes don’t fit, but felt fat at 185 and feel fat at 215. Very odd.

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Christine • November 3, 2006 at 9:54 pm

You are doing an amazing job. I just found your blog today and am starting my own. What struck me is the idea of when are we not fat anymore. Interesting opinions on this. What I found weird was I had been always skinny up until I had my kids. Then I ballooned and yet in my mind I was still thin. It surprised me if my butt hit something or hips didn’t quite squeeze through a space. I don’t know if 17 years later I still really know I am fat. But yet when I see photographs of myself I hardly recognize me.

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bitchwhoblogs • November 3, 2006 at 11:05 pm

I am struggling with this whole issue right now – I am down 40 pounds and one pound away from crossing the line from being ‘obese’ to ‘overweight’ according to my BMI — yet, I am starting wear a size 12 or 10… I was just thinking about that today – I am technically obese and I wear a size ten at Old Navy… vanity sizing? maybe, but I wear that in other clothes as well…

Its an odd situation when people comment on how much weight I have lost – which oddly enough isn’t that much in comparison to how many sizes that I have lost… I work out a freakish amount and run towards a very muscular build… I don’t know — I am finding it a total head trip right now… I want to say, “wait, I am still obese!!”…

For what its worth – you don’t look fat in your photos. You look healthy.

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Jules • November 3, 2006 at 11:37 pm

For what it’s worth, you don’t look fat anymore either. I think the BMI system is fatally flawed if you work out / have any muscles…

I suspect, but don’t have any proof :), that it’s not accurate for women who are taller than the norm (like yourself + moi)

Great to read that you feel good. Inspiring. You rock!

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kalmia • November 3, 2006 at 11:43 pm

I apply a simple test: pinching the belly fat around my middle. When it’s below 1″ I think I will think of myself as normal. I’m an apple shape, though. It may be different for a pear…

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Dee • November 5, 2006 at 10:54 pm

I actually read this post a couple of days ago, and am really stewing in the whole thing. I’ve often thought about if I’ll ever just feel normal, and not just a former fatty when I get to where I’m going… and I’m really unsure which way the coin will fall. Esp. since in order to do something about my weight I had to be incredibly honest about it, and I know some of that honesty is critical… and if I’ll ever be able to just switch that off again, we’ll have to see.

Perspective is a bitch. and I really have no idea when or if I’ll ever feel ‘thin’ or even ‘normal’ for that matter. I remember one of my (much)larger friends actually telling me that if she could get to my size she’d be happy… where as here I am trying to work my way down to someone else’s size.

Really is a funny thing.

You’re doing amazing btw! love the new pic!!

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Deborah • November 15, 2006 at 10:06 am

You are the bomb! Thanks for the inspiration.

Love your pictures helps me see myself at 235 lbs

down from 250 hit 200 a year ago and that felt great, will be there again soon. Know the answer now – NO MORE SUGAR and hardly any CARBS.

Felt good and looked good between 145 and 150 lbs. There is such great girlfriend material on

this blog…love you all!

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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 at JennetteFulda.com.

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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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