194 poundsI caught up with two of my favorite cousins last week in Nashville, and though I was thrilled to see them for the first time in years, I was horrified by the way my self-confidence plummeted in their presence. I've talked before about the way family members can affect how we see ourselves, but I don't think I realized before last week, that this can happen even when we are around family members with whom we have supportive and loving relationships. I guess that's what took me by surprise: I've always been close with these cousins, I've always enjoyed their company, and never once have I thought that they were judgmental about the way I look. So why did my self-perception change so dramatically when I saw them?
The first thing that might have played into this change is the way my cousin Jim looked. Most of the people on my mother's side of the family are solidly built, and as a former high school football player, Jim has always been broad shouldered and brawny. But when he walked through the door of my favorite Nashville restaurant last week, he was so thin that I barely recognized him. Jim had slimmed down after high school, but he still always had that hulking footballer look. This was not the case last week. The man who met us for dinner was a far cry from the Jim I had grown up with. In fact, he's now what I would call model thin—not too thin, but thin enough that it's easy to imagine him posing for an underwear ad. I was, of course, surprised by the change in his physique, but more than anything, I was surprised by how handsome he looked. Never a bad looking guy, Jim is now a bona fide hottie.
And I couldn't help but wonder if underneath his former football player body, this model had been waiting to come out all along.
You can probably guess what I thought next—is there a model inside of me waiting to come out? Could I look that good if I lost a significant amount of weight? Have I been approaching this whole weight loss thing the exactly wrong way???
After dinner, my other cousin Jeff got out his camera for a few pictures, but when I looked at the first one, I was horrified by what I saw. I had turned to the side for the photo, and when I looked at my image on the tiny camera screen, all I saw was arm. A huge, flabby, fleshy piece of whale arm. I was disgusted with myself.
I had not seen Jeff or Jim in years, and here we were, finally reunited—Jim looking like he'd just stepped out of the pages of GQ and Jeff as boyish and cute as always—and I imagined I must have reminded them of the fatty ham our grandmother put out every year at the family's Christmas dinner.
Admittedly, this is exactly the kind of talk—exactly the kind of thinking—that I want to steer people away from on this blog. But that doesn't mean I'm entirely immune to it.
Yes, I was feeling horribly unattractive in the moment, but I was also simultaneously angry with myself for breaking the very rules I set forth on this blog. So if I understood even then how wrong it was to see myself that way, why did I still do it?
The answer is probably too complex for someone who's not schooled in the psychology of the mind to fully understand, but I can take a guess: when we're around family, we revert to the roles of our childhood, whether they be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. When I saw Jeff and Jim, I became the person they grew up with—the insecure, awkward, somewhat nerdy child of my youth. I often become this way around my immediate family, but it surprised me that I would do this with my cousins as well. It wasn't that they didn't believe in me. It's that they reminded me of the person I used to be. And maybe it's not the worst thing in the world to remember whom we used to be. Otherwise, how would we be able to recognize how much we've changed and grown?
Maybe there is a model lurking somewhere deep inside of me. A model I might be able to find if I were willing to starve myself for the rest of my life, which is what I'd have to do to lose and keep off the fifty pounds I'd need to shed to find that model. But what's different between the me I am now and the me I was when I was a kid roller-skating with Jeff and Jim in our grandmother's basement is that I no longer want to be that model. I no longer believe that I'll finally be happy when I look like I've just stepped out of the pages of Vogue.
No, I no longer believe that happiness is something I'm waiting for. Now I believe it's something I already have.