I have never been entirely comfortable with “me.” It’s hard to describe, really. If someone stops to talk to me, or leans in a bit close, I never assume it’s because the other person finds me attractive. Interesting? Funny? Engaging? Smart? Absolutely. Each of those; all of those. Pretty? No way. That does not even enter my mind. It’s a weird mix of confidence and non-confidence that I’ve never really been able to explain. Until now.
I just finished reading a wonderful book: “Conversations with the Fat Girl,” by Liza Palmer. Set in California, it’s the story of Maggie and Olivia, two girls who were best friends all through school, and both of whom (because of size and other things) were always on the outside looking in. Fast forward to their late 20s. Olivia has gastric bypass surgery and whittles down to a size 2, and loses who she was in the process. Maggie, who was likely just a normal-sized girl, can’t get past the idea that because she’s not a size 2, somehow she is unworthy of love, of genuine friendship, of not being walked over. Told in the context of Olivia’s preparations for her marriage to her perfect doctor husband, Olivia stays fixed in her fantasy world of what perfection is, and Maggie blossoms through the adversity and difficulty of losing all that was familiar.
The book is not just about size. It’s not a “fat girl’s anthem” in that sense. And yet, it absolutely exposes every insecurity I think all women have about their bodies. With a deft comic touch and smart, observant prose, it addresses how we tie our self-worth too often to how we think others perceive us, physically.
The most intriguing part of the book was that I could identify with both Maggie and with Olivia. While Olivia is …. grossly unsympathetic in myriad ways, the book is written well enough that you understand where she’s coming from and what drives her to do the things she does. I felt immense pity for her. And Maggie is, in many ways, every woman. Well, every woman who’s ever wondered if she was smart enough, good enough, talented enough. Pretty enough.
There was one line that really struck me in this book, and one that I think we can all identify with on some level. Maggie comments on the fearlessness of her seven-year-old niece who bursts into her ballet class without a care that she is dressed differently than the other girls. Emily (Maggie’s niece) blithely tells her mother that she hopes the other girls are okay with what they’re wearing, because they don’t have a pink tutu or a fairy wand. Maggie says:
“I want to be like that. I want to be seven years old again. I want to go back to the day my confidence left me and was replaced by an apology.”
A few years ago, I lost a significant amount of weight and have managed to keep it off. The reality is, though, I still have a good portion to lose still. It’s a hard slog and one that I’ve been a bit lazy about over the last year. But honestly, no matter how much weight I lose (or don’t) I can’t seem to see myself as “normal”. I still feel like a woolly mammoth lumbering through an urban landscape. In some ways, that feeling has been exacerbated by moving somewhere that follows dressmaker sizing (European sizing). After 27 hours on a plane, I gained a new home and two dress sizes. I’m still dealing with that in some stupid way. So, I totally get Maggie’s obsession with cardigan sweaters (for hiding back fat) and the best ways to tilt her chin in pictures (to avoid double chins, neck fat, and basically, anything remotely unflattering).
It was a good read. It was uncomfortable at times, if I’m really honest, but oddly empowering, too.