One woman talks about her weight loss journey—and why she'll never again let the opinions of others cloud her body image or confidence
Although I was a very health-conscious and athletic teenager, with no regular exercise or parent observing my eating habits, I had a hard time adjusting to adulthood in New York City. After four years of living on my own, I had gained 40 pounds, putting me at 170. Standing at five feet and eight inches, I was officially above the healthy weight range for my height (though the BMI measurement does have its problems).
In my opinion, I carried my weight quite well, but I was used to mean comments about my size nonetheless. It was an easy, go-to insult, especially for ex-boyfriends with sour feelings. When I was 20, I ran into my high school ex at a house party, and during a conversation lull in front of a group of my peers, he asked, “Zoe, what happened to you? You look like you’ve put on 50 pounds.” His thinner-than-me girlfriend looked at him with total surprise and disgust, and the other party attendees encouraged me to hit him. Instead, I left crying. That same year, a previous hookup partner told me I could “be the hottest girl in Brooklyn” if I lost weight. People continuously mistook me for a pregnant woman. Another ex-boyfriend took to the internet, after I ended our relationship, to detail how repulsed he was by the cellulite on my thighs. It never ended.
Last summer, a man I was dating finally blurted out that he found me attractive, but would be more attracted to me if I lost weight. I was at a loss for words. I had never self-identified as fat, but it was becoming impossible to ignore the hurtful comments, and now they were coming from a current partner, not just a vengeful ex. I wondered how many other people thought the exact same thoughts, but were too scared to say something. Even though I appreciated the honesty of my then-boyfriend, I couldn’t look past how insensitively he had voiced his concern for my weight, and so I ended the relationship.
I hit a breaking point. For the first time in my life, I was actually determined to lose weight, although admittedly, initially, it was for the sake of vanity and showing those exes what was up. It wasn’t until I had begun to revamp my diet that I realized how irresponsible I had been with food. As I began to eat a healthier diet, portioning my food appropriately and reflecting on my prior eating habits, I recalled many instances of binge-eating—I just hadn't known I was binge-eating at the time. I would eat and eat, way past the feeling of fullness and almost to the point of sickness…but I enjoyed it. It was an emotional and physical comfort to feel full; it sedated me almost like a Xanax. It wasn’t unusual for me to make an entire box of pasta and scarf it down as a midnight snack, even if I wasn’t hungry.
After about four months of healthy diet and exercise, I’d lost 15 pounds, and I celebrated this milestone with a Facebook post announcing my determination—not to lose weight, but to become the fittest, healthiest version of myself. A healthy weight range for my height is said to be between 126 pounds and 154 pounds, depending on body frame, and my weight finally fell within that bracket. Soon after my body-positive FB posting, a close male friend of mine joked that I looked great, and that he’d sleep with me if I lost yet another 15 pounds. I was shocked to hear such a blatant expression of body shaming and degradation, disguised as a compliment. But now that my body was beginning to show the weight loss, these backhanded compliments were becoming more common.
Once I hit 150, I became more concerned with maintaining my health than continuing to lose weight, although my body started to shed pounds without any added effort on my part. It was as though my system was totally resetting itself, and all it really needed was a jump-start to be on the path to fitness. I didn’t want to be thin; I wanted to be strong. I joked that I wanted to be just like Ronda Rousey.
My dad had passed away a few months prior, and exercise was one of the few things that kept my mood up and transformed my grief and sadness into determination and hope for the future. My father’s death also left me feeling incredibly vulnerable—and mortal. I wanted to cheat death by getting as close to perfect health as possible.
Recently, I left New York for Detroit. Where I live in Detroit, there’s no food delivery, and many of my friends are vegan or vegetarian. It’s also much more common to cook your own meals here, and gym memberships are quite affordable. I weighed 145 pounds when I moved, but in no time at all, I dropped down to 130. I had stopped drinking alcohol because alcoholism runs in my family, and I couldn’t justify drinking if I was truly trying to be strong and healthy. Without the extra calories from alcohol, I had unintentionally accelerated my weight loss. Once my weight dipped below 130, I became concerned that I was losing too much, and I turned my attention to weightlifting and adding muscle.
People lose weight for a lot of different reasons—physical or mental illness, emotional trauma, lifestyle changes. I found it interesting that while friends following my online presence knew that my weight loss was intentional (up to a certain point), many people who didn’t see my posts were automatically assuming it was a positive thing. There was one friend, however, who approached the subject in a very considerate manner. “I saw that you’ve been talking about your weight loss and fitness goals online, so I wanted to tell you how proud I am of what you’ve accomplished,” he said. I thanked him and told him how much it meant that he phrased it that way; it felt like a genuine affirmation, as opposed to a loaded remark. Because every time someone told me I looked good, I wondered if that meant I had looked bad before I lost weight. “You shrunk, congrats!” one friend exclaimed, to which I replied, “What am I, a raisin?” “Where did you…go?” another friend remarked as she grabbed at my waist. My weight loss was met with admiration and excitement, but also confusion, envy, and retroactive body-shaming.
I resented these comments. Was everyone really paying that much attention to my body?
While I was pleased with how I looked, I also began to feel more self-conscious about my body than I had ever felt at my heavier weight. The closer my body got to an American image of “the perfect body,” the more flawed I felt. When I was at my heavier weight, I knew I looked nothing like a runway model, but I genuinely loved my big thighs and ass and tummy for what they were. At one point, I came across a nude selfie of myself from right before I began to lose weight, and I had an intense sense of longing for my bigger body. Where had my boobs gone? I was clearly not in shape back then, but it was as though I was looking at the real me, the me with a full and beautiful figure. I stood in the mirror and almost felt skeletal, even though I was lean and muscular and definitely within a healthy weight range.
I worried that men might not have liked me at a heavier weight. I worried that I would put the weight back on—that I would feel ashamed of regressing. I worried that I was becoming too concerned with my physique instead of who I am on the inside.
Ultimately, I am proud of myself for being so dedicated and conscientious. While I miss my bigger body from time to time, I feel better about how I treat my body now. I know it sounds corny, but now that I’m back at the same weight I was before college, I’m kind of realizing that the grass is always greener on the other side. Men I've hooked up with recently, who knew my body before, have told me they really liked my bigger body and miss it. But it doesn't matter what they think. It only matters what I think.
I realize I should have never lost weight just for the sake of pleasing others. Most importantly, I now know that I love my body at any weight, and never again will I let the opinions of others cloud my self-perception.
Zoë Ligon, also known as Pippa Vacker, is a sex educator who is currently pursuing her dream of opening an independent sex-toy store. In addition, she works for an online dating website and creates collage art known for its subversive and sexual content.