What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Hellooo, size 12. I haven’t seen you in awhile.
A “solid size 14” is how I confidently described myself to anyone who wanted to know, but I was certainly amused when I the size 12 jeans I slipped on in the fitting room zipped up effortlessly around my hips.
“Well this will open up some options,” I said to myself.
It’s just one of the ways my life has changed in the past six months or so. In June, I packed up my little basement apartment in Washington, D.C., gave notice to my fairly cushy broadcasting job, and set off to study fashion design and “find myself” in Philadelphia.
The change felt great. I was in the city of Brotherly Love, taking long walks in my new neighborhood, and eating delicious and inexpensive food from local pizza places and mom-and-pop sandwich shops.
I was staying up clear through the night, listening to Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” while finishing abstract paintings for my design classes, certain that the caffeine-fueled, self-imposed insomnia would turn me into a design genius, but so deliriously happy that I barely noticed my lack of sleep (or bloodshot eyes).
Somehow through all that, I’d also unwittingly whittled my ass down a size.
But over the holiday break from school, I returned to my old stomping grounds in D.C. to pick up some work at my old job. A full week hadn't gone by before one of my co-workers eyed me quizzically, seemingly trying to figure out if something had changed.
“You look good,” he said. “I don’t want to be rude or anything, but... did you lose weight?”
Had I? I looked down at myself. My clothes were draping a bit easier, and I felt lighter, but I didn’t really take note of it until that moment. I'd attributed it to being a happy, though starved, art student.
“I dunno,” I shrugged. “But thanks. I think I just feel good about being in school.”
The next week it happened it again when I ran into an old friend.
“Look at you!” he exclaimed. “Getting all skinny! Go ‘head girl!”
And again, I was confused. I'd moved to the city of cheesesteaks, for crying out loud! There was no way I looked like I’d been on any kind of diet. I responded with a not-entirely convinced “Thanks?” and kept it moving.
But the third time I heard it -- “Veronica, have you lost weight?” -- I wanted to explode.
“What the HECK people? Did I look like a tire before?”
Here’s the thing: I know people mean well when they compliment you on your weight loss. But what if said weight loss is totally unintentional?
What if it’s a matter of circumstance: of not being stressed, of eating at home because you can’t afford lunch out every day, of walking everywhere because you totaled your car just before you decided to go to grad school? And -- and this is the big AND -- what if you were perfectly fine with the way you looked before?
As life would have it, this very same thing happened to my super adorable (and super rich) celebrity doppelganger, Raven Symone -- though, obviously, on a much larger scale. She dropped somewhere around 35 pounds last year, and was deluged with questions as soon as the tabloids took notice. How’d you do it? What’s your secret? Goodness, you look great!
According to the actress, there was no secret. She’d simply stopped stressing and maybe ate slightly smaller portions. Consider also that after the fact, there was no promotional photoshoot, no US Magazine cover story, no endorsement deal with Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers. It’s one of those rare times where a celebrity A) doesn’t seem to be intentionally losing weight, and B) isn’t looking to capitalize off of slimming down. I sensed Raven’s annoyance with all the attention when she was quoted in Vibe magazine, saying: "I find it funny that people now come up to me and say, 'Wow, you are absolutely gorgeous.’ I'm like, 'I was beautiful before I lost weight.’ Egotistically speaking, I thought I was amazing."
And that’s more or less where I am right now. Imagine -- after confronting my body-image issues as a dancer, after undoing the damage of a weight-obsessed ex-boyfriend, and after finding community and kinship among the “plus-sized” and “curvy,” (and deciding that I’d want to date model Tara Lynn if I ever chose to date women) I’m complimented for having lost some pounds. Even after all that internal self-love work, you realize that society’s message is still the same: You look better when you’re smaller.
It’s similar to the girl with curly hair (hey, that’s me too!) wanting to switch it up for a bit with a bone straight blow-out. It’s all good -- until someone starts gushing over just how much more awesome you look with straight hair. You mutter “Thanks,” while burying the urge to say, “Screw you! I like my coily hair, THANKYOUVERYMUCH.”
But I know regular folks aren’t spokespeople for societal beauty standards when they compliment the way my body’s changed, so I don’t get angry about it anymore; it just feels... weird.
“Hey!” I want to say. “I can look great at any size! Tell me how awesome my hair looks instead. I worked REALLY HARD on that!”
Alas, everything can’t be a teaching moment. So, I issue a small “Thanks,” and go about my business, texting the new boyfriend who, as life would have it, is quite the fan of my size 14 bottom.
Well... size 12 bottom.