Last year I discovered two self portrait series by Julia Kozerski: Changing Room and Half (Warning: Half is artistic nudes and may not be suitable for all readers). In Changing Rooms, she documents her weight loss and her struggle to get used to her changing body through the use of selfies in changing rooms. In Half, she shares the truth under the clothes. Her artist statement explains:
Both in front of the lens and not, I struggled to come to terms with my changing body. As the weight came off, the shape of my body shifted dramatically and the monumental task of maintaining a well-fitting wardrobe ensued. I felt lost, not understanding the person looking back at me in the mirror. My physique was always in a state of flux and, in an attempt to strike a balance between how I felt and how I looked, I ventured out to stores on a daily basis, piling my arms full of clothing of all shapes and sizes. There was no method to my madness and I subsequently spent hours within the confines of store dressing rooms trying to “find” myself. (source)
Combined, they provide a compelling look at what the diet and weight loss industry feeds us (getting thinner and fitting in smaller sizes) and what many people don’t realize some ex-fat people have to deal with (skin, skin, and more skin).
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I think that it might have been part of why I started to stress out about my efforts last year.
If you’re pregnant for 9 months, your skin likely still has the elasticity needed to firm back up over time. But, being overweight for most of your adult life is entirely different – eventually, skin loses its ability to bounce back. That means that a lot of people who were overweight are left with a body that society considers gross, even after weight loss. In other words, you go from gross to still gross. It’s a hard pill to swallow. One way or another, we need to either accept a new, foreign version of gross or save up for surgery. I think that a lot of people assume that looking skinny with clothes on is enough to get over how stressful and emotional it can be knowing that under those clothes are drapes of stretched out skin.
Though I hadn’t lost anywhere near as much as Julia had, I was starting to see the signs of flabby skin: my arms flapped and my belly hung lower. It was annoying and, frankly, I felt more comfortable with the idea of being round and fat than with the idea of being thinner and floppy. This is one of many reasons why I hate it when weight loss is the primary focus. I started to feel like I needed to fit a certain expectation – lose weight and look slim in and out of clothes.
My focus is now on being healthy and relatively fit. I know that this will likely mean losing some weight (if only because I will be tracking my calories to stay within a healthy range) and I’m going to have to accept that this might mean living with hanging skin. I’m worried that I won’t be able to cope with all the droopy skin, so I’m already starting to consider how I might react and how I can keep myself from getting depressed about it or giving up on my goal of being more fit and healthy. For me, the beginning of that acceptance is writing about it. It makes me feel better not just because I’ve gotten this off my chest, but also because I hope sharing this publicly will help others understand that this is a struggle that a lot of people have to face.
If you have droopy skin from weight loss, you’re not alone and you are not gross.
Edit: While writing this post, I did a bit of research (as all good librarians would) and found this piece written by Alexandria Symonds, What No One Tells You About Losing Lots of Weight. It’s a good essay that touches on this and other aspects of how weight loss doesn’t always come with a fairy tale ending.
Edit 2: See also this Buzzfeed article. Scroll to near the bottom to see a comment echoing much of what I’ve said above.