After I had lost weight it was tempting to expect that everyone else had changed with me. Naturally, as I healed and changed, so did my internal filter. I saw my world differently. Much of the shame had gone and I no longer felt like a side-show freak. People stopped staring at me or glancing my way whenever I walked past. It felt good. Finally, I could be invisible and not the figure of shame.
Initially, it was great. But as I came back to earth, I realised that although I was now loving my life, others around me weren’t. This was confusing. I had assumed that being anything but obese was good and therefore ‘slimmer’ people would be enjoying their life, too. But the truth was far from this.
Society conditions us to think that if we are slim, successful and rich we will be happy. I thought that if I was like this then I would be without shame. I had believed this since my childhood, and it had been part of my motivation to lose weight. But now I discovered that this was not true. There was more to happiness than living life shallowly. Our happiness lies within us.
Slowly, I began feel burdened again, but for reasons other than the familiar judgement. Instead of being criticised or pitied for being obese, some people were now treating me in different way.
I found that people responded to me in 4 different ways:
1. People threatened by my transformation
Some had found benefit in my obesity; they could identify with me. But when I lost weight, they were forced to address their own lives. It was now hard for me to find ground on which to connect with them. Without the connection, these relationships fell away. This left me feeling rejected. I had no idea that they ‘liked’ me because my obesity made them feel better about themselves.
2. People unconsciously affected by their own shame
There were others who were deeply affected by their shame. I recognised this because of my own journey out of shame and the depth of feeling I had developed through it. I felt burdened by this, guilty that I had a life free of shame while they still suffered under the burden.
3. People who shifted from judgement to approval
Some assumed that as I was different on the outside, I must have changed on the inside, too. They now related to me as an equal and treated me with more respect. These people had once stood in judgement of me because of my weight, but now they wanted to be my friend. It was okay to be seen with me in public. But these relationships were conditional and lacked authenticity. This was discrimination in a different form. It was rejection dressed as approval and I found it hurtful.
4. Close friends who celebrated and supported my journey
Then, there were my close friends who celebrated my weight loss and better-quality of life. Nothing had changed between us as they had been authentic with me all along.
The old stereotypical attitudes about obesity and abuse still surrounded me. It hurt to see that so many people still held those attitudes about obesity, even though their criticism was no longer directed at me.
I had changed on the outside, but I was the same person underneath. To my mind I was still morbidly obese, and these people were attacking me. Discovering that others also carried shame was a burden to me. I felt their pain.
The pressure pushed me backward. The easy way out would have been to return to my old coping mechanisms. But this was not to be. Something had changed in me. The years of following love had brought me to a place of self-respect, despite how I had been treated. In this way, inner change is important because it changes the way we see ourselves and others and we learn to cope differently with our lives.