A lot has been written about body image, particularly in the case of women, who suffer in greater numbers from eating disorders and the like that are related to body image. I don't have anything new to say about that, although the topic is a compelling one. Instead, I'm just going to relate my own recent experiences with my own body image and how it's sometimes at odds with reality.
Last May I suffered a health emergency that led to the discovery of an underlying chronic condition. In a few weeks I lost around 30 pounds. For someone who, at least according to BMI, has never quite fallen into the "overweight" category--although I've come close--that represents a pretty significant weight change. I'm sure everyone around me got quite sick of hearing about it. The truth is that I was, and still am, amazed. I have not been at my current weight since at least before high school, and I'm 65 years old. It's as if I had to keep repeating that "30 pounds!" to believe it. Certainly I wasn't bragging about it, because I wouldn't wish anyone to go through what I have just to lose the weight. Indeed, there's nothing to be proud of, as the weight just came off with no effort on my part. Illness is a terrible weight loss technique.
So I went down two or three sizes and have had to buy an entire new wardrobe. This has caused me a great deal of anxiety along with some poor clothing choices. I hate shopping and dislike spending the money. For years I've shopped on-line, but now I had to try on clothes in an actual store. I can only take so much of it and then I have to leave, whether or not I've acquired everything on my list.
Oddly, I still find myself looking at and even trying on clothing that's bound to be too large for me. It's like I can't shake off the image of myself of thirty pounds ago. When I look in the mirror, I still look to myself like the person who wore larger sizes than what currently fits me. Every time I try on an article of clothing that can't possibly fit me, and yet it does, I can't believe it.
In the past, I've also had the opposite happen. I've had to try on or order a larger size, because in my eyes, I wasn't that size and thus didn't need it. Or there was an item of clothing I hadn't worn in a while and I was shocked to discover I could no longer get the zipper up.
I know someone who's had bariatric surgery and is now slimmer and trimmer than I've ever seen him, but he still thinks of himself as weighing close to 400 pounds. He still carries with him that stigma with which our culture burdens people of that size. And all the baggage that goes along with that stigma.
Then, of course, many if not most people my age get a shock every time they look into the mirror and see a sixty-something instead of a younger self. When did I become my mom? I probably looked my best in my thirties and early forties and I still expect to see that face when I look into the mirror instead of the one with folds and wrinkles and sags (which I think have been exaggerated by the suddenness of the weight loss, but who knows?). I know that at least some of my friends also look into a mirror and think "When did that happen?" Sometimes is as if the question should be, "Where was I all those years when my physical self was changing and why didn't I notice?"
It's striking how little reality has to do with how we think of ourselves. (I cringe to think of how that's also true way beyond body image.) I think I may have just a glimmer of understanding about how some people have body dysmorphia and starve themselves or work out fanatically to achieve the form they see in their minds, which might already be their actual form. They're not seeing reality; they're seeing an image of a physical self that is not objectively the configuration that the rest of the world sees.
Because my condition requires many more calories than the average person needs, I'm probably in very little danger of outgrowing my current wardrobe any time soon. But I'm having a lot of trouble parting with the old clothes and making room for the new ones. Maybe one day the old physical me will resurrect itself and then I'll have to go through all this all over again, but in reverse. Who knows? Probably if that happens, I'll be trying to squeeze myself into pants that cut off my circulation, unable, once again, to see the real me.