When I lost weight a decade ago—75 pounds—I did so in a public way, chronicling every ounce I took off for a national publication. Suddenly, the backhanded compliments I had received all my life—things like, “You have such a pretty face, if only you’d lose some weight”—were replaced by genuine praise, especially after my big reveal hit newsstands.
I welcomed the kudos, but inside, I struggled with a self-imposed pressure to never be a “rebounder.” My desire to maintain my weight loss was complex: On the one hand, I had replaced self-sabotaging behaviors with healthier ones I felt good about, and I couldn’t deny that my confidence had improved. On the other, I was clinging to the external validation my new size engendered. After all, our society rewards people for having smaller bodies, and punishes people for having bigger ones—and after being punished in subtle and overt ways for so many years, I didn’t want to go back there.
But, perhaps inevitably, all the pounds that initially came off didn’t stay away forever. I’ve played whack-a-mole with the same 20 or 30 pounds that pop up (and then go down) too many times to count. As I write this, I’m about 15 pounds up from my lowest weight.
I was clinging to the external validation my new size engendered. After all, our society rewards people for having smaller bodies, and punishes people for having bigger ones—and after being punished in subtle and overt ways for so many years, I didn’t want to go back there.
Now that I’ve been both thinner and heavier than I am today, every photo I look at from the past seems loaded with nostalgia, er… weight-stalgia. And nowhere do I feel this more acutely than on social media. For a long time, whenever Facebook’s “Memories” feature (which used to be called “On This Day”) would serve up an old photo, I’d cringe. But it wasn’t the “fat photos” that were the hardest to look at; it was the ones of me at my thinnest that have made me, at times, feel angry at myself and ashamed. Despite how hard I know it is for a lot of people to maintain weight loss, I felt I should somehow be able to exert enough self-control to avoid these fluctuations.
But the cruel reality is that old (food) habits die hard. I remember reading a cover story by Oprah herself for her magazine, O, in 2009, where she wrote, “So here I stand, 40 pounds heavier than I was in 2006. I’m mad at myself. I’m embarrassed. I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, ‘How did I let this happen again?'” That’s a question I’ve asked myself, too, in the moments when I’ve forgotten that my top numbers on the scale weren’t the result of simply loving food too much. I reached for food the way a smoker picks up a cigarette to deal with stress. And the fact is that weight loss alone can’t cure me, Oprah, or any other emotional eater of this inclination to open the refrigerator door even when we’re not hungry.
Among the photos I wanted to lock away in an album titled “Ugh, please don’t remind me”: the one of me sitting cross-legged next to a dear friend, wearing a red top and proudly displaying bare legs in black mini-skirt (one I’ve swapped for knee-length styles these days). The picture of me standing next to Maria Menounos in the green room for an interview and bonding over our shared Greek heritage; never mind that I appear a full foot shorter than she is, I look happy and confident—and a good 10 pounds slimmer than I am today. The snapshot of me and my childhood best friend at a concert, where I’m wearing a leather-and-lace dress that I literally ripped a couple of years ago trying to get over my head.
Looking back, it strikes me that my way of dealing with these Facebook memories was similar to how some people react to old posts with an ex-boyfriend or even someone who has died: I didn’t want to look at the photos, much less share them with my network. It never occurred to me that other people could be more forgiving of my weight fluctuations than I was. Or that—gasp—they might not notice or register my weight loss or gain at all.
Today, I want to shake that me who was so busy playing the weight version of the compare-and-despair game that I didn’t stop and consider what these moments meant to me, who I was with, or what delight these throwbacks might bring me if I could look past my silhouette to take in the full picture. Every photographic stroll down Facebook’s memory lane may seem insignificant, but if it helps us “nostalgize,” it’s not. As the psychologist Clay Routledge, PhD, told The New York Times, “Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function. It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives.”
I hated knowing that there were parts of myself I didn’t want others to see. I despised my own inauthenticity and unwillingness to be who I am—which means acknowledging who I’ve been.
Perhaps the reason I was so focused on my shape was that I was operating under “thinlusion,” or the illusion that the thinner I am, the better my life gets. Was I having more fun back then because of my smaller size? Was hitting my stride in my magazine career somehow linked to getting to a lower weight? Of course not; my life has had periods of awesomeness and periods of struggle at every size. But it’s easy to forget this when diet ads want us to believe that getting skinny will solve all our problems and society keeps telling us things like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” In reality, joy is an inside job, not a number on the scale. Maybe that’s why one UK survey of 2,000 women found that 49 percent of people who had a history of weight fluctuations said they were happiest at a size 16 (roughly a size 12/14 in the US)—nope, not at a size 6.
Thin might not be the secret to happiness, but I did stumble on a fail-proof way to feel bad. Every time I decided not to share a photo based on how I looked—whether I was thinner or heavier—the goal was to protect myself from embarrassment and to feel better about myself. But it had the opposite effect. I hated knowing that there were parts of myself I didn’t want others to see. I despised my own inauthenticity and unwillingness to be who I am—which means acknowledging who I’ve been. There’s even research backing up the idea that hiding ourselves—including our past selves—to stay safe is a terrible way to live. As reported in Harvard Business Review, one study of over 3,000 people looked at the effects of “covering”—or hiding a significant part of who we are—and found that nearly 75 percent of coverers said that this tendency had a negative impact on their sense of self.
As I began to see the personal toll that cutting off parts of my past was having on me, I became more willing to embrace my “then” photos, my “now” photos, and every photo in between. Sure, I’m not immune to vanity and to wanting to present myself in a flattering light. But the filter called “do not share” that my brain wanted me to apply liberally was putting me wholly in the dark.
Taking photos of yourself in your birthday suit can also help you boost your confidence—or at least it worked for one writer. And while you’re channeling body-positive self-love, here’s why to stop seeing cellulite as “bad.”
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