Fat Marsha was my fence, my shield. She absorbed the pain and the stress while I struggled to find my balance, my voice, and my inner strength. She propped me up for decades, fueled with cakes and pies made from scratch, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, ribs, bacon and sausage, homemade rolls, ice cream, and sooooooo much more. How comforting it was to know that she was always there for me when I needed her – the first day at a new school (even college), traveling out of town by myself, the first day on a new job, moving to a new city. With such a strong shield, I was able to accomplish a lot!
Eventually, though, I was able to find my balance. I did finally tap that well of inner strength that I always suspected was there. I spoke up; I found my voice! And that was the beginning of the end of Fat Marsha.
I didn’t actually give her a name until I’d lost about 90 pounds and discovered I was too small for plus size clothes. Sure, I was thrilled with the weight loss! I examined my slimmer body in the mirror from different angles every morning, overjoyed with what I saw. But when I had no choice but to ride the escalator up from the Women’s Department to the Misses Department at Macy’s, I became so overwhelmed that I had to leave. It was as if I’d stepped into another dimension, a place so completely foreign that the dissonance made me panic. The air seemed too thin up there; I could hardly catch my breath.
Driving home, I found myself wondering, “What was that? What just happened?” I’d become quite good at listening to my own inner thoughts, and so I did just that. I listened…and what I heard went something like this:
“I don’t know that department; I don’t know how to find things there!”
“Well, everything you own is hanging off of you. You look ridiculous, so you’d better get over it and buy some clothes. You can’t live in sweatpants forever!” I sighed, and decided to try again on another day…and not at a department store.
A couple days later, I mustered up the courage to walk into Talbot’s. I really needed a pair of dressy pants for work, and Talbot’s was just a couple of stores down from Whole Foods where I wanted to go anyway. So I took a few deep breaths, pretended to be super relaxed, and walked inside.
“How are you today?” asked a waaaaay too cheery sales person.
“I’m fine, thank you,” I replied, avoiding eye contact and quickly scanning the store.
“Can I help you find something today?” No, but you can pretend you don’t see me and leave me alone, I thought.
“No, thank you. I’m just browsing.”
“Well, what size are you looking for?” Let it go, lady; leave me alone!
“I'm not sure; I just want to browse,” I said as politely and as casually as I could, even though I felt a sense of panic rising up from my feet.
“You're not sure? Well, what size are the pants you’re wearing right now?” she persisted. CAN’T YOU EVEN SEE THAT THESE PANTS ARE WAY TOO BIG, YOU MORON?? CAN’T YOU EVEN TELL THAT THEY’RE ONLY STAYING ON BECAUSE THE DRAWSTRING IS PULLED SO TIGHT? Suddenly, I felt my eyes stinging with tears. I did a hasty about face and left the store. I KNEW I SHOULDN’T HAVE GONE IN THERE! WHY COULDN'T SHE HAVE JUST LEFT ME ALONE??!
I drove home in tears. And this time, when I listened, what I heard from within went something like this: “I don’t know how to shop for this Marsha. I know Fat Marsha; I knew how to shop for her. I knew how to dress her; I knew the styles and colors that worked for her. I knew how to take care of her. I don’t know this new Marsha.” That’s how Fat Marsha got her name, and from that moment on, I realized that I was in mourning, mourning the loss of someone very dear to me.
No one tells you that losing a lot of weight can make you sad. No one tells you that you might have to grieve the loss of the person you once were, even as you celebrate your weight loss success. When I first tried to explain this in my weekly weight management class, everyone stared at me as if I was speaking in Latin. I was supposed to be elated that I no longer need plus size clothes. I was supposed to be excited, even eager to get rid of my old, fat clothes. In fact, I was encouraged to give them all away, lest I relax with my food plan and start nibbling my way back into those larger sizes. But that was not going to work for me. I knew I needed time to grieve, and so I chose to honor my grief and work through it my way.
I mourned Fat Marsha for 5 years. Throughout that time, my weight loss stalled big time. I sabotaged my own efforts, overeating the healthier choices I'd been making, giving myself permission to.eat salty carbs because they were a far better option than sweets, etc. I knew I was making things harder for myself, but I wasn't sure why. Perhaps I was trying to hold on to her, to what was familiar. I slowly regained about 30 pounds before I realized that I was only resisting, only fighting myself.
Then, in the winter of 2015, a friend told me, in a completely different context, that there comes a time when we all need to just let go of the things in our lives that aren't working for us, because they only keep us from being the best we can be. That struck a deep emotional chord for me. And so I put down the gloves. I stopped fighting, and I let Fat Marsha go. May she rest in peace. I'm finally moving on.