57. The After Picture

57. The After Picture

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

The After Picture

Follow your dreams, for as you dream you shall become.
 ~Author Unknown

Angry welts. They were the marks left on my inner thighs that brought me to tears as they burned every night. Stretch marks. They were the ugly, deepening furrows that crept across my sides.

Sweat. It was the drops of salty water that ruined my make-up and dripped down the backs of my legs.

Clothes. I couldn’t wear the pretty things I admired.

People. I read into the judging eyes behind pity smiles.

That was my “before” picture. Being overweight isn’t always about being unhealthy. I tried every diet from the sensible to the extreme. The same went for my workouts. There was a time in my life when I was so desperate to lose weight that I starved myself and worked out for two hours every one of those days. The results?

I gained five pounds.

That’s when I realized my body didn’t react to food and exercise the way other people’s seemed to. I watched friends I worked out with lose weight even as they had that extra slice of pizza I wouldn’t dare to touch. Everything I ate felt like it turned to fat. I continued to beat myself up. My friends, family, and doctors were proud of my efforts, but I didn’t see in terms of healthy. I saw in terms of pounds, and those pounds weren’t budging an ounce.

In essence, I just wanted what every teenage girl wants: to be liked by girls and loved by boys. To me, pretty had all the advantages. They had perfect lives. They were admired.

Eventually, I resigned myself to the fate of just another “fat girl.” This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It was the beginning of summer, and I didn’t have to worry about my weight anymore. I believed I was stuck that way forever so I might as well embrace it and live my life.

And I did.

For the first time, I focused on myself, the girl inside the “fat suit,” in a way that I never had before. I stopped worrying about what other people thought of me and instead enjoyed all the good in my life. That is, all the good I had been ignoring in my quest to be thin.

I started out with little things.

I went to the mall and marched my way into what I had always called “the fat people store.” Ever since I had stopped fitting into clothes at the chain stores, I was miserable and vowed to never go shopping again unless I fit into “normal clothes.” I kept my promise, so this was the first time I had gone clothes shopping in over a year. The fear in me subsided after I made a few turns of the store. These weren’t the bulky, baggy things I had seen overweight girls wear. They were almost stylish.

Then, I saw it. The most beautiful little, black dress I had ever seen. I automatically grabbed the largest size before I realized it was way too big. I smiled and grabbed the smallest size. At least I was a size one somewhere. With an armload of clothes, I made my way to the fitting room. Everything fit! For once, it was a matter of what I liked to wear instead of what happened to actually fit me. I walked out of that store with my head held high. Shopping was fun again.

That night, I decided to accept an invitation to go clubbing with my girlfriends. I rarely went along with them because the fact is, these girls are stunning. Going out with them is like going out with the sun. My little star was outshined every time.

But that night was different. Slowly, something was changing in me. I was smiling more. I was even laughing. For once, I was truly enjoying myself. That was when I saw him. He was tall and had these deep, dark eyes. From where I was standing, it seemed like someone had plucked Prince Charming out of a fairy tale and seated him at the table across the dance floor. Nearly every girl was staring at him. Each one would steal a glance and then move back to her clique. Even the pretty girls with the long legs and flowing, golden hair didn’t have the guts to talk to him. It was about 20 minutes until closing, and I decided it was then or never.

At first, I did a little trick with my eyes. I stared intensely at the back of his head and made sure his friends saw me. Of course, they whispered to him, and he turned in my direction. He looked at me and my breath caught. He really was handsome.

Once it seemed I had “guy code” approval, I downed half a beer for dramatic effect and walked right up behind him. I could feel the judging eyes on me, but I ignored them. Instead of running away, I faked confidence and slowly ran my fingernails down his arm. Once I had his attention, I motioned him closer to me.

“Would you like to dance?”

“Sure,” he grinned, and his friends cheered him on.

Frankly, I was stunned. Were those gorgeous eyes blind? I wasn’t the skinny model I imagined would be on his arm.

As I took his hand and moved to the dance floor, I understood the only person standing between me and what I wanted was me.

As he danced closer, I realized he thought I was beautiful. He wasn’t disgusted. He wanted to move his hands along my curves.

As the club closed down, I whispered a thank you in his ear. He said something as I left, but I didn’t turn around. There would be others.

I had found confidence.

By the end of summer, I discovered romance, deepened friendships and finished my first novel.

With every accomplishment, I just felt good. Maybe, I even felt beautiful. The stress that had been weighing me down melted away. I was happy at long last, and with happiness came weight loss.

The more I cared about myself as a person, the more weight I lost. I was doing all the same things I had done before. I even treated myself to that slice of pizza, and the world didn’t come crashing down.

I am thinner in my “after” picture, but that’s not the most important change this journey has brought me. My after picture is a snapshot of a woman who allowed herself to live.

~Jennifer Azantian

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