• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • April 26, 2014 in Columnists

    Walking incognito through the landscape of my life

    It's a bit different, yeah...

    It’s a bit different, yeah…

    Recently, I have noticed people I have known for years, decades and even a generation and a half walking past me as if they have no clue who I am. That’s okay, I’m not sure I recognize myself either.

    Sometimes, when these people pass me and I smile the welcoming smile of a friend and they react at first like “Who the hell is this woman smiling at me – oh my GOD – Maya???” I smile knowingly, savoring their startlement. I’ve yanked people around by calling out their names as they passed me and they’ve had to search a bit before figuring out who I am. Knowing who I am now versus then is a little like an in-joke.

    This can be useful. Once or twice, when I didn’t want to deal with someone of previous acquaintance, all I needed to do was seem not to know them. They sure as shootin’ didn’t know who I was. I’ve walked right under their noses and didn’t get even a glimmer of recognition.

    It’s not surprising. My face was so full – now it’s almost gaunt, even though there are places on my body that still need to lose more weight. My wrists were 7.5” – now they’re 6” and look delicate. My tattoos have condensed. My bullfrog chin has become a turkey wattle. I have collarbones and shoulder bones and, when the loose skin falls at an angle, you can see that I have the muscle definition of a long-time weight lifter. Pity all that muscle is covered by a bag-o-skin.

    When my hair fell out, as I was warned it would, I chopped it from waist length curls to a cute boy cut. And yes, that was hard.

    You won’t recognize me by the way I move, either. I walk briskly and swerve out of your way in the manner of someone with martial arts training (I have a red belt in mixed martial arts). When I want to open the automatic door on the bathroom, sometimes, for fun, I do it with a martial arts kick.

    I was 340 in the first picture.  Still over 200, but it's pretty dramatic.

    I was 340 in the first picture. Still over 200, but it’s pretty dramatic.

    Am I liking this? Of course…mostly.

    But, like most redefinings, it’s sometimes difficult. I wondered before the surgery who I would be. Truth is, I still wonder, although some of that is probably a condition of life, not weight loss.

    I know I’m more confident. I no longer feel I have to brace myself for the bigotry and unkindness that I had learned to expect. When I mention this, some people tell me it was the result of my own attitude, but honestly, I knew that at least at first (before you got to know the more imperfect me), I made a good impression. I expected people to like me, and was shocked when, after my being cordial and at least trying to be entertaining, I was responded to with dislike.

    Some of the people who reacted that way are quite friendly now. I forgive them, but I have not forgotten that, a year ago, they treated me differently.

    When I weighed 420, when I weighed 340 and 325 – all weights at which I stayed for some time – I felt as entitled as anybody to be treated with kindness and respect. At 420, I was treated like a decorticate monster. At 340 and 325, I was treated like an embarassing oddity. I noticed the difference beginning at about 250. I am still over 200, thanks to loose skin and dense bones and muscles from carrying that much weight and being athletic (yes, really) at that size. But now I’m basically “normal plump.” Only the truly bone thin still consider me somewhat freakish. These days women are friendly, children no longer point and gawp and I get smiles from men that at first puzzled me and now make me just shake my head, not knowing quite how to react.

    I am at once delighted not to be bullied and furious that it’s only the weight loss that’s brought on the change.

    I have learned that everything that hurts or challenges comes with blessings – I’ve said that in earlier columns. My particular blessing in this regard is that, more than most white women ever will, I understand how it feels to be “other” in my own land. Had I never been really, really fat, it’s quite likely I would have always been entirely what some refer to as “privileged” for my entire life. Trust me on this, fat cancels out privilege to a surprising degree.

    I have much of my privilege back, although now, somewhat, my age cancels it. That will grow more so with time. Still, I find that I am far less willing now to be treated badly. I’m considerably less patient with it and will do more about it if it occurs. I suspect that as I’ve lost weight, my sense of entitlement has, to some extent, come back.

    What I would like best is if everyone on earth could have that same sense of entitlement – the full confidence that they are entitled to be treated with kindness, cordiality and respect simply for being human and not because they meet some kind of superficial criteria that they may or may not be able to achieve.  However, I’m not sure this even can change. We’re not a kind species when it comes to any differences. Consider the disabled, the physically variant – particularly facially, little people, people with horrific injuries. Polite people’s eyes slide away. The less polite point or stare or bully.  I think we’re overdue to let go of all this, but can we?  I don’t know, but I find I actually can imagine what the world would be like if this was so.  Shall we give it a try?

    (Most photos credited to:  Nicola Mahoney, my daughter)

    Love really should be enough...

    Love really should be enough…

    • Interesting column Maya. I am curious about the people who told you it was not the weight but attitude that turned people off. Could it be that as you started to lose weight you became less conscious and nicer and didn’t feel you had to defend yourself as you did when you weighed more? Just curious. I think attitude, of which I have plenty at times, can be impacted by how I feel body wise or just emotional wise. Do you think your personality was affected by the weight? The effect being that somehow people saw you as more tough and not as easy to get to know because you hid behind the weight. I love your writing and I am just so happy for you as you get used to your new body.

      • Maya North

      • April 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm
      • Reply

      I can see your point, but these were people who didn’t know me well. I was NOT nicer — I suspect I’m nowhere near as nice in some ways because I’m less willing to tolerate unkindness just to get along. I’m sure it’s different in some ways because I have far less to prove, but to put it all on my attitude and personality is to blame the victim. If you want a good view of what I dealt with, go read the comments on any column or news piece anywhere that deals with fat and watch the haters come scuttling out. This isn’t just me or my attitude. It’s a well-documented social loathing that covers nearly every social strata, racial or cultural group — with a few unusual exceptions. That said, I’m delighted that you love my writing and I am really enjoying discovering my new body which is a lot like my previous, young, fleet, strong, vibrant one — only baggier 😉

    • Good on all counts and I am sure the haters are vicious when it comes to talking about weight and fatness.

      • Maya North

      • April 26, 2014 at 10:25 pm
      • Reply

      It’s staggering, Madge. Keep in mind that I was what one person termed a “cuddly little armful” — and then, I bloomed. I grew up with some of it, but I had no idea to what degree it could be done until I hit 420. Seriously, I had a woman come in to an agency where I worked and ask a question. When I answered it, she stared determinedly at my slender coworker and repeated the question. My coworker, bless her heart, said “Maya knows the answer to that — in fact, she just gave it to you.” And that was hardly the worst. I was refused housing, barked at out of passing cars, had men in trucks try to hit me as I walked, refused jobs….

    • Beautifully said, Maya. I liked you from the first time I talked with you on Facebook, and there you were just a face tilted just so with curious glasses. So, I am pleased to say that I didn’t judge you from your appearance. I try so hard not to do that. Ever.

        • Maya North

        • April 27, 2014 at 4:59 pm
        • Reply

        Emily, you are a trueheart. I think it never would have made a difference to you and I found a whole lot of people who never judged. One advantage to being a person of considerable size was that people were very genuine — either they were wonderful or they were awful and at least I could tell right away. 🙂 Big hugs!!!!!

    • Maya! What a lovely piece of writing, darlin’. I’ve loved you since I first met you on fb. Your observations are spot on and I embrace you, all of you, with extra weight and without it. But I’m glad you are becoming more healthy. Big Hugs, Small hugs, and Plain ole hugs, darlin’, Maya.

        • Maya North

        • April 27, 2014 at 5:09 pm
        • Reply

        Oh, my angel, thank you so much! I fell in love with you right away — you love the heart, mind and soul of a person and that radiates from you. If only the world saw things that way! I do feel better, even though I did really well in my big body — it’s soooo much easier in so many ways. Big hugs right back and nose smoochies, to boot, treasure of my heart <3

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