Note: Learn more about IIN (Institute for Integrative Nutrition) here or at integrativenutrition.com.
In one of the recent lectures I listened to for my health counseling certification, I heard about the IIN concept of “fitting out”. Most of us think about “fitting in,” feeling that in order to be accepted we need to fulfill a certain image and expectations. But “fitting out” is the opposite, that we should be our authentic, genuine selves, even if that means parts of us will not confirm to expected norms. Only by doing so will we be the best and most effective health counselors (and people) possible.
What struck me about this is how my weight has impacted my attempts to fit out or fit in, in ways that I hadn’t previously considered.
My weight gain and experience was during adolescence and young adulthood, times when it becomes almost crucially important to fit in. Unfortunately, being heavy prevented me from doing that. Literally, I could not fit very well into clothes, desks, bus seats, etc., and I would always be noticed as someone fat. Beyond my weight, though, I knew that I could not fit societal norms. At the time, it was not typical to have a dad who was mostly a house-husband, or a family that recycled and composted. Most kids didn’t spend hours writing fantasy novels or teaching themselves to type, or laughed helplessly while listening to Dr. Demento, or cared about social justice issues.
None of this was bound to win me any popularity awards, or make me generally acceptable to my rural high school classmates, and so I didn’t even try. Knowing that I could never fit in was oddly freeing, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time. It meant that I didn’t care what most other people thought of me, even if I was, as I wrote once, “an overweight, bespectacled, intelligent adolescent with furtive dreams of publication.” Occasionally I longed to know what it would be like to be accepted by the masses, but mostly the few true friends I had were enough.
Once I lost weight, though, that adolescent dream of being accepted surprised me by resurfacing. For the first time in my life, I could at least pass for “normal” (whatever that was). Looking at me, people would not immediately know that something was different about me. I didn’t automatically attract attention.
The problem was that this made me want to blend in a little too much. I stopped talking much about some of the things I enjoyed, or about my childhood, feeling oddly embarrassed about them. How could someone who looked like I did now be so strange? I shut down some areas of my life, until I realized that while I could pass as typical on the street, I was afraid that someone getting to know the real me would leave, because inside, I’m still the same as I was before. Physically, too, my body will always bear the marks of the years of extra weight. It left me paralyzed, unable to make connections that I might normally want, uncomfortable with myself, unable to do some things that I enjoyed.
One such area that I haven’t talked about it in certain circles is my love of fairy tales. But it occurred to me that “Cinderella” has a very tragic and poignant take on the dangers of trying to fit in. In the original version, the two step-sisters wanted to “fit in” to the glass slipper. When it didn’t work, they tried to make their feet smaller – one cut off her big toe, the other part of her heel. It didn’t work. In some versions, they die, bleeding out, and in others, they are crippled for life.
And I realized that’s the road I was going down, at least internally. It was a very humbling moment, and I knew that I could not continue. I will never wear a glass slipper, nor do I want to. I don’t even want the dream that went with it, of being a princess in a castle. I just want to be myself.
Since then, I have been much more comfortable with all the parts of who I was before and who I am now. People may still be surprised as they get to know me, and how I might be a little different. But that’s okay.
What matters is that I no longer feel I have to hide or be embarrassed by anything. It doesn’t mean that I don’t need to improve in some areas, but I consider it more now as smoothing down some rough edges on my bumps and angles, not cutting them off altogether.
What is especially lovely and ironic about this is that I had to turn to my younger self, the self who was heavy and who I tried to disavow, to remember what it was like. I’m just glad that she was there to teach me, and that I can embrace her now wholeheartedly as part of my authentic self.