Who’s That Fat Woman in the Photo?

by Carol Hess on January 16, 2012

I got ambushed by a camera yesterday.  It was not a pretty sight.  I’m still bleeding, bruised, and shaken to my core.

I had arranged for my friend Wendy to take some new photos and shoot a couple of videos of me.  You’ve been looking at a 10 years/50 pounds ago image of me.  I had finally gotten to that place where my self-consciousness about how I look had given way to the greater pain of feeling inauthentic.

I knew Wendy would make the shoot fun, or at least as much fun as pure torture can be.  At some point we would end up laughing ourselves silly.  That kind of I’m-laughing-so-hard-I-know-I-look-really-really-ugly-and-I-might-wet-my-pants-but-I-can’t-stop-laughing kind of laugh.  And I was right.  We did do that – well, everything but the wetting the pants part, thank heavens. But yesterday was still mainly several hours (yes, hours) of torture.

When I confess this next bit, you might want to send the guys with the butterfly nets.  I think I might be just a tad (or alot) crazy.  When I told Wendy what I was experiencing, I think she thought I was certifiable but was too good a friend to mention it.  But then Wendy isn’t fat and never has been.

The hardest part of the whole experience yesterday was looking at photos and videos of me and looking at the face of a stranger.  Because, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see who the camera sees.  When I walk around inside this body, my mental image of me is not the person in those photos and videos. In my mind’s eye and bathroom mirror, I see the person in the photo you’re looking at right now – not the person in the photo you’ll be looking at in the next couple of days.  (As soon as I’m not quite so battered and bruised, I promise.)

I think the therapists call that cognitive dissonance.  And they say it is damned uncomfortable.  They’re right.  I feel like I’ve lost myself, like I’ve disappeared.  And it’s an awful feeling.  I’ve been here a couple of times before in my life, and I had hoped I would never be here again.  But here I am.  Again.

The first time I realized I had lost me, I was married and living in Europe.  I knew I had to make a big change before I disappeared all together.  I had to leave my marriage and return to the States.  So I did.  A very painful, but very necessary decision I have never regretted.

The second time I realized I had almost disappeared was a bit easier because it didn’t really involve anyone else, at least not directly.  That was when I admitted I was an alcoholic and needed to stop drinking.  Also a very necessary decision I have never regretted, although I’m not sure decision is quite the right word.  It was more a Higher Power than a Carol’s decision kind of thing.

It’s been quite a few years since then, and I’ve been busy rediscovering myself.  And I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it.  No, let me rephrase that.  I’ve been doing a spectacular job of it.  It’s just that apparently my work in that department isn’t done – something yesterday’s experience made abundantly clear.

Today I’m still rolling around in the pain and fear of feeling “disappeared.” I’ve jumped off the cliff, and I’m hanging in the air.  I haven’t started to fall, but I haven’t gotten to the other side either.  Experience tells me I won’t fall.  I’ll get to the other side.

In the meantime, I know what I need to do.  Meditate.  Pray.  Write (my greatest therapeutic tool).  Reach out for help.  And trust, trust, trust that I will be okay.  I will reappear.

by Carol Hess


Categories Body Image, The Art of Star Polishing, The Mind Game

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar San D January 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I know the disappearing feeling all to well. I too am buried inside. Fortunately for me those who love me know me, whatever shape I am in. In order NOT to be ambushed I take my own pictures of me and those are the definitive ones. I have started to have that yearly conversation with myself about my size and health, and sometimes at night just about when I am about to drift away, I tell myself I will try again. And I do. This is my “trying” week. If I can make it through one week, perhaps another will follow. One week at a time. Just as an aside, I never drank alcohol. My mother was an alcoholic for one, and I always thought like food and shopping, I would like “take to it” easily. Same with smoking. Best not to start. But alas, you can’t not eat and survive. And of course there is always my alternative philosophy that says “staying plump keeps the wrinkles away from my face”.


avatar Carol Hess January 18, 2012 at 10:41 am

That’s the thing that is so amazing to me, San D — that those who love us know the “real” us no matter what size, shape, weight we happen to be. Thank heavens. That is what anchors me, grounds me, stops me from spiraling out to I don’t know where when I go through this kind of experience.

Smart, smart, smart you for never drinking alcohol. With an alcoholic parent, the odds are against you for being able to have a normal relationship with alcohol. I wasn’t so smart. I thought I would never drink the way my father drank. Wrong.

For me, food has been a much tougher nut to crack than drinking or smoking. I think it’s because it was my first and most beloved addiction. But you know what? I feel its hold loosening on me every day, and the horror of the photo shoot really helped with that loosening. Yep, know what you mean about the wrinkle philosophy! :)


avatar Jane January 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Hear this….you are lovely and lovable and I adore how you write, exposing vulnerability and feelings that the rest of us not dare to verbalize.

I remember so clearly the lonely, scary feeling of having lost myself and needing to end an abusive relationship or else die and wither completely.

Reinventing and finding ourselves is such a lifelong journey…thanks for sharing yours with the rest of us.
Love Jane


avatar Carol Hess January 18, 2012 at 10:49 am

You said a mouthful, Jane — that reinventing and finding ourselves is a lifelong journey. So true. And thank you for your encouraging words of support. Writing has always been a therapeutic tool for me, so I hope my writing can be helpful to others as well. It’s one of the biggest reasons I write.

Do you suppose all women have lost themselves, one way or another, in a relationship? I’m beginning to think that might be the case. Anyway, I’m delighted you did what you needed to do to take care of yourself.


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