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The Identity Crisis of “Not Skinny, But Not Fat, Either”

Size too often becomes a part of our identity.

Back in the days of being a size 4 cross-country runner, being skinny was a part of my identity. Like many people, I’ve been obsessed with weight and dieting since I was in elementary school, and those half-marathon running twig legs became just as much a part of who I was as my intelligence and artistic passions.

Now that I’m not 17 anymore and my metabolism has caught up with me, I don’t feel the same way as I did before. At a size 12, I know that I’m not skinny, but I know that I’m not fat, either. In a world where women are daily claiming their power as “thick” and “curvy”, I don’t exactly know where to align myself. I’m not quite plus-size, but I can no longer relate to my old body, one where when I laid down, my hip bones would jut out and my stomach was perfectly flat.

Not being skinny anymore makes me feel as though I’ve lost a part of myself. While on the other hand there is absolutely something to be said for my newly minted hourglass figure, it still doesn’t necessarily feel like me. When I look in the mirror, there is a distinct dissonance. I still look at myself as I undress expecting to see what I used to see, and when I don’t, it is incredibly deceiving.

I see a bit of a tummy where there used to be almost no thickness to my flesh. The beautifully orchestrated tattoo that covers my upper left arm has a few dull stretch marks on it. My thighs now touch. Things are different when I go to put clothes on, too: most of my old tops won’t budge past the tops of my breasts now that they’re much fuller and my old size 10 jeans won’t make it past my bottom. Needless to say, having to purchase a whole new wardrobe to accommodate my weight has not exactly been a feel-good activity.

When identifying with being skinny while no longer actually being conventionally “athletic-bodied”, you never really know what to wear. Should I keep trying to wear clothes for thin people, or should I switch to the styles typical of plus-size women? It’s also difficult to buy clothes at my size because it’s often the largest size offered by many conventional brands, and the selection isn’t great.

This affects the way in which others view me, too. I find my friends often making nods to how I “used to be so skinny”, and my mother encouraging me to try and make my way back to my old size. I even feel strange about the fact that I was a full size smaller when I met my beloved boyfriend. I wonder constantly if people see me as lesser now that there’s a little bit more to me.

For my lifestyle, I know that dieting isn’t the answer. Within the last year, I’ve failed at intermediate fasting, Noom, and Weight Watchers. I know that most of my weight gain was caused by psychiatric medications, and even though this is deeply frustrating, I seem to never be “ready” to lose weight. More importantly, I don’t even know if I want to lose weight.

While it’s difficult for me to craft a new identity as a fuller-figured woman, I catch myself feeling sexy all of the time. When I’m not putting my thoughts to paper or discussing my weight with anyone, I feel less self-conscious than I have in my entire life. Being skinny was a part of me, but that doesn’t mean I was ever comfortable with my body before. In fact, I cried about feeling “fat” as a size 4 very often! Now at a size 12, I may begin to pity sob about my thick hips after a few glasses of wine, but that’s the full extent of my negativity.

Learning that size isn’t everything is taking me a whole lot of time and self-love. From my experience, I’ve put way too much stock in shirt size, cup size, and the numbers on my jean labels. I’d surely be better off if I put these practices to rest and embraced the body I’m in because when I don’t think too hard about it, I seem to naturally like this new body better, anyway.

I’m not skinny, but I’m not fat, either. Maybe you find yourself reading this in the same predicament — maybe you’ve just changed sizes and feel a great and bubbling tension about it, too. There’s more to life than size, and we need to be forgiving and practical with ourselves when we consider our identities. We are valid at any size.

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I write about all kinds of human experiences big and small.

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