What I Learned After Losing More Than 100 Pounds

by Tanessa Holt
A woman standing on a scale wearing a pink pajama
John D. Buffington/Getty

For most of my life, I was fat. I don’t mean a few extra pounds cute and curvy, I mean I was technically obese and at one point near the end of my fat days I was considered morbidly obese. Throughout my high school years, I often felt like the token fat friend in the crowd I was hanging with, my confidence was absolute shit, and I allowed my outward image to determine what I thought all of me was worth (hint: it wasn’t very much) leading me to un-live most of my teenage years and into my late twenties.

Growing up, I believed what I was told about myself; the things my older brother and sister said about my looks caused me to develop great insecurity about my appearance. My brother and sister would often call me fat and ugly or make remarks about my weight in hurtful ways. Daddy dearest would crack jokes about how I was starting to look more and more like him when I would go to visit, and I can honestly say that there were very few experiences that I can recall where I felt beautiful at the words of someone in my family.

In addition to shaky confidence and personal worth, I had an absolute shit belief system that allowed me to feel shame about how I looked and to truly buy into the thought pattern that only skinny people thrive in this lifetime. Marketing, media, and especially social media have done an incredible job of making women feel as though they are not enough simply for who they are and, in order to be someone in this world, we must look a certain way. It is so easy to buy into that belief system when you don’t come from a background of conversations about self worth, or self confidence.

The idea that we have to look a certain way to achieve any form of status in life is one of the hardest belief systems to change. Think about it: from birth, compliments and conversations about little girls are very reflective of how they look. The phrase “you’re so beautiful” can be heard as a starting point from birth through much of childhood and into adulthood for some. We have beauty contests for babies all the way through to early adulthood, paid events that require you to be judged solely on how you look and perform. Clothing and mannequins, commercials and products are geared toward making you believe that you won’t be able to have the life of leisure if you have a few extra pounds on your frame because successful women are thin. Men like thin women, and men make the decisions about what makes women attractive to others through marketing and media.

This psyche stuck with me for so long that I honestly believed my entire life would magically transform as soon as I lost the extra weight that I had developed throughout my childhood and beyond. I had no sense of self-worth or belonging; I often found myself looking for validation in others’ opinions and at times, others’ beds. Going through life believing that you are not worthy of love, and therefore not knowing how to love yourself or being able to accept the love of others without doubting the cause, is exhausting and quite mentally draining.

I was forever thinking that the only thing I brought to the table was my generosity and ability to do or be whoever I was needed to do or be to maintain friend status. I slept with men for the attention, for the superficial validation and external acceptance. When I did find myself in meaningful relationships, I couldn’t help but do things to push them away and cause drama because I “knew” deep down that it would never last and they would eventually leave me for someone prettier.

Having this mentality prevented me from doing many things and from chasing almost all of my goals for the first part of my life. I can remember knowing that I would be excellent in a position that was available but not having the courage to apply because I thought everyone would judge me based on how I looked rather than my qualifications. These insecurities also led me to doubt my credibility in my career and to believe I was an imposter and was waiting to be found out most of the time. It is excruciating to always live in fear of something.

It wasn’t until I was 27 and about to be married that I had my first real awakening. It was three months or so before our supposed wedding day, and I was at my absolute heaviest. At 27 years old, I tipped the scales at 265 pounds. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without feeling absolute disgust, so I removed or hid the mirrors in my home. I loathed myself, and couldn’t for the life of me understand how someone could find me attractive when I clearly was so disgusting. My brother had a knack for some incredibly painful expressions, and my future brother-in-law wasn’t above telling me that I was a cow (on Christmas, in my house with my family there, no less) and when no one stuck up for me, I started to believe these as truth.

I had been thinking about having bariatric surgery for years at this point, but I never had the courage or the money to go through with the procedure so I forgot about it until a few months before the wedding.

My research landed me in Tijuana, Mexico for four days by myself to have surgery and recover… This was a TERRIFYING decision to make, and I told almost no one until days before I left. I couldn’t bear the thought of other people’s judgments stopping me from making this a reality. I would cry when I went to the gym because my body was too heavy for me to lift up on some of the machines to do the workout that I so evidently needed to do. I couldn’t imagine eating in public because no matter what I ordered or ate I would always feel like people were critiquing whatever was on my plate. I made up ridiculous commentaries in my head that I was sure the people around me were having about me.

Everywhere I went I was judging myself so harshly and believing that others were too. I couldn’t enjoy any part of venturing out of my house, and forget going out for dinner or drinks with the girls; they were all thin and beautiful and had hoards of men throwing themselves at them every time we went out. It was nauseating and devastating at the same time. I always felt like I was looking at some exclusive club through the window on the street, close enough to see what was happening but not cool enough to be invited in.

My partner at the time was tall and thin and happened to have a metabolism that burned off calories just simply by breathing. He would never in his life experience a weight issue and truly could not understand anything about what I was going through. He was miserable in his life at that time, as was I, which is how we ended up together in the first place. We had been together for about 5 years at this point, not happy but not unhappy enough to split up. Truly believing he was all I was capable of having in a relationship, I continued to stay even when it was hard — and, man, it was hard some days.

I ended up having the surgery, and we ended up breaking up. I had finally found my worth and knew I was worthy of more in life than what I had been settling for all these years. The procedure wasn’t what changed my life; it was the decision to make myself a priority and to take care of my wants and needs before I allowed anyone else’s to take precedence.

Throughout the course of just over a year, I lost 104 lbs and was down to a teeny tiny size 29. I thought that I would absolutely LOVE my new size and subsequent confidence. However, it was the opposite. I found myself even more insecure than I had ever been when I was heavy. I could feel the attention on me in a way that I had never known before, like a quiet hunger or unquenchable thirst most often felt when I was in the presence of men. I worked in a male-dominated industry and was one of the very few women on site so a certain amount of attention was expected because I was basically a unicorn walking among the people. It was the way people treated me though that really brought to my attention the ugly side of skinny.

When I was heavier, hardly anyone would talk to me, and certainly no one would go out of their way to make conversation with me unless I initiated it. After I lost the weight though, it was a never-ending stream of proposals for lunch, dinner, coffee, treats, and little things brought to me at work all throughout the day. In a very short time, I became acutely aware of how life truly is easier for the “pretty” people (and those who have real or false confidence enough to convince the world that they belong) and how shallow and superficial so many of my relationships were.

In what felt like overnight, I went from waiting my entire life to look a certain way so I could feel a certain way, to actually looking that way and realizing that none of what I thought would happen with the change actually happened. My job was the same, wage was the same, confidence was the same. Life didn’t magically open up to me once I had lost some weight the way that I thought it would. I mean, sure, there were perks of the new image like being able to walk with slightly more confidence into the store when buying clothes, or if I were to get stuck or break down I had a line up of people that were willing to stop whatever they were doing and help me, but other than the few highly superficial changes that happened, it was nothing like I thought it would be.

My body dysmorphia was and still is a very real struggle. Finding my true worth was even harder now that I realized just how much value society actually puts on physical appearance of women. I knew that everything I was experiencing now was a result of the weight loss and physical transformation, and somehow that made me feel more empty than ever before.

The importance of how you look when you are a female is hard to deny, given that we are inundated with images of how we are “supposed” to look and how long it should take to “get our bodies back” after we have babies… FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ARE YOU SERIOUS?? I literally just pushed a HUMAN FUCKING BEING out of my lady parts and you are already telling me how to lose the weight and “bounce back” into shape? The images that women are faced with are nothing compared to the actual messages that we receive (willingly or not) daily from media, social media, and society.

We put ourselves through torturous beauty regimes to attain and maintain this mystical physique and appearance. We kill ourselves at the gym and meticulously track caloric content of everything we eat to ensure we stay “on track” with our weight loss goals (note: I didn’t say HEALTH goals, because the focus clearly isn’t on health, where it belongs).

I was one of the lucky ones. Having gone through so much shit to get where I was, there was absolutely NO WAY that I was going to continue living my life in a state of un-living and un-loving myself. I made a decision that no matter who told me what I should do, think, say, eat, dress like, look like etc., I wasn’t going to GIVE A SINGLE FUCK anymore, because guess what? Those people handing out that advice to me didn’t have to spend a single minute in my head and heart trying to survive–I DID! I was the one who had to live with the decision that I was or wasn’t good enough for myself, not anyone else. I was the one who was responsible for facilitating the change in my life if I didn’t happen to like the direction I was headed in.

Everyone will try to give you advice. Everyone will try to tell you how or what to do in order to “succeed” in life, love, business or other. The thing is, though, many of those people handing out advice aren’t living their lives in a manner I would want to, and therefore their advice to me means nothing. That realization right there has helped me conquer the ugly side of skinny on more than one occasion.

Women today have these expectations placed upon them by everyone, starting with how we look, often from birth or shortly after. We are told we are valuable because we look a certain way, we are told we are valuable when we make other people happy, we are told we are valuable for almost ALL of the wrong reasons with very little importance placed on our brains or our hearts. This is so wrong on so many levels, and incredibly damaging for much of our lives, until we can find it within ourselves to accept and radically love who we are where we are. It can make you feel small and insignificant if you are still developing your sense of worth and identity.

I am here to shout from the rooftops that our identity comes not from how we look. Rather it comes from how we feel and how others feel in our energy and presence. You are beautiful, no matter your size. You are important, no matter the number on the scale or the tag. You are able to change the narrative on things like success and beauty and redefine those standards to match what feels right and authentic for you.

There is a very dark side to vanity and ego–a thin line that when unmonitored can start to blur what is reality and what is superficial. What is important and what is EGO. Be as aware as you can of your surroundings and the people you spend your energy with and on. They will either feed your soul or leaving you fighting to find yourself.