It has been no secret that I have struggled with my weight for... well, pretty much forever. Being overweight and the fact that you are someone who uses food as a coping mechanism is one of those problems you can't hide from the world; it literally just OUT there, in the physical form of your muffin-top or your flabby thighs, for everyone to see. There are many reasons I am overweight, ranging from the habitual (bad habits ingrained over a lifetime) to the emotional/psychological (let's not even open that Pandora's box, you don't really want to go there and who has that kind of time, anyway?) to the logistical (I love eating but pretty much hate everything to do with cooking from the food shopping to the planning and preparation to the actual cooking).
Now, understand me: I'm not talking about all this so that you can send me all your great tips for changing my behaviors. I know the tips. I've had lots of great advice and coaching on this. And all I can say is, I'm still working on it.
No, the reason I'm bringing this up is because I had an interesting "a-ha!" moment the other day that I wanted to share.
Having struggled for the majority of my life with my weight, and my self-image as a result of any excess weight I've carried (even when I was a LOT thinner in my teens and 20s, I still THOUGHT I was a total cow), you can well imagine that I may have allowed my weight, or my perception of what I look like, to impact some of my choices in life. There are a lot of things I have not done that I have wanted to do, things I have put off doing "until"... until I'm thinner, until I'm more fit, until I'm happier with how I look, until I'm a certain size, until my clothes fit better.
The list of things I haven't done because of my weight or my concerns about my appearance includes: shopping in chic stores, even for things like shoes, handbags and jewelry that are 1-size-fits-all, because I feel the saleswomen would take one look at me and "Pretty Woman" diss me; doing physical activities that I might actually like (including yoga) because it's too hard to move when you're big and klutzy; and for about 10 years before I came to France and forced myself back out there, I avoided meeting men, because I was afraid it would be like THIS, only without the great ending line from Colin Firth:
I think that at least one of the reasons I put off moving to France for so many years was because I thought I was too fat. I thought I would come to France and be unhappy being surrounded by all those thin Parisiennes, that it would make me feel bad when I couldn't go into the stores and shop for clothes. For years, I had an image of how it would be when I finally moved to France: I'd be thin, I'd be flitting about town in stiletto heels and a chic scarf, sitting in a café with men drooling over me, a proper French girl. And because that unrealistic picture of how it "should" be didn't match up with the reality, I kept telling myself, "Not yet. You're not ready yet. Wait a little longer."
Until one day around eight years ago, I realized I had waited long enough, and waiting was just... well... STUPID. Waiting for things to be "perfect" before I could pursue a dream that meant so much to me was really idiotic on my part. There IS no "perfect" time to do anything big and brave and bold in your life. So I stopped waiting to be thinner, and I got on the damn plane. And here I still am. Yes, I am a fat woman in a city where thin is and always will be "in". I can't wear the clothes, and yes, that really bums me out sometimes. But I'm not sorry I came. I'm only sorry I waited as long as I did, that I let my ideas about "perfection" keep me from doing something I really wanted to do.
This brings me to my recent "a-ha!" moment, and it has to do with the love locks project and all the press attention we've gotten in just two months. I've lost count of how many interviews I've done but estimate it to be between 40 and 50. A good percentage of those have involved a camera of some kind.
And here is my one of my personal nightmares come to life: having to be in the press while FAT. I hate having my picture taken. I don't think I'm especially photogenic. And carrying extra bulk doesn't exactly help with that. I've always been afraid that, if I ever had to do any on-camera interviews for any reason, that other people would look at me, and no matter how great I might be in every other respect, no matter how smart, funny, articulate or even pretty in my way, all people would see (at least in how *I* imagine it) is that I'm FAT. As if being fat somehow invalidates all those other positives. That because I'm overweight, I'm not ever going to be good enough in the eyes of the world (and even in my own eyes) because I haven't been able to "fix" this oh-so-evident problem of being overweight. I assume, rightly or wrongly, that other people are automatically judging me because I'm overweight, and you know what? Sometimes, maybe they ARE. The world is just like that, and being fat is one of those apparently unforgivable sins in the eyes of many people.
So, I have often, in many scenarios over the course of my adult life, tried very hard NOT to put myself in situations where I could be judged by even more people, like, say, an AUDIENCE. Now, I got over this in some ways, and even grew to like doing public speaking. I did a few interviews for local newspapers when I was a life coach, and didn't mind (much) having my picture taken for those because they were just head shots. And radio? No problem there -- I could shine because I could focus on my message instead of worrying about what I looked like.
But I never did television interviews. Because, you know, TV adds 10 lbs, right? And when you've got 70 or 80 to lose, an extra 10 is not a happy thought. Luckily, there was never a REASON for me to have to do any TV interviews or to get in front of a video camera for any reason.
Until the past couple of months, of course. When I started doing TV interviews. ON TV. Talking about why love locks are horrible and have to be stopped. ON TV. Here. In Paris. Where people are thinner and even more judgmental of the non-thin.
When it first occurred to me, early on in our love locks project, that I might end up having to go in front of a camera at some point, if the press took interest, I cried about that. Once again, I was going to be "the fat, frumpy one" - my friend Lisa is petite and trim and looks like a million bucks in clothes, and has fabulous taste. She looks every bit the chic, trendy New Yorker and Parisian; I do not. She will read this and protest, but it's not her fault she is who she is, and I am who I am.
I thought I had come to terms with the fact that, physically, I don't really "fit" the idea of the Parisian woman, and perhaps I never really will. After all, I have a husband who adores me and who tells me every day that in his eyes, I am beautiful and sexy just the way I am. He loves my wobbly bits and everything else about me, and for this I am very blessed. I love how he sees me. And my life in Paris is a good life, so I don't need the good opinion of Parisians -- especially the types who would judge me for how I look -- to make or break my existence.
But the first time, after one of the video interviews went out, that someone wrote in and made the "fat American" remark, I won't lie -- THAT hurt. And it didn't happen only once, either. Despite my own feelings about my size, I have actually never in my life had someone look at me and say a single mean word about my weight, or call me fat. Until now.
And yet, what I realized -- and here is the big "a-ha", I promise -- the other day, while sitting in the makeup chair at LCI, preparing to go on live French TV, is that another HUGE thing I had been putting off doing in my life, solely out of fear of what people might say or think about my size, was being a successful writer.
I have been holding myself back for YEARS as a writer because I worried about what would happen when I finally "made it". I thought about when my books would be published, and I'd have to go out and do book readings, and TV interviews, and have photos taken for the press or with fans of my book. And oh my God, what if one of my books actually got optioned and made into a MOVIE? Imagine me, 80+ lbs overweight, waddling down the red carpet, wearing... what, a stunning "couture" (ha! as if!) gown in a size 20? I thought that surely, the reaction of the public would be something akin to: OH MY GOD, why did we buy HER book? She's FAT! SHE doesn't deserve to be a successful writer! FAT people don't deserve to be ANYTHING. Right?
It has long been my contention that it is not fear of failure that keeps us from achieving our dreams, it is the fear of what will happen if we actually succeed. And in my case, with my writing, I think I have always sensed that if I really, REALLY put myself out there, if I were to take away all the self-imposed barriers I place upon myself, and if I were to just write and write and write from my heart until I am ready to spontaneously combust from the heat of how damn HOT I am as a writer, if I ever let that incredible talent loose on the world, there will be NO STOPPING ME. I will succeed as a writer, and I will succeed big-time. I will be famous. I will be known.
And I will most likely also be fat.
This, when I'm honest about it, is probably the #1 biggest obstacle that I have created for myself. Perhaps it's even the ONLY obstacle: my fear of being famous and successful as a writer, while at the same time being someone who happens to be fat. Because "that's NOT now how it's supposed to be". I don't WANT to be one of those "fat writers"; I want to be one that looks smart and sexy and slim on that book cover, on that book promo poster in the book store, and on my own web site. And I especially want to look thin and sexy on TV... or on a red carpet. Fat people aren't supposed to be successful. They have failed at being thin, so how can we expect them to be good at anything else? And why on earth would be we interested in anything that fat writer in Paris has to say in that book she wrote?
But you know what? I have now crossed that great divide, that chasm of my own fears about myself and my value in the world. Like it or not, I have now been on television... fat. I've done it nearly a dozen times already... fat. Next Friday, I'm going to do it again -- still fat, because lord knows I can't drop 3 dress sizes in 6 days -- for German TV, and for the first time, will have the opportunity of doing a TV interview with my good friend Lisa, something we've had to put off for weeks, being in two different cities. But now she's coming back to Paris and we are doing this interview, and it will be so much fun! I will still be thinking about how big I probably look standing next to my tiny but very feisty partner in the patrimoine, but I will also be happy and excited and proud to be standing next to her, because what we're doing is important and it matters to us, and the fact that TV journalists from all over the world want to talk to us is a really big deal.
So, I'm fat, and I'm going on TV. Again. And the world has not come to an end. Sure, a few incredibly rude and insensitive people have seen fit to point out that I'm fat... but I have had to laugh at the fact that THAT was the best insult they could come up with! I mean, seriously? I'd rather be fat than be so limited in intelligence, social grace and vocabulary - not to mention humanity.
I think that the unexpected surprise for me in what has happened in the past few months, is the realization that I can finally let go of my last obstacle to stepping into my rightful place as a successful writer. I can sit here and say to you, without arrogance but with full confidence: I AM A WRITER. And I am a damn good one. It is what I was always destined to become, it is how I have always been meant to shine and to make my mark on the world. Everyone has his or her special gift, the thing that they are meant to share with the world, and writing is mine. It's not what I do, it is WHO I AM at my core. It's how I express myself, how I connect with the world and with the people around me. Words are what I'm all about. One of the hardest parts about living in France has always been that the language barrier does make it harder for me to express myself fully in French. I still have difficulties there, and I will most likely never be as articulate or funny or graceful in French as I know I can be in English. But that doesn't change the fact that a writer I am, and as a writer, I will ROCK THIS WORLD, in my own way. I may not be the next Jane Austen. But I am the one and only Lisa Taylor Huff. Watch out, literary world. I am here.
The wall to succeeding as a writer was never about my confidence in my abilities. It was only ever about my confidence in my appearance, and I can see that now. Isn't that silly... and also sad? In about 8 days, I will turn 53. Think of how much time I have wasted in my life, being afraid to put myself out there in so many ways, especially as a writer, because of how I look and how I feared someone's impression of me if they liked my writing, but then met me and discovered "OMG she's FAT!"
The long and short of it is, I have decided to stop waiting for the Magic Literary Agent to fly in with her wand and get me a publishing contract. I am a writer. I have written a book, and a good book. I want it to be published, to make it available to anyone who wants to read it. And then I'm going to go and write the next one. And the one after that. I'm going to take matters into my own hands and get that first book out there NOW, and take advantage of some of this press coverage while I've got it. An agent or a "real" publisher may still come along, and if so, that will be wonderful. But I'm through with waiting around, and through with making any more excuses for following my own destiny. The "fat buck" stops here.
In the next few weeks, look for an announcement about how you can FINALLY buy a copy of my memoir about how I came to Paris for love of Paris, and stayed for the love of my life... It's Always the Last Place You Look.
I knew I picked that title for a good reason. It has resonated with me from the day I wrote the first page, for all kinds of reason, even though the book isn't at all about being fat. Because the last place *I* ever thought to look, to learn how to be "OK" with being out there in public and being fat at the same time? Was in front of a TV camera.