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Posted Oct 18 2008 1:23pm

I just got back from a whirlwind business trip to Phoenix. I wasn't even gone 48 hours. But I saw sunlight!

It was an amazing trip for so many reasons--and none are at all related to business.

I rode a 737 from Milwaukee to Phoenix. Nonstop. I had an aisle seat in a row of 3 people. I did NOT need to ask for a seat belt extender. And I had to tighten the belt to be snug on my lap! The skinny woman next tome put her tray down about 20 minutes into the flight. I eyed it up and thought I might be able to put my tray down, too, without it resting on my belly. So I tried. Damn if it worked! I could even put 2 fingers between my stomach and the edge of the tray! I left it down the whole damn time just because I could.

Across the aisle from me was a woman who probably weighed what I did when I started my surgery experience. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she tried the seat belt, adjusted the chair arms, wrangled the attendant for an extender and then hid it beneath her blouse. She could have been me. I wanted to turn to her tell her that I was just like her. That I knew exactly what it was like to be in her seat. I felt almost guilty for fitting comfortably in my chair.

Once I was in Phoenix, I spent the time with new colleagues from other divisions of our company that I was meeting for the first time. On Jan. 3 I started a new job as a book editor (no more junk mail writing for me!). Normally, I am freaked out by situations like this. I worry about what people think of me, how they judge me, do they like me, etc. Four months ago I would have found an excuse to not go out to dinner with them and to excuse myself from drinks.

But I joined right in. In fact, I walked a good 1/4 mile to the restaurant and hoofed up 3 long flights of stars--and never lost my breath. Oh, and I also had spent 4 straight hours on my feet that afternoon working our booth.

At the bar, a couple of the skinny younger women (at least 10-12 years my juniors) were talking about harrowing flight experiences. One of them recalled traveling on a 16-seater plane where they asked your weight before you boarded. She talked about an overweight woman on that flight who "obviously lied about her weight" and how they had to rearrange people to balance out her heft. They were laughing about her and the situation. I didn't say anything. I had this huge lump in my throat because I know that I would have been that woman. I was so mortified for her.

I don't think that these women would have told the story or laughed about the instance if I had been the fatter me. No one ever told fat jokes in my presence or even brought up the topic of weight. But now I find myself in a position where not everyone knows that 4 months ago I weighed 90 pounds more. People think I am like them.

Part of me loves it. Is this what "normal" is? To not feel like the center of attention because of your enormous girth? To not worry about fitting in seats, sitting at crowded tables, walking a few city blocks with no thought about perspiring?

But a larger part of me feels like a sell out. Like I should confess that I'm a lifelong fatty. I think I should stick up for the fat chicks, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I am one, because I like being the way I am now. I never want to go back.

Don't get me wrong. I am not looking down on any fat person. I just am trying to find my way in this new thinner world where I've never ventured before. I haven't done this before. I've never known what it's like to be able to order anything off a menu and not worry about what people will think of me. I've never been able to walk into an airport gift shop and not be embarrassed to look at souvenir t-shirts, afraid that someone will laugh because it's obvious I'd never fit in them.

This cross-country trip opened my eyes to another reality. I'm just trying to get my bearings about me. Should be interesting, to say the least.

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