I was born to a mother who spent the 27 years of her life that preceded mine being shamed for her body and oppressed by diet culture. My father was fit and active until suddenly, he wasn’t. He gained 100 lbs in the first year of his marriage to my mom, who would gain and lose hundreds of pounds at a time, several times, as their marriage continued.
This story is not meant to be their story; it is meant to be mine.
I usually begin this story here: when I was four years old, my doctor was out of town, and I was diagnosed with asthma. A faulty prescription for Prednisone ensued, and my fatness began. I remember being SO HUNGRY. ALL THE TIME. We ate dinner at the table, as a family, every night, and afterward, I would clean off the table, trying to clean every scrap off of every plate, without anyone seeing. My mom would tell me I’d had enough and to stop eating. She was probably right, and I would probably do the same thing. The tricky thing is that the steroids affected my growth hormones in such a way that I never felt like I wasn’t hungry. Never. Ever. I remember noticing the stretch marks on my thighs when I was pretty little (maybe 5 or 6), and I had this really casual conversation with a junior high girl about them. I think it probably began something like, “look at these cool lines on my legs!”
I think it was the older kids that were mean about my fatness. I was also pretty weird, so who’s to say how much of my being rejected was because of my body, and how much of it was because of who I was. I decided at some point, though, that it was definitely because of my body. Of course I did. Who wants to acknowledge that they were genuinely unloved and unwanted by others because of who they are, rather than because of something external and changing like a body?
(I am now resisting the urge to encourage you that it’s funny or okay somehow, but it’s not, is it? And I think, just this once, I want to let it be okay that it’s not okay. Okay?)
So, I was a fat kid, and the other kids didn’t like me. This a tale of woe familiar to many. I am not alone. But, you know, my mom would always tell me to wear flattering clothes, but she never, to my memory, tried to put me on diets, or made me feel like there was anything wrong with my body. I think I really started internalizing the rejection and the body shaming when I was older – maybe like 19, actually. I don’t think “internalizing” accurately described what I did, though… Maybe I internalized it up until that point, and then all of a sudden, it all started manifesting itself. Doctors blamed things on my being fat, and my mom would get outraged – I think she protected me from that nonsense when I was a kid.
When I was 18, I lost a bunch of weight. I didn’t try to; it just happened. I got a lot of positive attention from everyone you can think of. People would demand that I told them my secret, and I would say, “I don’t know, I drink a lot of milk, I guess.” Then, there was a boy, and I thought I would definitely earn his love if I lost weight! I started working out a lot and restricting what I was eating. I decided to sign up for ballet because I’d always wanted to, and I was taking way too many units in school. I lost more weight, I was working 2-3 jobs, being a RIDICULOUS and unbalanced, yet still receiving lots of compliments and positive attention. Guess what – boy didn’t fall in love with me. He broke my heart. I stopped eating. I literally can’t remember what else. I was still working a lot and trying to finish school, I guess. (Still got positive attention for losing weight)
From that point on, every significant/life-altering event/tragedy was accompanied by a significant weight change. Either I got depressed and stopped eating and became obsessive about exercise (applause from the audience), or I got depressed, rested, and ate (boos from the audience). Depression has been a major theme of my life since I was about 13.
At some point, I started writing in my journal about losing weight, and it became my lifelong goal. I would hear people talk about losing weight and interpret it as a hint for me to do the same. I swore to myself that I would be skinny by the time I was 16, no 18, no 21, no 25, no 30… I fantasized about wearing a bikini, having a boyfriend… things “normal” girls could do. (“COULD” do. ugh.) I went to a vocational school in Utah when I was 21, and of course, once again, I decided I would lose weight. I did lose weight, and I was pretty hungry.
When I went home, my brother and sister in law were “going Primal” (like Paleo – a grain-free, high fat, high protein diet), and I “went Primal” too. I didn’t lose any more weight just from going Primal. I did start working out again, though – like 3 hours at a time, several days a week. It wore me out. I didn’t have energy for anything else on workout days. I was obsessed. Men stared at me everywhere I went, I could finally shop in the “regular clothes” section, and I had never been so unhappy with my body. The more weight I lost, the more I felt like I needed to lose more weight.
That season wasn’t a bad season. I learned a lot about myself that I would have never known otherwise. For instance, my body feels really happy when I don’t eat processed foods, and even though I’m not a proponent of restriction, my body did really feel a lot more comfortable without the grains to which I became accustomed (I am now trying to grope my way through how to find some kind of balance there). I also found out that cycling is really fun, and I can and like to hike and camp… ALONE! (Gasp! exclaim! puke!) I developed an appetite for adventure, and I still crave it. I want to rock climb and go backpacking! I even know (somewhere in my brain) that I like to lift weights.
This part of the story, I usually quickly brush over by saying, “and then my life fell apart and I gained a bunch of weight, and I still haven’t stopped.”
I lost a lot. I made room for a lot of new growth, but loss is painful.
While I was losing my life, my parents got bariatric surgery and lost all their weight. Before that, my mom worked out all the time and started talking a lot about the dangers of gluttony and food addiction. Now she still talks about the woes of food addiction and fatness. My dad feels sorry for all fat people being trapped inside their bodies and says all the time, “all you have to do to lose weight is eat no more than 1/3 cup of food at each meal.”
I’m in a recovery season. I’m trying to get a handle on depression and Fibromyalgia, and I’m really kind of kicking ass. I just started learning about Fat Activism, Body Positivity, Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size, Body Shaming, and Diet Culture. I always thought there was genuinely something wrong with me – that fat was bad/less than/defective/shameful. That is, I believed the lies! Now, though, it’s like I finally have permission to love, enjoy, and appreciate myself. I never realized I needed permission, or that I didn’t have it for that matter, but suddenly, I live by different rules in a different world. It’s a beautiful thing.
I believe that as I go on, eating intuitively, loving my body, and treating my body like I love it, things will click. I don’t even know what things I want to click yet. I just know that I can feel the kink in my proverbial neck.
Now, friend, if you’re still with me, I want to tell you a secret. I’m afraid they’re right – my parents and the body shamers. I’m afraid because I really don’t want to feel the way I feel all the time. I don’t want to be so tired, I don’t want my clothes to fit wrong and uncomfortably. I don’t want to prepare myself for the criticism I will face because of the shape of my body. And! It’s impossible to tell right now if I feel the way I do, physically, because of the fibromyalgia or because of the fatness. I want to move my body. I want to feel my muscles. But all I can seem to do most of the time is sleep. I can force myself to do things, but I want to FEEL strong enough. I really think this is an area in which I genuinely do need to fake it til I make it, but friend, it is so hard. I’m so tired.
So this is where I am. This is the story about from where I’ve come.