I was a colicky baby. I was sick. Threw up my formula constantly. The doctor, in his wisdom, suggested that my mother spoon-feed me water. He stabbed at my chubbs with his finger. “All milk fat.”
Thus began 30 some-odd years of restricted diets, crash diets, medical and commercial diets, endless hours of strenuous exercise and self-hatred. Oh and pour on top of that horrendous, non-stop bullying from 1st grade to 11th grade. The result was not weight loss, but suicidal ideations, crippling depression, and complete lack of faith in myself. It hurts to look at yourself and see beauty, but when you leave your room, you never stop hearing how repulsive you are. To this day, different as I am from my high school-self, I still look at myself and think I look pretty good, but am awash in fear of how others will see me. All. The. Time.
Going to college helped, some. Going to a more urban environment, I met people of different races and cultures. They had very different ideas of beauty than what I grew up with. Even my family was cruel. So many rude statements, so much unfair treatment. So much shame. For a while, I gloried in new-found attention from men at the college. Even other girls were suddenly nice to me there, nicer than I was used to, by far. I took 3 of those 4 years to unpack, and to a degree, re-pack my baggage.
Understand between ages 30 and 45, I have done a tremendous amount of work on myself inside. When fixing my outsides failed to produce results, I started a similarly manic marathon of self-help. Counseling, groups, retreats, body and energy work, and EMDR. It has helped to a degree, but obviously I’m not all the way where I need to go. I love the fat acceptance movement. I just wish it happened when I was 14 or 16, and not in my 40s. This Pavlov’s dog is already programmed, I’m afraid.
I had a revelation in maybe the last year. In my head, I heard, “Do I have value, if I’m not attractive?” Attractive is not the same as beautiful. Attractive has to do with attraction – another’s perception of you. And this is where I’ve felt most vulnerable – being judged by others. If others are repulsed and not attracted, do I have value? It’s well known that jobs will absolutely discriminate against people of size or who are otherwise less attractive, and fat people have depressed wages as well. Does anyone care about my value as a person? As a being? For my contributions? Is everything I know and do and contribute worthless if I am also not attractive? You know I’m not speaking from reason here. Or am I? Men don’t face these same challenges. Not to the degree women do. This should not be a question, says my rational brain. But my practical brain observes that this is the reality I live in.
And within the past week I’ve had the thought, “How much has my life been damaged by the way fat is treated in this part of this country in my lifetime?” More specifically, how has my life been damaged, my potential hampered by not just my weight, but my specific shape? Within the broader issues of fatness, there are sub-categories. Some fat shapes are more acceptable than others. Some are even desireable (visualize Jessica Rabbit vs. Ursula the octopus). Mine, however, is not one of those desireable shapes. If I were thin, or had a shape people found more acceptable, would I have had the confidence to pursue a career of my choice instead of being crippled by debilitating anxiety? Would I have gotten different job offers, or been able to advance in my career instead of going from bottom rung to bottom rung? Would I have achieved the greatness I originally envisioned for myself? Would I have held out for and/or had a shot at a better spouse??
I sobbed at these thoughts. I’ve been wondering what to do with my life. Again as a next thought to my previous post, for decades I’ve felt adrift, and it’s been a kind of crooked path farther and farther away from what I originally saw for myself. And how much has my fatness factored into it? And why, WHY am I CURSED with this? No amount of exercise or meal-skipping has cured me. I can’t pray it away or sweat it off. And I can’t walk through this world without the stigma of being what I am. I’m fat.
This is a podcast from This American Life that deals so completely with this topic. It really hits home for me in so many areas. Take a listen. My experience is real and women everywhere are experiencing it just the way I have.