I’m Fat.

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.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/589/tell-me-im-fat

 

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How do you answer?

I have felt like I’m wandering around in the woods of life since I was a Junior in college (more than a few years ago [24]). I was confused coming out of the shoot really even in high school. I had studied music very seriously from 4th grade on. I was a cellist and singer. I imagined myself a professional cellist. I was working toward that goal. I was taking private lessons from an elderly man from Vienna each week, playing music I can’t even comprehend now. As you wind down your Junior year, you begin looking at colleges and auditioning if you’re going into music in any way.

You must know, I was not a sporty kid. I could have been athletic, but power lifting or shotput or something would have been my sport. Running, jumping, climbing – not so much. Combine this with the fact that I had been bullied for about 10 years straight by then and you may understand that when gym class happened every other day, it was pretty much torture. It was team handball time. It was 20 degrees out. We were not supposed to go out when it was that cold, so nobody was prepared, but out we went in shorts and tee-shirts. I had, at least, a pair of white, vintage, leather ladies dress gloves with me. I volunteered for goalie. I was much more effective at blocking the smallish goal than I was at running the field. We were playing with volleyballs. I recall that. And in the frigid weather they were like concrete.

I had blocked every shot on our team’s goal, which was pretty amazing because my team sucked and the other team was shooting at me a lot. There was this girl on the other team, she was kind of like the sea hag from Popeye, built weirdly and muscular but not in a body-builder kind of way. What she lacked in speed she made up for in strength. Now, understand, the rules of this game, as we were reminded at the beginning of the class that day, were that you cannot shoot at a goalie’s head. But the sea hag shot for my head, this concrete-like, frozen leather ball.

Instinctually I raised my left hand to block my face, and was successful. Just one problem. A *snap* inside my glove and instant flame-like pain. I yowled loudly, but at the same time, the ball had bounced off me and rolled out of the goalie box where the sea hag was waiting, scooped it up and shot it exactly the same way – straight at my face. Again without the chance to think, my hand deflected to ball from my face, hitting my hand again. Another crunch, more searing pain. I stomped on that ball so it couldn’t roll. I screamed for TIME OUT! Coach was on the other end of the field talking to a student, oblivious to my injury and the infraction of rules.

Now trembling uncontrollably, I peeled the glove off the injured hand. The end of my left pinky finger was the size of my thumb, purple, and bloody under the nail. The coach mosied down and looked, after, I suppose, other kids alerted her to something happening that stopped the game. She told me to go to the nurse. The nurse. Ms. Rozell. This woman was the same nurse who had been in my elementary school who was far more interested in listening to elevator music and chatting up the art teacher than dealing with actual sick children. She was awful! I walked in to her office. She said, annoyed, “What?” I held up my hands with the 2 pinkies side-by-side. One obviously hugely swollen and discolored. She handed me an ice pack and sent me back to gym.

I went back to gym. I sat in the locker room crying. My hand felt like it was on fire and no ice pack was going to stop that. So I went to the main office. I told the secretary what happened and she called my mother to see if I could go home. My house was about 6 houses away and my mother was home. She said I could go but I had to walk. So I walked home. My mother was about as concerned as the nurse. Gave me a Tylenol and got a finger splint and basically told me to suck it up. The next day my father took me to the doctor because I had been in non-stop pain. Of course it was broken. And misaligned in 2 different directions. The doctor said he would have to snap it again to put it back together again and I don’t remember if my father and the doctor decided not to bother or if I said no, but it didn’t happen. Home I went with a note, excusing me from gym for 6 weeks.

Do you think I was actually excused? NO WAY! Now it was President’s Physical Fitness testing preparation, which meant indoor obstacle course. I couldn’t do any of it, so they had me spotting the uneven bar mats. That is holding the mat handles while kids jumped on them to climb over. Sounds like an activity that requires hands, right? That’s right! Really, were there any rational adults anywhere??? Naturally, since the left hand is the fingering hand for a cellist and my insanely difficult music for auditions required really 6 fully-functioning fingers on the left hand, I certainly needed at least the normal 4 to be functional. So for 6 weeks, no practicing. I continued to play in normal orchestra with 3 fingers, because the music was very easy. I thought I would just pick up where I left off when the finger was healed. I was wrong.

After the 6 weeks were up, my finger still hurt to apply that kind of pressure, and I had significantly lost strength. The tip of a cellist’s pinky has to be strong to press on those thick strings and to create vibrato. My finger was no longer strong enough. So without the ability to play my piece or to audition with it, I changed gears. Maybe I’ll go for voice. I had been in choir since middle school, had sung solos and been in a working wedding/party band for 4 years. Certainly I would love to sing and was very strong in that area. I approached my choir teacher about it. He had coached a student who had graduated the year before to help her get through auditions. I told him my plan and he said, “Ok.” End of story. My family didn’t know what one should do to audition in voice. Recommendations? What kind of music to do? So, I thought, maybe I’ll go for art.

I went to the art room and gathered up all of my best work and put it into a paper portfolio. I had some art I had done at home too. We visited a couple of schools. 2 in particular were for portfolio review. I was guaranteed acceptance on the spot from both of them. I picked the one I liked the best and applied early decision. The rest is history. So you see, I was already working my Plan C by the time I arrived at college. As my Junior year rolled around, I was looking ahead. My parents had separated. Westchester County, where I went to college, was a very expensive place to live on one’s own. So when I was proposed to, I said yes, and got married that summer before my Senior year.

I finished my degree, graduated with honors, and attempted to find work. I went into NYC for several interviews, but was not chosen. In desperation, I took administrative work, the kind of work I had done as a student in college on campus – data entry, desktop publishing, phones, etc. I ended up doing that kind of work, being deeply, deeply depressed, making practically no money, all the way up until my first child was born. I took 4 years out to raise children. That ended abruptly when I divorced my children’s father. Thrust back into the working world, I went back to office work, then social work, which I did enjoy, then non-profits. I was laid off 3 times from significant positions, 3 jobs where I busted my butt and kicked ass, where I was holding the world together. And my world came crashing down three times.

I decided after the 3rd lay-off, to do some soul-searching. What am I killing myself for? When can I make personal gains? When can I make fair wages for my mountain of talent and experience? Piggy-backing on my last blog, chasing money is not fulfilling. How can I catch fire? How can I begin to love my life? How can I start to dream big again? When can my life become beautiful? I decided I needed to get more skills in the area that I love. I went back to school for another art degree. Crazy, right? Double-crazy because I didn’t get a Masters to work toward a teaching position or something. No, I went for an AAS in Media Arts. I decided I needed digital art skills. I didn’t even care about the degree. I wanted to learn as much as I could as fast as I could so I could jump into a great job in my field making decent money for the first time.

It was then that I remembered my love for higher ed. My thirst for that environment was overwhelming. I was a rock star in every class. I mastered every tool immediately. I started tutoring other students, and was hired by the school to create promotional material post-graduation. I worked multiple part-time jobs, including a 20+ hour/week internship, and packed a 2-year degree into a dense 12 months. I graduated Summa Cum Laude in May of this year. I was wound so tight, and my confidence was so high, I was ready to be launched. But I finished the degree in December, and winter is a tough time for job seeking. My internship was supposed to have become a f/t position, but the company decided not to use interns anymore, and hired someone full-time to replace me just 8 weeks before I would have finished my program. I had been out of f/t work for 18 months, my unemployment was about to end, and I was so broke, it wasn’t even funny. I began to get desperate.

I signed up to temp. My first temp assignment was at a company I had applied to for a social media position a month or 2 earlier. I thought once they saw my work, they would perhaps slide me over into the other position. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I was never asked about my years of professional social media experience. There was never a discussion about the position or how it might fit me, or visa versa. They hired someone else. And the temp position was exactly the kind of work I had done in my 20s: data entry, correspondence, data analysis. The money was okay, but still short of my target wage. I was disappointed, but just resolved to look for my dream job really diligently for the rest of my temping assignment. I did have 1 or 2 interviews, but not great fits. The company asked me repeatedly to consider taking the temp job permanently because I was so qualified and great to work with.

Not gonna lie, I cried. Right in the office, I cried. And I turned them down. I was never shy about the fact that I just went back to school so I can work in my field, and they understood. But that job didn’t come. A steady paycheck was something I desperately needed. So on the third discussion of me taking the position, closer to the end of the 13 weeks, I agreed. We discussed that they would not chain me up, they said they knew it was not my dream job. They would try to make the job more interesting for me by letting me customize some of the tasks. They also picked me up for freelance work on the side, which has been great. I mean, it’s an honest environment, which is so refreshing. No dress code, people curse, we have essential oil diffusers and birthday lunches, and my co-workers are really great. Is it wrong that I am still disappointed?

Is my life, in the end, going to be a life lived by default? Is everything I do going to be the Plan C version? Earlier, I read an article and the questions it suggests you ponder for success is this: “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” Pain? What pain do I want? In addition to the pain of disappointment, loneliness, poverty and despair? Gee, I dunno. What am I willing to struggle for? I guess survival. I’ve been doing that for over 16 years. Would I also struggle for success? Of course. I’m struggling already! Struggle and pain do not automatically ensure success, though. Right now, I’m at that uncomfortable place where I am saying, what makes me come alive?, and can I be successful at that? If so, what are the steps to take? Where do I need to be? Who do I need to talk to? How do I unleash the best of myself?

And do I have the energy, the drive to do it? On this question, I say YES! I know, because when I was in college last year, I was like an olympian of education! I was on fire! I worked tirelessly into the night, and sprung out of bed (as late as possible) each day, excited about what I was going to do that day. I had drive, energy and passion! If anybody will give me a chance, I can do fantastic things! If I feel tired and slow now, it’s just that I am not doing something I love. I am forcing myself to go through the motions of life and wasting time that I could be doing what I was born to do. Can I be sure what I was born to do? So many doubts and misgivings.

So I’ll leave you with that for today. Thanks for reading. ~E

Article I referenced: http://qz.com/584874/you-probably-know-to-ask-yourself-what-do-i-want-heres-a-way-better-question/?utm_source=kwfb&kwp_0=255476