Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Overcoming the Cultural Lies of "Fat Think"

Thanksgiving, 2010, BMI 21
 When I reflect back on my weight issues, I realize that the roots of my weight gain and lifetime of overweight are fraught with lies and assumptions based on untruths which I didn't find out until I was an adult. The damage had been done, but it is never too late to correct, learn and grow, especially when you have Faith. The negativity of one's life may be overturned in the twinkling of an eye. All it takes is the great desire to do it...and the effort to will it day after day after day. One step toward the Light turns into a million steps as you approach your goal. How did you get there? Taking that first blind step. So it was and is with me.

 "Fat." I heard that ugly word and its negative connotations in a church nursery as a heavy, elderly woman (our nursery teacher) was putting a paper bracelet on my right wrist. "Your wrist is too fat!" she said, struggling to attach the bracelet. I was about four years old. Her loud comment, laden with annoyance and disdain, hurt me. How was I responsible for my "fat wrist?" She judged me responsible. Though I knew her description was wrong ( How could bone be fat?) yet, I shriveled in my seat at being embarrassed in front of my classmates. It was then I knew that fat was bad, fat was ugly, fat was unappealing, fat was an inconvenience. The irony was, of course, she was talking about herself. This woman was fat and she was projecting all her self-loathing onto me. What could I do? Children soak up what you tell them, like clouds full of the moisture of love or hate. I internalized her comments and all her self-loathing. And I began to dislike my wrists and this thing called fat, which pertained to me. This occurred in church; the haven of peace, the sanctuary of The Lord. NOT!

Throughout my childhood, fat loathing was spoon fed to me by my mother, my cousins, my playmates. My mother enjoyed telling everyone the story about my first day after I was born. Emma would chortle, "The nurse told me, 'You are going to have trouble with that child. She is always hungry.'" How did the nurse know I was hungry? Did I tell her I was hungry? I was crying. It never occurred to the nurse that maybe I was lonely, maybe I wanted to be picked up and held. No, she assumed crying meant hunger. But then the nurse was overweight and she lacked imagination beyond her own body projection. My mother repeated the story to me, to everyone who would listen as a way to reveal my heaviness was some innate part of my being. You see, I had the problem; she had nothing to do with my being overweight. That she fed us pasta three times a week, and enhanced our meals heavily with carbs and less with proteins (more expensive) did not contribute. I alone was responsible. Years later I discovered I had a gluten allergy, the reason for my terrible bouts of eczema, headaches and weight gain; the fullness signals never went off with a diet heavy in carbs. Pasta three times a week? I remember I knew something was up when my mother lied to a teacher colleague who asked us how many times a week we had pasta. Mom said two. Why lie? She was afraid. She knew she contributed to my overweight, but it was easier to hide behind a lie than confront the fact that not only was I overweight, she was overweight and her meal plans and food selections contributed to our being fat.

My cousins gave my mother a hard time about my chubbiness. Dr. Spok was telling parents not to allow their kids to be fat. So my mother and I had battles about it and she tried to follow what my cousins would tell her. I used to dread when the relatives came; always a negative comment; "How big she is." The neighbor, another overweight, old woman would pinch my waist and say, "You're fat." Positive words to tell a six-year-old child. Such reinforcement appeared to be a truth; adults said it; I made it so. Maybe by that point I was 18 pounds overweight. Not much by today's standards, but in those days, there was no "obesity" crisis. I stood out.

This pattern continued throughout elementary school. I learned to loathe my body, wish I were thin, feel inferior, feel unwanted and unloved, feel rejected, especially by women. I felt my father loved me, regardless. And at times, before puberty, my brother and I played together and he never really made fun of me. We were close as kids. I got my greatest grief and rejection about my weight from my mother, female cousins and one or two female friends who were overweight and most likely jealous. I excelled in school; my mother told my brother and me that we were very intelligent. I wish she had told me I was THIN. I would have lived up to her words, believing them with all my heart being raised a Christian. Instead, I believed that I was fat and I acted upon it gaining weight and hating every minute of it, resenting my weakness for overeating but not understanding my condition. My mother continually blamed me, refusing to look at her own body or her own overeating. Mind you, she wasn't obese, but she was at the edge of obesity. But she "had a man." And my father didn't mind that she was overweight. She didn't want that for me, obviously, and poked and prodded with her iron words of rejection, antipathy and disgust that I should lose weight and if my clothes didn't fit for school, then it was my fault. She also didn't see that her blame and recriminations were pushing me toward more overeating out of resentment, anger and feelings of injustice. But what could I do? I had to obey her every command.  I believed her. I loved her. She was right. I was wrong. Looking back, I see how much I wanted to please her, how much I wanted her love and how much I hated myself for disappointing her. I did not see how she indulged in a lie of omission: she was partly responsible for beginning the cycle of self-destruction in my eating habits and food selections. I did not even see that she was overweight, until one day she got on a scale and found she weighed 165 pounds and proclaimed that she had to lose weight. She was 5'1". If you look at a BMI calculator, that's NOT UNDERWEIGHT. But I was so blind, I believed that I was the fat one, not her for most of my life.

There were wonderful moments in my life, however, apart from my fat battles with my mother. I excelled in school; I was smart and by Junior High I had made friends and got along with everyone. Younger children loved me and thought I was pretty; by then I had become inured to memories of former rejection; I was cold inside, closing off more and more of myself; I was a little actress. I wanted to be someone else. I do remember that during this time, my mother also seemed to change toward me after my cousin Betty and my Aunt Kathleen spoke to her about my weight. My cousin Betty was very sweet, very Christian and very accepting. She told my mother to lay off. My Aunt Kathleen also had a daughter who was overweight. When my mother asked her what she was going to do about it, my Aunt Kathleen's reply to my mother was wise; I was in the room; my eyes must have been pleading with her not to hurt me. I will never forget Aunt Kathleen's reply to my mom. She said, "It's up to Peggy. I'm not going to push her. It will only make her rebellious and that will makes things worse." My mother's mouth was open and I could see the darkness gagging in her throat as she tried to come up with a remark but could only be silent. That was a turning point for me; I felt vindicated, as if a burden had been lifted off me by love, and censure was halted in its ugly, fat tracks. Then one day as  I was sitting and watching TV in the evening, my mother turned and looked at me. Maybe for the first time in my life she really looked at me. And she said, "You have a beautiful face." I was shocked; I think I was entering puberty at that point. I said, "Do you really think so?" She smiled and nodded. A dam broke and relief flooded my soul. I was overweight, to be sure, but at least my face wasn't so bad. It was a sop. I devoured it like a starving animal swallowing a moldy crust of bread.

Cousin Betty and her daughter Diana (my second cousin)
I lost weight in High School; I wasn't thin, but I was a lot thinner. What motivated me? An English teacher. I tried out for a play he was directing, got the part and became, "the best actress in the HS," over the next three years. The man was Lebanese, a Christian and more expansive thinking than the narrow folkways of American culture. He looked past appearance and shallowness and sought the deeper things. The teacher was never given tenure, but many students agreed he was the best teacher they had ever had; he inspired us, taught us. But he was a maverick, an iconoclast, apart from the mundane, boring rest. Resentment abounded against his "otherness" from his colleagues. But he made a tremendous impact on my life and I loved him for that. Because of their impecunity and imbecility, officials in the district who did not grant him tenure, revealed what was important to them: the status quo. The school district deserved to go downhill after that and it did for being incapable of following its mission, part of which was to deliver what truly mattered in students' lives: teachers who delivered great teaching and learning environments. This wonderful man did that; the district clowns punished him for it.  They didn't know a lie from the truth.
                                                             Summer, 2006
Gabe (bro) Me, 200 lbs (BMI 33, obese), Est (sis-in-law) Dan (nephew)
Being thinner, I allowed myself to have a boyfriend (He was safely gay.) go to the prom and continue involvement in a myriad of school activities. I "fit in" as best I could, but I ignored the underlying issues of self-hood and identity which I eventually faced in college. But by college it was easy; I was part of the 60s generation involved in revolution, ending the War in Vietnam and uprooting that status quo that was hypocritical and materialistically nullifying. I was a part of the Jesus Movement; knew that God was alive and real for me and

was filled with such joy and happiness. For the first time, I could look beyond my weight, and be weight blind. I embraced alternative lifestyles and alternative friends until the dream was over and the party crashed with the reality of graduation. All through this time, weight issues weren't important to me anymore. I had reached a level of acceptance with myself and others accepted me. Eventually, I received my Masters Degree in English Education and got teaching positions upstate, then on Long Island where I met my husband. But the underlying issues of rejection and conflict from my childhood were still there. Some people can live with lies; they remain married and are intensely, miserably unhappy but are too afraid to admit it and too afraid to leave. I was not afraid; I am not afraid. Eventually, we divorced. He is since deceased. If I had been with him when he had his heart attack, I would have had a nervous breakdown. I did love him. But I couldn't be with him. When I divorced him, something broke and it was for the better. I knew I didn't need "a man" to make me happy like all the fairy tales and all the romance novels said. I knew I must be happy in myself. I was shedding the lies like snake skins. But I had more seasons to go before all the lizard skins were unraveled.

Through this marriage relationship and other relationships, my weight problems grew worse. The more I tried to lose weight, and succeeded, the more I would gain the weight back, usually between the stresses of another relationship. I yo-yoed with tremendous swings in weight gain and loss, twelve times. I lost a total of 1,180 pounds (and then some). The cultural images of beauty and thinness stressed me to the point of distraction. There was a disconnect between the values of humanity, the soul and the spirit that were true and the meretricious, soul-destroying, shallow folkways that were nihilistic. I wanted to fit the standard of beauty the culture embraced, yet I was infuriated and enraged that the standard was incredibly narrow as to exclude practically everyone. 

                                                                             Summer, 2009
Two years ago, overweight, BMI 28
It was a schizoid conflict I battled my entire life; feeling that I was never good enough to fit in and yet feeling that I was superior to all the idiots who actually believed in the culture's lies and lived their fake lives accordingly. They with  the two dogs, the two kids, the husband with a house in the suburbs, trying to convince themselves they were their own person; and miserable, miserable, miserable. I knew them, was surrounded by such people at my job and almost believed their lies. But I also knew they were fragments of humanity not even aware of their true purpose, not even knowing who they were...faceless, soulless. And I did not want to be one of them, and yet somehow, I was exactly one of them. And after the struggles and battles, I came to the end of myself. And one morning I woke up knowing that if I didn't change my life, I was going to die. It was a metaphor about being overweight and obese. And it was a metaphor about living a life of truth. Notice, I didn't say living a lie of death. I said a life of truth. It was then I was able to lose weight, very gradually over a two year period creating my own meal plans. It was then I discovered my gluten allergy and everything fell into place. It was then I found myself all over again, discovering I was never lost, only buried underneath mounds of recrimination, lies, judgments from family, cultural images and so-called "friends," whose own self-loathing I HAD INTERNALIZED FOR THEIR SAKE, the good daughter, the good friend, the good citizen, hanging myself on my own cross for their benefit. 

Today, BMI 21
NO MORE. Now, I must live for myself. I have a lot to accomplish. Finding myself is finding others out there who are like me to encourage each other, grow and add to an abundant universe of joy. Those who are lost (including the culture's promulgators) and have been using me and others (the fat, the skinny, the unfit, the ostracized, etc.) to hide behind their own lies will have to fend for themselves and seek their own truths. They need to come into the Light. Truly, it is wonderful to see.

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