- My Story:Evolving Obesities
I am a 66–year–old Caucasian woman. I have always had, either in perception or fact, a “weight problem.” In my childhood and early teens when my weight was within the normal range, I felt fat and was always trying to lose weight. After gaining weight in college, I had a weight problem in body as well as mind. Weight concerns have consumed much of my energy over the years. I have spent most of my life evolving toward a healthy way to manage my weight.
Act 1: Obesity as Metaphor
I can’t remember ever not feeling fat. Growing up I felt humiliated and shamed by my body, even though I was not overweight, just bigger than my peers, with a pear shape and heavy legs, thighs, and ankles. In high school my BMI, although not used at the time as a measuring tool, was 22.8. Yet despite these facts, I was made to feel fat.
In my family being overweight was tantamount to sin. My father and sister were tall and skinny; my mother was petite and shapely. I took after another genetic code—the dumpy ones with knocked knees—the grotesque branch of the family tree. Hand–me–downs from my sister were supposed to fit me, but we were too different, and the difference was not celebrated.
Other things were at play, a perfect storm of conditions that contributed to my feelings of worthlessness. I really shouldn’t have been born. The earth should have opened up and swallowed me. Of course I was not conscious of reasons for these feelings at the time. That awareness came later. But these feelings of loss, grief, terror, and terrible wrongness were the context of my struggles over the years.
I developed a pattern of binge eating, which satisfied two contradictory impulses: my need to nurture myself combined with my desire to punish myself. The intensity of a binge–eating episode was also an avenue for rage. I was young so the extra calories didn’t result in weight gain, but the behavior had begun to take root.
Stepping on the scale was like the final judgment. The scale did not measure weight; it measured value. I would see the number, as would the person weighing me, and my failure, as a person, would be evident. My secret shame would become public. I would be declared guilty for the worthless grub that was me.
Nothing else mattered: that I was an A student; that I was kind and compassionate; that I had friends. These facts had no bearing. All that counted was the number on the scale. That number sent a shudder of condemnation down to my very soul. That number threatened to hurl me into a bottomless abyss from which I could not escape.
I avoided being weighed. I was a very obedient youth, with an exaggerated respect for authority drilled into me by my father. The one time I ever cut class was in high school. I skipped health class where I had heard we would be weighed.
The situations when I could not avoid being weighed confirmed my worst fears. Before one gym class we were publicly weighed in [End Page 96] assembly–line fashion. As I stepped off the scale my gym teacher yelled out “Diet” for all to hear. Doctors who knew nothing about me, to whom I had been sent for various required physicals, told me to lose weight.
In the mysterious and internally logical way that the mind works, my weight became a metaphor for all that was reprehensible in me. With no comprehension of why I was so unhappy, it was easy for me to fixate on my weight. It was too horrible to contemplate that I was the problem. The problem with me was my size, my body.
As I look back now, I am angry that because of its shape, this perfectly wonderful body was judged as wrong, and that there was no compassionate voice loud enough to contradict this message. But at the time I felt no anger. To feel anger over being made to feel bad requires self–respect...