Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Weight (a heavy issue)...

Most of my life, I have been contentedly medium-sized, occasionally veering off in either direction usually depending on where I was in life (basic equation was love + relative newness of a relationship = thin or relationship - trust + aggravation = not so thin) but, in general, my weight did not seesaw all that much, with a couple of notable exceptions detailed below. This thing with my current weight gain, which really started in my thirties, primarily after my son was born, is fairly new to me and the source of a lot of discontent. In fact, it is probably the biggest area of dissatisfaction with my life.

This is about to get very personal, I fear. Yuck. For someone who is a compulsive writer, I have never been much of a diarist. I think it stems from having a mother who had no qualms about reading any of my personal letters and cards: I just felt too exposed putting my thoughts out like that. Seeing as I am not someone who maintains a dairy, I guess this is as good a place as any to explore that body image bugaboo that's been so vexing to me lately. Yes, it is clearly illogical to release this private, personal stuff into the vast interwebs when I was always so petrified to have just one person read it, but such is the backwards logic that has always ruled my life.

And away we go!

Between my older brother and myself, I was considered The Cute One; I was also considered The Smart One and The Artistic One. As a child, my brother was considered Nice, Funny and Well-Liked, qualities that I, apparently, lacked or had in less impressive quantities. My brother was aware that the little medals he was awarded were considered runner-up trophies, a sort of equivalent to winning Miss Congeniality. In addition to these labels, I was also aware of a nagging feeling of guilt from a young age, one that told me to move aside so my brother could have the spotlight. It hurts my stomach even now to remember. These sorts of comparison-based labels on siblings do not serve anyone. My brother grew up feeling that my parents wished he were more like me, and I grew up feeling like my parents genuinely liked my brother a whole lot more than they liked me.

I figured out in around fifth grade that being considered "chubby" was my way of allowing my brother a place where he could succeed more than me, so chubby I became; later, when I became anorexic in eight grade and my weight plummeted down to 74 pounds, it was my way of feeling like I was finally exercising some control in my life: my parents could dictate almost anything, but they couldn't force food down my throat. I remember my mother threatening to book me into a hospital and I relished the fantasy of the doctors and nurses trying to force tubes into me. "Let them try!" the fantasy me said, cackling like Regan in The Exorcist.

Strangely, and it really pains me to admit this, being anorexic was the first time I really tapped into my personal strength at a critical time in my life. Obviously, there are some very destructive cultural and personal forces at work that make girls turn to anorexia, but, for me at least, my year-long dabbling in it allowed me to know that, ultimately, my parents could not control me, and this was incredibly liberating. I am not in any way advocating anorexia as a pathway to personal liberation, but I do think that our society does not necessarily acknowledge this more nuanced factor into the discourse on compulsive weight loss: that for some of us, especially those of us in abusive home situations (I would imagine that this is most anorexics), it is, at least initially, perceived as a source of power and strength. In short order, though, it spins into a horrible, deadly beast, one that is relentless and fueled on self-hatred, and, of course, there is that hard little kernel of self-loathing right there in the very beginning. By the end of my stint, I could not sit in the bathtub, only float, my concave belly grew hair to keep warm and a "binge" of eight grapes would result in an additional 200 sit-ups (I averaged 500 a day, giving my spine a bad case of rug-burn) and a few sprints around the block. Clearly, it was just an illusion that I was in control, but that illusion was more real to me than anything. The only thing that stopped me - perhaps the only thing that could have stopped me - was seeing my beloved grandmother burst into tears at looking at her shrunken, gaunt granddaughter. I could face just about anything but causing my grandmother to cry.

Throughout high school and college, I maintained the same natural weight, give or take five pounds, and though I did go through cycles of anorectic behaviors a few times, nothing stuck like the way that it did when I was in eighth grade. I have always been blessed with a healthy constitution and an active nature, and though I don't love clocking in on the Stairmaster, I find ways to keep moving, primarily through bike riding.

But I do love food and love to eat. Love, love, love it.

I have never been one who binges, which I have seen up close and personal through observing roommates, one in particular who would eat whole cartons of ice cream in a sitting. What I am is a snacker, perhaps having this imprinted on me at an early age by my grandmother, who loved to have "Just a tich" of this or that, and had no shame over her Rubenesque figure. She also loved to cook, as do I, and some of my very happiest, most contented memories of childhood were by her side at her homey kitchen table, grating potatoes or indenting cookies with my thumb to fill with jam. Food is love, we are taught, or, at the very least, a temporary but effective salve.

I think it comes down to lacking the mechanism, that inner-switch, to stop eating, to say, "Wow, this food is really good but I've had enough," while pushing away a plate half-full of food. This is an absolutely foreign concept to me even as I consciously work at it. It's even challenging for me to not overeat food I'm not particularly crazy about. Since I've been working from home, roughly concurrent with my weight gain, with our refrigerator now just about ten steps away from where I work in the sun room, this tendency toward mindless eating has only increased.

The point of all this? I am constantly fighting between society's projected images of how women are supposed to look (slender with an inexplicably large bosom, which is impossible for all but a few genetic rarities out there), the reality of how I look, and my rebellion against all of it. I am content being a little overweight if I am truly content with it, but I have to admit that I am not. At this point, I don't care if my discontent is because of society's influence or if I am being manipulated by a misogynistic culture, because it is affecting me on a basic level, undermining my functionality. When I avoid having pictures taken with my son or I duck to avoid my reflection in a mirror or I avoid social interactions because I hate how I look, this is also a feminist issue.

So I'm working on it. Weight and body image are complex, deep issues and I don't know where things will end up with me, but I do know that something has got to change as I do not like living in this limbo land. I'm working on it, though...

Shalom, everyone.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

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