Monday, August 10, 2009

And I asked myself, "How did I get here?"

This past weekend we went to an amusement park and my younger son kept poking at my arm and saying things like "You've got a jiggly arm. Why is it jiggly? Mine isn't jiggly." And he is right. My arm is jiggly. However the question that stopped me in my tracks was, "Mom, what happened to you?"
What indeed happened to me? I gained 60 pounds that I can't seem to permanently drop. But that is the easy answer. The harder answer is "What happened to me?" Because something really did happen to me. And I never want it to happen to my kids. Ever.

I had a cousin who died from complications of Anorexia, but this didn't stop my great aunt (her mother) from making comments about my weight whenever I walked into her apartment. I think she thought the observations weren't personal, after all they were just about my weight, not about me; "Oh, Devra's weight looks wonderful." or "What's going on with Devra's weight?" Maybe she thought it was polite conversation and instead of asking "How are you?" she inquired about my weight.
It was ridiculous. And damaging.

There I was in my tweens and teens, average weight for my height, and yet I was continually thinking I was overweight or in danger of being overweight. Looking back on my pictures from my childhood, I was not obese. And yet, I had a doctor tell me in 7th grade "You're as big as a house." The picture of me you see in this post? Taken the same week as my doctor appointment. I'm the one in the purple, the house is wearing white.
So this weekend I had an epiphany of sorts. My son handed me a road map and it's time to find my way to being me again. I don't have a need to be a certain size or weight, all I want is to have my mind connect to my body and be at a point where I can live life, feel healthy and not tsk tsk myself.


AnnetteK said...

It was my grandmother who made those kind of comments to me. I didn't know until recently that she did the same to one of my other cousins. Funny how we're the two who've battled our weight as adults even though we were not overweight as children. She just made us think we were.

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

That is so unfair. I think in our tweens and teenage years we all thought we were fat. The last thing a young woman needs is weight judgment from a loved one.

Anonymous said...

Everyone and his/her dog had something to say about my weight when I was a preteen/teen. I thought the phrase "You have such a pretty face" was crafted just for me because I never heard it leveled at anyone else I knew.

I was overweight, but the unkind comments did nothing to make things better and certainly didn't help me figure out what I could do - aside from simply not eating. I had a doctor put me on a 900 calorie diet when I was 13. 900. And at the time I was only about 10lbs over for my height - I was very tall for my age. It's not a wonder that I still have issues with my appearance though I am of normal weight now.

lose 50 pounds quick said...

keep in shape and stay healthy

Mold on the Wonder Bread said...

My mother called me hunky chunky. Take a moment. Ok, now that you've stopped laughing, I'll tell you I was never fat. Names are so hurtful.

And for the record I'm "average" weight for my height and I'm still on Weight Watchers.

Why are us white chicks so damn hard on ourselves when it comes to weight?

laurie said...

This is so my similar story, Devra.

My grandmother overfed me (in love, she meant no harm, she had four boys before me) from the time I was a young girl until my mid-teen years. Baby fat turned to adolescent fat to teenage fat, and then, guess what, it wasn't cute anymore. My body was open season for comments from my father and my uncles (whom I love regardless and have long since forgiven) for a long time. They're better off spoken aloud so next time I see you I'll tell you if it comes up.

My great-aunt said once that I "blew up like a balloon" and I thought my grandmother was going to punch her, which in retrospect would have been kind of awesome.

The imprints are amazingly deep. It took me a long time to work through. I considered eating disorders as a specialty when I got the counseling degree but was like, eh, I lived it, don't want to immerse myself in it.

I wrote a post awhile back about this concept. I'll also email it to you if you're interested. :)

Wherever the external messages to change come from, the motivation to do so has to come from inside. And no matter how hard you work your body - for health, for weight loss, for better self-image, whatever - don't forget to take care of yourself at the same time, even more than usual. It's all finally clicking for me.

I also think you're beautiful, by the way. No kidding. :) But I've also asked myself, both long ago and very recently, how I got here and I know sometimes it's crucial to make changes to feel better or different. I'm behind you if you need any immoral support. xo.

Julie @ The Mom Slant said...

Dude. My own parents called me a fat ass when I was a kid. Fifteen years later, my father asked if I would be too fat to be commissioned.

Yeah, I'm still resentful. But I'll be damn sure not to say such things to my kids.

Devra said...

I knew this would be the kind of post where other would come forward with their own experiences. I think it cathartic to share them.

My own father once glared at me as I reached for some carrot sticks and said, "Don't you think you've had enough?" Carrot sticks? Really? Yes really!

I somehow don't think carrot sticks needed to be regulated like that. And this is why I do allow my kids to have junk food which we "legalize and regulate." The kids understand what a serving size of M$Ms actually is, they get one piece of candy per hand. This way they learn about portion control and pay attention to what they are eating and when.

Jen said...

Every time I read an experience like this, I am thankful anew that my parents never said a word to me about my weight growing up. Plenty of other people did - teasing was a way of life - but never my strongest support system. Not a thing.

Even when I was at my heaviest, and 9-10 years ago I was really unhealthily heavy, they never said a thing. When I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes and got scared enough to get more serious about weight loss, they were thrilled and supportive. But they never, ever pushed an unhealthy attitude about weight onto me.

Urban Mama said...

My mom had a group of best friends whom I loved but dreaded seeing. EVERY time I saw them (especially if there had been a lag between visits), one woman, in particular, would comment on my weight. Actually, she would ask if I was pregnant. EVEN when I had JUST had babies, she would say (in Spanish): "expecting another so soon?" Um, no, I am not even six weeks post partum, but thanks.

It still hurts when I think of how disappointing I was in this regard to my mother, who loved me, but really hated that I was overweight.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Gorgeous post, Devra and a must-read for everyone (especially, perhaps, those who work/live with tween/teenage girls).

deb roby said...

I had this same epiphany 3 years ago. I'd gain weight which I hated, but I also lost myself.

I never had body image issues until later in my life (40s and 50s). I was also never overweight.

The important thing. You can change. You can find yourself. And when you do, everything else becomes easier to do.

Anonymous said...

Devra, I'm hoping you and some of your readers can help me. I have a niece visiting who is almost 13 and overweight--I would say obese. She feels really badly about it, and has hinted that she would like some help with it (her eating habits are really, really unhealthy) but I think everybody around her (including me) is too afraid to say anything, for fear of saying the wrong thing, so we say nothing helpful, which I think is equally bad because we aren't giving her the help she needs and clearly wants. She seems much more open to talking with me about it than her own mom, but I don't want to screw it up and make things worse. Any advice?


Jan said...

Gosh, how true, how true! I was called "chubby" all my life and I look back at those pictures, as did my counselor, and couldn't figure out why they called me that! Now I'm 45, the mother of a soon to be 6 YO, and I have no energy to play with my son because I'm so overweight. I will not do anything like that to my son! Words can do some more damage, can't they?

Tarable said...

I also suffered self esteem issues surrounding my weight because of comments and how I was treated as a child and adolescent. You would think that I was a morbidly obese child when I was younger by the things people said. But looking back, I wasn't. I was cute and normal.

Now, I struggle to be cute and normal and not overweight. For reals.

I am determined to prevent the same from happening to my daughter. There are already comments about her weight and how she's "not fat". I stop them in their tracks. Good bad or otherwise, comments about children's weight needn't be spoken within earshot of the child.

Devra said...

MF Teens are tricky, because it's difficult to tell if it's the food is the problem or the problem is being self medicated with the food. If she is expressing her own concerns, then try to mirror what she is saying, this way you are using her own words to discuss what is going on. So if she says "I feel bad that my clothes aren't fitting." You can say, "You feel bad your clothes aren't fitting. Can I help or do you want to talk more about it?" and that at least opens up the conversation without anyone being set up for a confrontation which might make everyoen feel uncomfortable. Becasue it's a different kind of thing if she says "I feel bad becasue my clothes aren't fitting." And then you say "Are you worried because you are bigger than your friends?" Because teens are just awesome about being guarded and defensive, and that could easily turn into "You MF think I'm fat? I thought you loved me." Oh the drama that can happen, but at the same time, the drama masks and deflects the hurt too.

Try to stick with facts she brings up. I know my 13 year old son at one point was concerned because he had put on some extra pounds. I wasn't really concerned about it because he was still in the normal range for height to weight ratio, but it bothered him enough that he mentioned it. Around the same time, his school's book club was reading "Chew On This." Which is kind of like a teenage version of SuperSize me. After reading that book, my son was far more interested in what foods are considered healthy and he wanted to learn about serving sizes and nutrition labels. But he is the one who initiated it.

Just like how we learn as therapists to start where the client is, teens are similar, begin where she is and let her lead the way with you as a consultant. when our kids are very young, we are the teachers, but as they get older, we drop back and take on more of a consultant role.
I am not suggesting the book as a subtle hint, but more as an object of transference to get the conversation moving along so you can try to tackle the poor eating habits in a way that won't piss her off or make her feel like crap.

Anyone else have words of wisdom for MF? I'll probably marinate on this for a bit and come back with some more ideas.

Stimey said...

This post rings true for many reasons. Thank you for writing it.

Mamma said...

So many things you've said here are my truth as well. I always felt "fat" but looking back at photos I know I wasn't. Now? I'm not me. I hate it.

X said...

My father once told me I looked like I was pregnant. I was 14 and a virgin, raised catholic, and terrified of sex, so that comment was particularly devastating to me- to think that I not only was fat, but that people might think I was having sex, too.

My grandmother, who I'd see maybe twice a year growing up, would see me and say "you're so FAT!." I was for most of my teen years about 165 lbs, and 5'6". I would guess my grandmother is about 5', and weighs 180, so the hypocrisy of the situation was never lost on me. Even though the weight is gone, the hurt of those comments never will be.

My dreams for my own daughter are for her to be healthy, happy, smart and funny. As long as she's got some combination of those four things, I will consider my job as a parent a job well done, because nothing else matters. Not one thing.

I hope you figure out where you went in all of this, and find yourself again. But this post proves you're already well on your way. Best of luck to you.

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