Friday, September 25, 2009

Atoning Up

Atoning Up
I panic when I realize that most of my clothes are snug and the scale indicates a nearly 20 lb. increase in girth over the last six or so months. I try eating only protein bars for a couple of days but get frustrated and give up when there is no significant weight loss. Towards removing the pressure of choosing foods and achieving the satisfaction of relatively quick results, I have been drinking only protein shakes, coffee and diet soda for the last 10 days. I will probably get some flack for publicly admitting that I am foregoing food on a long term basis but given my age and metabolism, it really is necessary to give my system a little shock and I make sure I get more than the RDA of protein and vitamins. I feel ok physically and have even had a number of three mile treadmill sessions but I have been more of a bitch than usual to the kids and himself. The not eating isn’t the hard part. After struggling with obesity my entire life and having endured being a fat child (I cannot imagine anything more difficult than this) being in the familiar “dieting/punishment” mode AGAIN brings up my indelible historic identification as the embarrassing out of control fat daughter of a lovely thin self disciplined mother.

I bring a tray of cookies to a dinner party. The hostess’s 8 year old daughter is fat. She is very beautiful and smart and lovely but the fat is the first thing I notice. I ask my friend if in this time of enlightenment, the world is kinder to her daughter than it was to me and she indicates that perhaps it is. I realize though that I never shared with my own mom the cruelties I suffered, and that this girl too, is probably doomed to endure in silence. I struggle, based on my own pain, for some illumination or sage advice but all I can suggest is that she be enrolled in some sort of fun exercise program. She is apparently in a swimming club she likes and comes home after the first session and reports with delight that she isn’t the fattest girl there, something that would have given me satisfaction too. She asks her mother if she can have a second of the cookies which I now feel like an asshole for bringing. The mother looks at me, tears welling, and says, “No.” Sometimes there are no friggin’ right answers.

I carry a lot of baggage that I’ll probably never shed from having been fat and I have enjoyed the last few years of presenting myself to the universe as otherwise. It is a remarkable difference to venture into the world as merely a woman and not as a fat woman. I have never watched The Biggest Loser but while channel surfing, I see a promo for the show. A very large woman stands on a scale weeping while the show’s life coach screeches, “At four hundred seventy pounds, you are the fattest contestant in the history of the Biggest Loser.” I think that at several points in my life I would have been desperate and full of self hatred enough, that if I thought it might help me lose weight, I might have subjected myself to humiliation as extreme as being weighed and chastised on national television.

I never buy magazines but the January issue of Oprah was a must have. On the cover is a photo of Oprah at her lowest weight (160), side by side with Oprah at her current weight (about 200) with a huge banner headline that says “How Did I Let This Happen Again?” Oprah admits she’s embarrassed. This has been prominent on my desk for over nine months. Ironically, Oprah, to me, looks better at 200 lbs. than at 160. I am also embarrassed to have gained 20 lbs. It is noteworthy, that even at 160 lbs. at 5’5”, Oprah, according to current BMI scales is still considered obese, as am I, even carrying twenty fewer pounds and wearing size 12.

A study of 400 doctors from:
1 out of 3 listed obesity as a condition to which they respond negatively, ranked behind only drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness.
Obesity was associated with noncompliance, hostility, dishonesty, & poor hygiene
Self-report studies show that doctors view obese patients as lazy, lacking in self-control, non-compliant, unintelligent, weak-willed, and dishonest
Psychologists ascribe more pathology, more negative and severe symptoms, and worse prognosis to obese patients compared to thinner patients presenting identical psychological profiles
In a survey of 2,449 overweight and obese women:
69%experienced bias from doctors
52% experienced recurring incidents of bias
In one survey of nurses:
31% said they would prefer not to care for obese patients
24% said that obese patients “repulsed them”
12% said they would prefer not to touch obese patients
Avoidance of proper care
Reluctant to seek medical care
Cancellation or delay of medical appointments
Delay important preventative healthcare
· Doctors seeing overweight patients
o Spend less time with patient
o Engage in less discussion
o Show reluctance to perform preventive health screenings (i.e., pelvic exams, cancer screenings, mammograms)
o Do less intervention

Of all our convictions about health, the belief that obesity itself is a killer has no rival when it comes to the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific evidence," writes
Dr. Glenn Gaesser, University of Virginia Physiology Professor, "The heath risks of moderate obesity have been greatly overstated." Dr. Paul Ernsberger, Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at Case Western Reserve University agrees:
Expert panels from the NIH have claimed that obesity is second only to cigarettes as a preventable cause of death, and kills 400,000 people a year. If so, then major increases in the incidence of adult obesity should have a negative impact on life expectancy. The opposite is true, as death rates have fallen.

From a great Newsweek article, The Fat Wars "There's a widespread belief that fat is controllable," says Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. "So then it's unlike a disability where you can have compassion; now you can blame the individual and attribute all kinds of mean qualities to them. Then consider the thinner people that are always watching what they eat carefully—fat people are symbols of what they can become if they weren't so virtuous. Some of it has to do with the psychological phenomenon known as the fundamental attribution error, a basic belief that whatever problems befall us personally are the result of difficult circumstances, while the same problems in other people are the result of their bad choices.”

I wonder what would become of me if there is a big consciousness raising and new understanding about weight. We did elect a black president. Is the pervasiveness of people being complete assholes to fat people a motivator for me to keep my weight down or have I been so damaged by the fat people are bad mindset that I am doomed to struggle with my weight and ultimately fail? My thinner body is more efficient and comfortable in motion than the fat one was, but sometimes the pressure to maintain it seems insurmountable and my submission to the struggle brands me a hypocrite, buying into something that the preservation of my mental health seems contingent on rejecting.

My mother took me to Weight Watchers meetings, always wearing a wide waist cinching belt. She would always ask the leader if she might work there, as she, being so thin, would be a good example to all the dieters. She was told repeatedly that only members who had lost weight on the program could be hired but this never stopped her from asking. She would monitor the food in the refrigerator and kept the pantry pretty spartan. I would often have toast spread with margarine as a snack when she was out on a date, thinking that this was something that might escape her strict surveillance. One night she called me into her bedroom and made me read out loud a line from a novel she was reading. It described the heroine’s fat loser daughter gorging on bread and margarine and she glared at me while I read it. She would buy me 35 cent cartons of cigarette from the PX at the V.A. hospital where she worked, advising me that smoking would help control my weight. This seems barbaric now, but watching my friend refuse her daughter a cookie demonstrates the complexity and heartbreak of parenting an overweight child in a world where, even with a black president, fat is reviled.

Mom was still fairly lucid during my big weight loss and while she complimented me, she seemed also to go out of her way to fatten me and constantly criticized me for eating too little. She hated my fatness in some ways but I think in another way she had grown dependent on it to make her own thinness all the more laudable.

My stepmother has a big fit and calls repeatedly, worrying about the boys riding their bikes from school to the train. I blow her off politely and don’t admit that I hate the idea myself and am agitated every afternoon until they phone that they are safely home. My stepmother has never held a job and can’t understand why one of us can’t simply leave work and fetch them. My own mom was vain and selfish, and even through the dementia, these qualities are still evident. But, I feel strangely adrift and motherless. My mother would have hated the thought of the kids riding their bikes 2 ½ miles down city streets and probably would have made an even bigger stink about it than Aliki, but she worked and would have at least understood how often kids get short shrift to the requirement of making a living.

It is Yom Kippur, although this year, the fasting is the same old same old. There are probably a lot of people I have wronged and should apologize to, but as I struggle with the humiliation of being reduced to dieting and our Kafkaesque saga of applying for mortgage modification, it occurs to me that the little fellows who don padded helmets and pedal through triple digit heat in Pasadena to return to an empty house, are the ones most urgently requiring my amends. I have been sinking in doubt and ineffectual at shirking off a sense of failure. I tell myself I have concealed it from them but they are of my flesh, perfect, genetically honed bullshit detectors. They are of my flesh and as I write this they are probably maneuvering their funky bikes up the steps to the train. I am fat and poor but the only thing I have to be ashamed of is that for a moment, fatness and poverty distracted me from how precious the sprats are and how much I love them and also my beloved partner in their creation. I am going home soon. Thank you God for this season of atonement.

L’shanah tova and shabbat shalom.

1 comment:

FionnchĂș said...

I tried to think of those I'd wronged this past week and tried to make "tikkun" for amends, if by e-mail. Maybe not abjectively, but by positive comments instead. Is that halachically acceptable?

I guess I statistically despite my smug pedantry and aloof airs may technically offend fewer people, unless my teaching evaluations measure the contrary. Maybe there's something to be said for not being Mr. Popular. You stay out of the way and cause less harm.

And, if I've hurt you, my helpmeet, I'm sorry. Same for the sprats. I sometimes recall a passing remark made against me when I was young, and fear as a parent and husband and teacher that I make such cruel comments without realizing one iota the harm that may linger decades later in another's memory. I also via this-- my typically detached medium-- take this opportunity to ask forgiveness from anyone reading this as we near the day of atonement together. xxx me