Friday, June 20, 2014

I Hate Myself for Hating Myself

I am sick of posting the same old pictures on Facebook for Father's Day and what Himself now understands is Throwback Thursday. I am organized to the extent that all of the family photographs are in one place but there are only a couple that I've scanned. My pop had a penchant for Kodachrome. There are scads of great photos of my parents in the forties and myself in sixties splendor. I'm sure there is at least one photo to represent every year of my pre-digital life. This is perhaps why I've waited so long to take on the scanning project.

I break down and fill a shopping bag with photos and hook up the scanner to my work computer. I love the old pictures of my parents and sister and of course my kids. There are lots of snapshots of me grinning with my arm around people I have no memory of whatsoever. I get a sense of how long my life has been. Overall though, the bitterness of the experience out weighs the sweet.

There is a picture of me with my dad that I like. I was about four and wear a floral dress with a bright red belt. I scan it and put it on Facebook. I remember loving this dress and oddly, it is the same style of dress that I prefer to wear now. As I drift off to sleep though I remember also telling my mom that I didn't want to wear the lovely dress. At age four I noted that it made me look fat. My mother eyed me up and down and agreed. Henceforward there were no more belts or bright colors.

Over the last decade my weight has stabilized and I keep pretty much between twenty and thirty lbs overweight depending on my self control and what chart you look at. Before this there were periods where I'd get my weight down via some method of extreme deprivation like Optifast or the Rice Diet. I go through fifty years of photos and am stricken. Fat. Not so fat. Fatter than I ever remember being. I only scan the relatively normal pictures but even these sadden me too because I remember a measure so radical that my hair fell out to get my weight below the category of morbidly obese.

I managed to find relatively decent looking clothes but it was a huge challenge. At my heaviest I resorted to having dresses made. I realize, looking at a lifetime of photographs, that despite my herculean efforts to find non-hideous garments, it didn't matter what I wore. I was fat, and only that.

Even at my very fattest, I smile in the pictures. What if I were to wake up tomorrow and look like that again? I don't think I could bear it. I wonder how, looking like I did, I could have experienced even a moment of pleasure. But in the aggregate, I know my life has not been tragic or a waste. It is enormously challenging to navigate the world with nearly 200 extra pounds. You have to be smarter, funnier, more generous and jump through a million hoops to assure the species that under the blubber you are essentially a normal person. I guess I am a better equipped as a mildly overweight person for having been a morbidly obese one.

Our anniversary approaches. I pull out our wedding pictures. I went on to gain about fifty pounds more with each kid but I am flabbergasted at how fat I was as a bride. My mother-in-law scowls in all of the photos, which now makes sense. I would have been deeply unhappy if my son married someone who looked like I did. I had a dress made out of beautiful silk brocade and a short jacket made out of an antique embroidered piano shawl. These still hang in my closet. I suppose someday they can be cut down to outfit some Mormon brides. I guess the kids will find the pictures after I'm dead but until then I will show them to no one.

I think it's taken a decade of being closer than I've ever been to normal to realize how very massive I was. I'm sure I saw these photos soon after they were taken but some sort of self preservation instinct probably kicked in and I perceived them differently somehow. It's weird to think that the person who saw the photos that I cannot bear to look at, soon after they were taken, is the same person I am now. Instead, I guess, of obsessing over finding clothing that would somehow magically make me look cute, now I fret constantly about what I eat, ate or will eat and how much exercise is required to mitigate this.

I have spent more very fat years than not so fat years on the planet. Sometimes I see my reflection in the mirror and don't recognize myself. It is weird to not feel compelled to buy any garment that isn't disgusting just because it fits. Air travel is less traumatic now that I don't have to bother the flight attendant for a seat belt extender. Plus it is no big deal to fit a couple weeks worth of clothes into a small suitcase. I can sit in a chair and not worry that it will break. I appreciate the perquisites of being closer to normal as much as I worry about staying this way.

Seeing a very fat person is disconcerting as I am flooded with conflicting and powerful emotions. I do indeed feel sorrow and compassion. There have been some improvements since I was at my most expansive, as a much greater percentage of the population is now obese. It is easier to find clothing and fat teens at least have a handful of fairly decent role models. Still, fat bashing is commonplace and for all the lip service to fat acceptance I truly believe there isn't a person on the planet who would choose fat over thin. Except maybe a sumo wrestler. There is a brilliant episode of the show Louie that is dead-on in its depiction of a fat woman's plight. I will always identify as a fat girl, yet when I see one I feel more than sorry for her. I feel ashamed. I feel angry. It is a challenge, even knowing that I am no more or less lovable now than when I was at my heaviest, to feel anything but contempt for a fat person. I hope that some day I overcome my hatred and shame for the person who I was and will always be.


John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

When we first met, your eyes saw mine. That is the memory I hold. Happy near-anniversary, too. xxx me

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, I identify with the way you think and wish I could write half as well, but alas my interests and meager skills took me down a different path.
The only other comment I have ever left here was about avocado salads, I will try to treat this one more seriously.
My best friend of nearly 60 years is the gold medalist of diet experiments.
Her mother was what would have been called zaftig back in the day, with showgirl legs. She wore spike heels even on the day she died.. My friend is much the same, without the heels. She has never been really fat or thin, but she sees herself as a fat person, thus the constant trials of the 'latest' diet, most of which last no more than a few days. What I do know about her is that she loves to cook, eat and entertain, so it follows in her mind, that she must be fat. I wish I could illustrate it better, but I think the dieting is her idea of punishment for what she sees as her hedonistic tendencies. The fact that she is neither Jewish nor Catholic is surprising, under the circumstances.
I can affirm that she always looks the same size to me, which is somewhere between a twelve and a 14..
I weigh the same as when I was first married, which isn't saying much, I think my wedding dress was a 12, but no one in my large family has ever been really thin or fat, we are all just 'average', and we love to eat too, but we don't box each other's ears over it.
I am convinced that weight issues are genetic, and the way we handle them is part of the pattern.
My mother and her six siblings were all decidedly slender all their lives, and pretty healthy, but they also all had a sort of nervous energy that made it difficult to sit through a long movie, or just relax. The women were always knitting, or wallpapering, or shopping. The men tended to go for DIY projects at which they were all skilled.
Maybe it's in the DNA, as a retiree, I now walk shelter dogs a few times a week, in addition to walking my own two at home. I will do it as long as I can, as long as no one dares call it 'exercise'. I just prefer hanging with dogs to golf or card games.
Conversely, my dear friend mentioned above thinks nothing of reading a book in one sitting, and will stay up all night to do so. She then feels guilty in the morning for being too tired to exercise.
I have come to see weight as a complicated issue, made worse by popular culture. It seems that most of us are programmed early on, one way or another. We compare ourselves to others far too much. We don't beat ourselves up over having blue or brown eyes, or brown or red hair, at least most of us don't. So why should we make ourselves miserable over other things we have little control over ?
In my soon to be dotage, I plan to aim for staying functional, and doing the NYT crossword almost every day, for as long as my mind will allow. I go to Mass almost every morning, an old habit from years of Catholic school, now I mostly light candles for my dear departed, and lay my sorrows or worries at the feet of one statue or another. It gets me out and moving anyway, which I think has become the point of it all.
I'm not sure I've explained any of this properly, but I wish you well, and you are lovely in your photos.

Layne said...

Thanks to Sophie for some very thoughtful comments!