I was the fat girl.
I was Lotsa Lena. I was "big boned". My mom had to alter all of my pants because every pair that fit me around the waist would extend about a foot past my feet, clearly intended for someone much older than I was. I knew I was a chubby girl. But, I also had a lot of friends and a bossy personality and my size didn't bother me too much. In fact, I clearly remember thinking "Why would I lose weight when I can just wear stretch pants?".
I ate the same amount of food as my 200 pound father. I woke up thinking about food, I whined for food, I went straight for the kitchen when my parents weren't looking. I don't remember feeling depressed or embarrassed about my weight. I don't recall my obsession with food as "comfort eating". I just loved food. And I was unapologetic about it.
I firmly believe my mother had everything to do with this.
As I've mentioned before, my mother is tall and blond and thin and beautiful. At the heaviest time in my childhood, my mother was teaching two aerobic classes a day. She was six inches taller and weighed 20 pounds less. And I never even noticed.
She was entirely dismissive of my weight and my eating habits. As long as I was eating my fruits and vegetables, she never really interfered with my snacking. The words I recall are "I was just like you at your age, honey", "you have my body", "you'll get taller and it will all even out". Even when she said these things, it was only prompted by my occasional concern over my weight.
(Like when the Dumbo ride at Disneyland wouldn't go up while I was sitting in it, so I had to ride around on the ground while everyone else made theirs fly. Awkward.)
But. (And you knew there was going to be a "but", didn't you?) My mother could only insulate me for so long. Eventually, the day came where I was slapped in the face with reality: it was not okay to enjoy food. It was not okay to be wearing women's sizes at 11 years old. And do you know who "enlightened" me?
I was visiting my grandparents during the summer with five of my cousins. (One of which I had a tremendous crush on - mainly because he would steal Doritos with me in the middle of the night.) One evening while my grandmother was serving ice cream, she broke my little pudding heart.
As she scooped two scoops for everyone else, she gave me only one. Then she said "NO SECONDS. I'VE HEARD ABOUT YOU!".
Everyone laughed. I was stunned. What could she possibly mean? She'd heard about me? What had she heard? That I was a spelling champion? That I was the teacher's pet? That I skipped a grade? That I had tons of friends? That I was funny? That I sang about God? That I was smart beyond my years? All those things that made me proud?
Wait. She said "No seconds". I realized she was referring to the ice cream. She had HEARD ABOUT ME EATING TOO MUCH.
I swear to you, an eating disorder was born in that day. I hate to oversimplify it, but I remember the shift in my thinking. A shift that would carry me through diets, and pills, and obsessive exercise and anorexia.
Connecting the two is not difficult. Because I remember the day 12 years later when I tried on size 0 (Z-E-R-O) pants in a BeBe dressing room and they were loose. "It's almost like I don't even exist." It felt thrilling.
And do you know who I thought of? My grandmother.
Of course, as I've grown comfortable with myself as a woman, I've let myself relax into a pretty healthy size. I continue to unapologetically love food (Spanakopita dipped in cream cheese!) and I constantly fight against the demons in my head that tell me I'm at my most loveable at a size zero. I owe that fight to the STEADY voice inside my head. The one belonging to my mother.
I write about this because I cannot stop thinking about this quote Yvonne posted from the book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters:
Would you rather be mean or stupid than fat? And what, exactly, is "fat"? Five pounds overweight? Fifty pounds? At what point would you rather be dead... if you're a mom - at what point would your daughter want to be dead? Have you asked her?
There are plenty of recent reports that support this notion that many women would rather be mean or stupid or even dead than fat.
These women were once little girls. Little girls who wanted another scoop of ice cream. Little girls who grew into women who felt a thrill in a dressing room when they realized they had the power to almost disappear. Would rather be dead.
My little girl. My precious, happy, loving, vibrant, smart, beautiful little girl. Who loves to eat. Who asks for 15 snacks a day. Who dreams of treats. Who always wants seconds. Who has a little belly.
I know I have her heart in my hands. I know that everything I say and do and teach her regarding food and her body will need to stand up to our society and even asshole relatives (not that she has any). I know it is up to me to teach her the difference between "healthy" and "thin". I know it's up to me to teach her to love herself.
Sometimes it feels like a race to love myself first.
So I ask you, do you interfere with your kids' eating?
Do you think that there is a harmless way to curtail their eating if they're overweight or obsessed with food? Or is it more important to protect their psyche and say nothing? Does telling them to "only eat when you're hungry" make them feel shame for enjoying food for the taste of it?
Lastly, do you think I enjoyed my TWO SCOOPS of ice cream last night??
**I swear it is so not my fault that I haven't posted. Our new internet provider is so awesome that they didn't turn on our internet, phone, or cable for over a week! Despite my constant begging. And tears. Apparently, they were waiting for my HUSBAND TO CALL FROM WORK WHILE I WAS IN CHICAGO AND DEMAND IT BE TURNED ON IMMEDIATELY, WHICH IT WAS. Cox Communications are misogynistic bastards. Tell your friends.