There’s been a lot of hooha recently (as reported by Sandy and others) about the parents of fat kids being guilty of everything from irresponsibility and negligence, right through to child abuse. Not to mention all the ongoing OMG! Obesity Crisis! drama that centers around preventing kids from “dropping dead of a heart attack at 10” – involving weighing kids, mandating exercise programs, constant ‘education’ about ‘eating right’ and what not. Somehow this is all framed as for the good of the kids mental health, as well as their physical health.
I wasn’t always fat. I have the photos to prove it. Prior to starting school, I was a petite child – possibly even underweight. I don’t really remember being that thin child. Not really. I don’t remember my transition from thin (acceptable) to fat (not acceptable).
My awareness of my body as aberrant began when the children in kindergarten began to call me names like ‘fatty boom-sticks’. At that stage, I knew I didn’t like being teased and called names, but I hadn’t learned to hate myself. That came later. By primary school, I was well and truly aware that I was fat, and that I was, therefore, unacceptable. I had to get the skirt of my school uniform specially made, as the stores didn’t stock my size and I wasn’t even that big.
By the time I was 10 or 11 years old, well meaning friends of my mother suggested that she put me on a diet, so she took me to a nutritionist. Thus began the daily misery of deprivation. I learned that food was ‘bad’. I learned that I was ‘bad’ for wanting to eat, for needing to eat. Perhaps that isn’t what the nutritionist and my mother intended, but that was what I learned. I began to skip breakfast and threw my lunch in the bin uneaten (since food was the issue, I was afraid to let people see me eat). By the afternoon, I would be ravenous, but wasn’t allowed to snack (since my mother assumed I had eaten well during the day). I remember snitching chicken noodle soup packets from the cupboard, and eating them dry because I was so hungry. My dinner would be restricted to a small, hungry-making size as well. My days were marked by deprivation and hunger. Still I was fat.
I remember one incident in particular when I came home after school. I was ravenous and was looking in the kitchen cupboard for something to eat. My mother was having one of her 3 hour long gossip sessions on the telephone with one of her friends, meaning she was not available to us kids for the duration. I went to grab something on one of the lower shelves and was hit in the head with a jar of peanut butter. I truly thought my mother had thrown it at me to stop me eating – although\, to be fair, she swore blind she had not and it had just fallen at that time. I’m wasn’t and am still not convinced.
By the time of our Primary School graduation, I was bulging out of my school uniform. I came Dux of the School (ie. what is known as valedictorian in the US ), but that meant nothing to me. I remember hearing my mother on the phone to one of her friends, bragging about her brainy daughter. Understandable, right? But I started screaming at her: “Coming first in my class is nothing– it was easy. Why can’t you praise me about something that was hard, that was an achievement? Like that I’ve lost weight recently – can’t you see that my skirt is looser? ” Talk about screwed up priorities.
As I entered high school, I was a mess. I descended into a deep, and undiagnosed major depression (so much was explained when I was diagnosed with depression 15 years later). Since I was the ‘good girl’ who stayed out of trouble and did well at school, the School Counciller didn’t even know I existed. Not that I would ever have asked for help; I wasn’t worthy. My feelings and my problems, I thought, were insignificant compared to other people and not important. Talking about my needs was self-indulgent and, thus, I was worthless and useless and weak and, of course, fat and ugly. I withdrew and isolated from everyone around me, including my family. I avoided the world by hiding behind the pages of the books I read constantly. I couldn’t believe that people, especially boys, could like me. If a boy let me know that he wanted to go out with him, I thought he was having a go at me, and that he would go back to his friends laughing that I actually thought that he wanted to go out with ME. I rejected them before they rejected me. I seethed with unexpressed rage.
PE at school was the ninth level of hell. I remember one teacher in particular singling me out to do more laps because I hadn’t come in fast enough. I was too fat for her liking so she would do anything she could to make PE hell for me. Oh, I am sure that she thought she was doing “the right thing”, getting me active, helping me lose weight, but she was pushing me way beyond my physical capabilities, and all she did was embed a loathing for exercise in my mind.
By 15, I had starved, dieted, pummeled, vomited and exercised myself to the smallest I have ever been (size 12-14 Australian). But that still wasn’t good enough for me, or for those around me. I saw myself as HUGE, elephantine, ugly, hopeless. I felt that I was a failure, because I hadn’t attained the magical goal weight that the charts said I should be. Oh, I had lost weight….heaps of it….but it wasn’t enough. I was never enough. My entire self esteem in my childhood and teens depended on the number on that scale.
My perceived lack of success was rubbed in by my stepfather, who bought me a T-shirt that said:
in raised, puffy, fat lettering along side a raised, fat, puffy scale with the needle going off the dial (at the top end, naturally). He would also say things to me like “You will never be Twiggy”. Who wanted to be Twiggy? I felt that he was telling me that I wasn’t attractive and never would be. (This, incidentally, is the same man who sexually abused me in my teens. He is the same man who would not allow me to lock the bathroom door and who bought me a a sexy negligee when I was 13 and insisted I change into it show it off to the family. Manipulative, right?)
Personally, when I look back on photos from my teens, I see a very pretty average sized girl – not fat. At least not as fat as I thought I was.
Unfortunately, I know that much of my story is typical of other people who were fat kids. We lived through and accepted as normal so much psychological torment. I go crazy when I hear people spewing the “OMG! FAT KIDS!” mantra and advocating weighing, regulating and shaming fat kids or finding parents of fat kids guilty of irresponsibility or, worse, child abuse. I go even crazier when people suggest that if fat kids don’t want to be teased, they should just lose weight. Or that the psychological trauma of being a fat kid is caused by the fat and not by the harassment, both sneaky and sanctioned, that fat kids are subject to every day. Gah!