October 02, 2014

No More Control Tops--Let's Dance!

photo: uploaded by twitchery

Guest Post by Genie

So here's another great guest post by Genie!  As you may recall, Genie shared some of her inspiring progress towards healthy eating and exercise in "Deciding I Don't Want to Die" and "Half Sick of Shadows".  She hinted that there was a backstory to her weight struggles, and some of you were curious, and so here she is with a story that some of you may be able to relate to all too well.

Thanks so much Genie!---Crabby 

The first time I knew there was something wrong with my body the whole family was at the beach. I thought I looked pretty cute in a bright green two piece with orange sunglasses. I was pulling a pose I thought was all Hollywood for Dad and his ever-present camera. My mother, my seriously beautiful mother, took a long drag on her cigarette, “We’re going to have to watch her or she’s going to get chunky.” My grandmother, to whom this was addressed, laughed cruelly and said, “Well, we put a stop to that with you, didn’t we?” She looked like Rita Hayworth. I am not kidding.

I come from a long line of beautiful women. Some of my cousins were crown wearing, Southern beauty queens. I was a genetic anomaly. I didn’t look like any of them and that day at the beach I learned I didn’t measure up. I was six. Yes, six.

That began a long, complicated time in our house that I suspect is a mirror of what a lot of girls experience.


At puberty, my body turned on me and I became all curves and round parts. No more angles. My mother put me on my first restrictive diet. At 12, she had me on 1000-1200 calories a day. She sent me to school with terrible lunches as if to broadcast to my friends in the cafeteria, “Hey, look everyone! I hit puberty and got fat! Don’t you all hate me now?!”  It seemed my mother did. And my grandmother certainly did. The funny thing was the kids at school didn’t hate me, tease me or ostracize me because of my size. I was a fairly popular kid in middle school. Our school was so small there really wasn’t room for that sort of thing so I was spared there. But at home? Let the shame and hatred begin! Food became the battleground. I was grounded when Mom discovered I ate a cookie. I was rewarded when 10 pounds came off.

I bought into all of it. I recently found a childhood diary where I had written myself a note of pure hatred calling myself “fatty” and warning myself to lose 20 pounds “or else.” I wrote that the first time I was put on a diet.

My Mom would pat my behind and say, “If there were less of that, there would be more of this” and point to a cute new something she had recently bought for herself. She was not above bribery to achieve the goal. Food related events would set off my grandmother’s attacks. One year at Thanksgiving, when I was 14, as we sat down to eat, she said, “If we didn’t eat so much, we might have a date.” “We” meant me; she thought she was being funny.  At other holiday meals, she would cut big pieces of her amazing chocolate cake for the rest of the family and then hand me Jell-O saying, “You don’t want that cake, do you?” I knew better than to admit that I did and I still won’t have Jell-O in the house.

The food in our house was awful. Mom hated to cook. She often brought home KFC but I wasn’t supposed to eat it. When she did cook, it wasn’t pretty. And often the food was cold by the time Dad and I got home, so I certainly didn’t want to eat it. She cooked early to make sure my demanding sister had dinner when she wanted it. Anything she had cooked would be cold and mostly inedible by the time we got home. So I responded by eating at the veterinary clinic where I worked with my Dad after school. I ate junk so I wouldn’t have to eat at home. My diet lunches at school left me starving by late afternoon.

All of the focus was on food denial rather than a healthy balance of good food and activity. I was a strong swimmer so I asked to join the swim team. Mom warned me that I would have to wear a swimsuit in front of people, but I did it anyway. Eventually, I was told there wasn’t time to take me. My sister needed more time, Mom explained. Between this and the constant criticism of my swimsuit body, I didn’t fight it. I gave in and became completely sedentary.  So this was a conundrum, wasn’t it? I just wasn’t supposed to eat. So, once I got a driver’s license, the brakes came off. The drive-thrus of my hometown were all mine!

The next battleground was the shopping mall. Mom thought surely material motivation would accomplish what threats and criticism could not. I was not bought cute clothes since I obviously did not deserve them. I had to buy many of my own clothes on lay-away. I was promised new wardrobes if I would “Just lose the weight.” This was more than difficult for a high school girl. By this time, I thought I was getting too big to be considered cute and ugly clothes weren’t helping. But if I look back at pictures of me in high school, I think, “Are you freaking kidding me?!!” I wasn’t FAT. I was a little heavy and could have been OK with the right clothes and encouragement.
Does this high school sophomore look “fat” to you?
 I lost a few pounds before this dance so a dress that was pretty in 1985 was bought for me!

But things just got worse during those four years. I was finally asked to Homecoming and needed an outfit to go. Mom had to take me shopping for this or risk the exposure of what was going on since we were not an economically strapped family. She put me in a matronly suit that would “Hide your behind for the pictures.”  At least the shoes were cute. But I could barely dance since she insisted I needed serious control top pantyhose.

Borrowed horror show of a dress for a senior year dance. But still, does that girl look “fat” to you? My date was sweet enough to say I looked pretty!

When I went to college, all bets were off. I had a meal plan and access to all the burgers and fries I could stand. The family battles continued through those years. Every visit began with an assessment of and commentary on the size of my ass. Then, refusals to buy me clothes in larger sizes.

My sister suffered from the same pressure. In some ways, it was worse for her because she was deemed “beautiful” as a toddler. My grandmother declared, “Now, I have a little doll to dress!” With all this attention, my sister decided she didn’t want to be treated the way I was so she refused to eat. When she did, she threw it up. Anorexia and bulimia will indeed keep you thin. She was rewarded for her appearance with designer clothes. By the time my parents decided to recognize her problem, it was too late. She now has heart problems and all her natural teeth are gone. Her issues with weight are still unresolved.

I’m still working on it too. I am grateful that I was never a binge eater. I did not have to fight that battle when I decided to get healthy. I guess if nothing else Mom did teach me portion control! But I did make bad choices and food could be a comfort device. Much of my eating, I see now, was about rebellion. I don’t need to rebel any more. I am an adult who can move past the hurts of childhood.

I know now that my mother was repeating a pattern from her own experience and passing down her unhealthy relationship with her own body to her daughters. To maintain her weight, she chain smoked and would go a couple of weeks on nothing but Sego (an early liquid meal replacement). Then, she would crack and go on serious sweets and peanut butter binges. I remember one sleepless night going downstairs to find Mom standing at the counter with a store bought chocolate cake that she had eaten most of her way through. She looked at me with guilt written all over her face, “I’m just so hungry. I am so tired of being hungry. But your Dad will leave me if I get fat.” She lit another cigarette and buried the rest of the cake in the trash so he wouldn’t find it. That leaves a powerful impression on a young woman. I learned that I wasn’t valuable if I was fat.

This is the short version of many years and many hurts. But what I see now is that I did develop what might be called a complicated relationship with both food and my body. When I hear my female students talk about their bodies, I hear echoes of my own past. If I know them well, I will often stop and talk with them about why they feel the way they do about their bodies. We talk about culturally mandated ideals of beauty and why we shouldn’t care about all of that. Their mothers will often come up in these conversations. We cannot allow this cycle to continue. I wasn’t given the gift of a daughter, but I hope that if I had been I would have given my own daughter a gift—an appreciation of the beauty of her body. We don’t care for what we don’t love.

Mom once joked that my only rebellion was learning to cook. It wasn’t but I was careful to hide the fast food wrappers! I took my love for cooking and now cook healthy, tasty food for The Husband and myself that we look forward to eating.  I also recognize that eating is about fueling my body for the things it needs to do. Sometimes food is also about celebration and those moments (and the food!) should be savored. What food is not about is guilt. And self-loathing. Our bodies shouldn’t be about self-hatred either. We should celebrate them with care, love and good food. My body isn’t perfect and it never will be. But it can do all sorts of wonderful things. And it likes to dance without control top pantyhose!

22 comments:

  1. I am so lucky. All of this nonsense just passed right by me.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    1. You are lucky, Mary Ann!
      Thanks for reading.

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  2. Yep! I have a beauty queen mother as well. It is interesting that I always thought I had it worst as the child that was a disappointment but, the favored child suffers as well.

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    1. Unfortunately, in the long run, she suffered far more than I did actually. I think being beautiful took a toll on her that I will never fully comprehend. She was put under an entirely different kind of pressure.

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  3. Death Ride GrandmaOctober 2, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    Wow. You are really heroic to have brought yourself to where you are today, and to pass your wisdom along to your students. Like Mary Anne, I missed all of this (well, I was a skinny, oblivious kid, but my sister was not & I never heard any comments or criticism about weight in our household, and I don't think either of my daughters ever went on a diet), but it is clearly out there and really, really needs to stop! Hurray for you!!!

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    1. Thanks, DRG :)
      But I have to say that I have an amazing support structure these days. The Husband is a Prince, I have a cheerleader of a best friend and the brother she got me when she married is a part of that structure too. So it isn't all me! I absolutely cannot take all the credit.

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  4. Thank you for sharing! what an incredible story. You rock. I'm grateful I didn't have to go through that. Glad you came out the other side!

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  5. And no! you don't look fat in either picture!

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    1. Aww. . . Thanks Bob Ben :)
      It's really good on this side of things!

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  6. Dear Genie - What a smile! What a beautiful young lady! I hope your life now is filled with love, acceptance and joy. Thanks for being sufficiently brave to tell your story and kudos for coming out all that so much for the better. You're pretty awesome!

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    1. Thank you, Janonymous. I'm not sure about "awesome" but you're welcome!
      My life is filled with so much to be grateful for I am often brought to tears about it. I have things in my life I never thought I'd have.

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  7. Holy Shit! And I remember being hurt when my mom suggested that dipping carrot sticks in butter wasnt my healthiest snacking option..You look great now and you did then.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, AA96726. Hell, there's nothing wrong with a little butter :)

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  8. You are an absolute doll in both of those pictures! And your figure was absolutely FINE, lovely even! It's such a shame that you were treated in that way, you should feel so proud how you have powered through it and used your experiences to motivate and encourage others!

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    1. Thank you, Janelle. I just wish I had appreciated what I had back then and had more fun :)
      If anything from my time on the planet can help anyone, they are welcome to the words and the experiences.

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  9. Reading this was cathartic... truly. I experienced something very similar but I didn't have history to fall back on or old fashioned mores. My mother had no excuse for playing "Mommy Dearest" at all, she simply did in many ways, not the least of which was giving huge self-esteem issues that are still taking a lifetime to work through. Her mother was a socialite and held big dinner parties at her house, and all her clothing was hand stitched by her own seamstress, they were wealthy and my mother did not end up in the same social circles as an adult. I think she resented it but that's just speculation. The trouble is, ironing out where I'm supposed to be now, and how to feel good and healthy about my body and my life for making the right choices.

    I can't even tell you how good it was to see something like this said out loud.

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    1. Thank you, Alison. At least I was able to understand my mother in many ways. She was often really honest; it just took the distance of adulthood to make sense of a lot of it. I hope you can find your peace. You may find your "iron" in a really surprising place! When you do, I hope you'll share it with us. I've gotten pretty honest about my own experiences and it's really great to know it helped someone in some small way.

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  10. This was an interesting post for me. My daughter is 13 and has gained some weight recently -- we're in the "we're going to have to watch it or she's going to get chunky" stage. I have struggled with my weight my whole life -- finally in 2009 I made a commitment to getting healthy and lost about 70 lbs. Now I run and lift weights regularly and try to eat healthy. My daughter is quite sedentary and eats like total crap. So I don't want to mess up her head or body image or make her think there is anything wrong with her, but I do want to express my concern that she needs to get some exercise and make healthier choices. My husband and I both model a healthy lifestyle but it doesn't seem to influence her. And she was old enough to remember me at my fattest -- I have said to her that I don't want to see her have to struggle with her weight the way I did with mine -- but again, I worry that I am dancing dangerously close to making her think she's fat when I say this. Any tips for approaching this that are better than the one your mother took?

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  11. This is a tough one, Anonymous. There's a fine line between expressing concern and a teenager hearing, "You're fat and this affects how we feel about you." That's what I heard over and over again. And our culture teaches us to hear that constantly; that voice is difficult to tune out.

    I think, given what you've said, you're doing the right thing already. You're modeling good behavior and good, healthy food is available in the house. Probably, the less said the better. She knows what healthy behavior is from watching your struggle. She's old enough to make some decisions for herself but also old enough to rebel against your directives (I'm guessing on that one!). The more she feels that she is unacceptable, the more she may eat to feel comfort (food is always there and it doesn't judge). You may have to let go on this one and let her make the decisions here. The more my family harped on my appearance, the worse I felt and the more I believed, for a long time, it was impossible to do anything real to "fix" the problem. Of course, this helped to create a real problem as the years dragged on.

    As a young woman, she's hearing enough voices that tell her about her appearance. Perhaps your love and healthy lifestyle modeling will do the trick before anything else will?

    And congratulations on your own success!! I know you must be proud of yourself!!

    I am not a therapist, a psychologist or a professional counselor, Anonymous. All I can do is share with you what I would have preferred at 13 and knowledge gained from research on various related topics. Any professionals out there?

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  12. Also not a professional, but a couple of books by professionals that I think hit the mark on the psychology of food/eating:

    -Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole (has a chapter on kids)
    -Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food
    by Susan Albers PsyD

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  13. Thanks for the titles, Anonymous. I'll look into these; I haven't found either of these yet and I'm always looking for more information.

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  14. It’s difficult burning calories, especially if you’re new to exercise
    Here is an awesome solution .
    do spare just 30 seconds of ua precious time and u won't regret.
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    ReplyDelete

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