You’re not the boss of me

Yesterday was a bit of a landmark for me:  I finished the last session of the Learn to Eat program with Michelle (aka, The Fat Nutritionist).

I don’t want this post to come across as a commercial, but I can’t help but boggle at how much differently I feel about my relationship with food compared to just six months ago.  Yesterday, Michelle read me the following statements that I made in my application to work with her:

“I get very panicked if I have an compulsion to eat junk food and I contemplate not eating it. I feel very threatened and deprived if I think of not eating when I have the impulse; it mentally brings me back to how very miserable and ashamed I was when forced on diets or decided to diet myself.  But even though I’m not dieting any more, I still have a great deal of shame attached to eating.  I feel uncomfortable with the compulsive eating, but I also feel uncomfortable and shamed when I try to stop.  I feel like stopping eating compulsively is acknowledging that my family was right to be disgusted by me as a child, and I am so angry about that that I don’t want to stop either.  So I’d like to WANT to stop eating compulsively.”

What really blew me away is that I don’t remember how that felt anymore. I barely even remembered writing it.  The changes that she helped me initiate were so gradual, and at a pace that was respectful of what I could handle at any given point, that I didn’t really notice the gravity of the changes until I looked back at my words from February.

The single biggest change is that this work helped me to accept my own authority in choosing what and how to eat, and to trust that not only could I make decisions around food that were good for me, but that I know best what I need.

As I’ve mentioned before I was forced on diets at an incredibly early age, and certainly the messages that I couldn’t be trusted to eat didn’t come from my parents alone.  That’s what every single diet plan of the bazillions out there tells us: you can’t be trusted around food, you out-of-control fatty, so pay us money so we can tell you what to do.

Being told time and time again that I am someone who can’t be trusted with my own decisions in my own life has run deep, far beyond feeling stressed out about feeling ashamed for eating a large bag of potato chips, or even for wanting to eat those potato chips.  It’s made me question my self-worth and undermined my confidence, and made it difficult for me to find a fulfilling career path or feel worthy of advocating for myself.  It’s made me susceptible to listening when other people tell me what I should do, how I should talk, how I should eat, sleep, read – because of course they knew better than me.  It told the men who abused me that I wouldn’t question their authority, because I had none.

It seems a small thing on the face of it, to reclaim my right to eat what I want, as much as I want, but have no doubt – this is a powerful and radical act, and I’m in charge now.

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Violence without lifting a finger

This is another piece that I wrote a long time ago, but I wanted to re-post it as an illustration of what it’s like to live in an abusive relationship – I am not sure I could fully capture these feelings any more, not as urgently (thank god).  I tie my thoughts together more in my next post, but it feels important to describe what this was like in detail.

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I moved in with Larry in November of 2001. (I can’t believe it was that long ago already; I honestly think that being so shaken up by 9/11 had a little something to do with my decision to move in with him, I wanted the security. Ironic, isn’t it?) He didn’t start hitting me until March of 2002. It was a 2 month cycle; March, May, July, and then I left, although the very first morning I lived there we got into a fight and he threw me to the bed in a rage and tore my blouse off, buttons flying around the room, forever lost, and believe me, there was nothing sexy about it at all and I look back and I’m astonished that it only took 12 hours after I moved in for him to start getting physical with me. Can I tell you that that was the worst Christmas of my whole life, too? I spent it crying and alone on that ratty futon mattress in that filthy living room and thank god I had the cats for comfort as I tried not to cry and I tried to pretend everything was fine.

But it wasn’t Christmas I was thinking about this morning, it was my birthday. The weekend before my birthday, Larry threw me a surprise party (that I found out about beforehand) and it was probably the last good time I had with him. All my friends were there, and my cousin even drove up from North Carolina (and I was so shocked to see him that I started crying, and it was a relief because I didn’t have to pretend to be surprised!), and we were all drinking and laughing so hard that our sides hurt and our mouths hurt and Larry had said to me that for my birthday he wanted to get everyone who loved me in one room together and at the time I thought it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard. (Although now I am cynical – with good reason – and I suspect that his motivation was to impress upon my friends his supposed good intentions toward me, and I give them credit that they weren’t fooled as I was.)

But my birthday itself was really the turning point, the entry to the abyss, if you’ll indulge a little melodrama. That night, it was a Wednesday, we sat down to watch Billy Elliot, which I’d gotten from Netflix, and I ordered Indian take-out, and we sat on the crappy futon and Larry turned the lights out and as we watched the movie, I would occasionally glance down at my plate as I was eating to make sure I didn’t spill any food on my blouse. Suddenly Larry started sniping at me that I was “watching the movie wrong” because I was taking my eyes off the screen – for a few seconds at a time – during the dance scenes. I got annoyed – I was shocked, honestly, what a ridiculous thing to care about! – but pissed off, too, and I said something along the lines of “who the hell are you to tell me how to watch a movie? I’m not bothering you!” And that alone set everything into motion.

I wish I could remember exactly what happened. I feel the need to depict this perfectly, but it’s all so blurry. I remember he turned the movie off and turned the lights on and berated me for hours. About the same old stuff. About how I never trusted him. About how I was sucking the life out of him, draining him, how I was so hard to live with, and how much easier his life was without me before I moved in, how things weren’t working out, how he wanted me to leave, he couldn’t stand to have me there. (I look back with hindsight 20/20 and am shocked at his gall; I was the only one who worked and I paid all the bills and did the grocery shopping and cooking and cleaned as much as I could and I supported every stupid idea he ever had.) Meanwhile, I just cried, out of exhaustion and confusion, my plate of food barely touched and cold, bewildered at how our intimate night at home for my birthday could change with no warning, how the man who planned such a wonderful party for me just days earlier could be so cold and cruel to me now.

He wouldn’t let me spend the night in the bed; I spent the night of my 28th birthday alone on that thin and dirty futon mattress (can you tell how much I hated that futon?) crying myself to sleep and trying to pretend it wasn’t so bad, and again, thank god for the cats to keep me company.

The next morning I woke up to get ready to work and I hoped as I always did that he would have melted in the night, come to me with apologies and affection; although he never ever did, my hope died hard. And this is where the story is so unclear in my head, just how it happened, and where it got so shameful.

We went for a walk through the woods before I left, out the back door and into the park and into the forest, and as we walked the trails in the park he started going on and on about how what he was going to say was so important, and I had to listen and understand, and my head was so fuzzy and thick and my eyes were swollen and I felt like lead and I just wanted him to shut up but I listened, even though he never made any sense, I realize that now, it was all hot air and bullshit and smoke and mirrors, but that day I listened.

He started asking me questions like “we can both agree that out of the both of us, I’m the one who has his act together the most, right?” Again, in retrospect, this is laughable. I was working, running the household, had a strong network of friends and family, and he was the one sitting at home unemployed and stagnant and unproductive and bitter and angry at the whole world. But I was so battered emotionally, and so confused and lost, that it actually seemed true, because he acted like he knew it all, and I felt like I didn’t know anything. (A friend called him The Guru – she told me after I left – because he lectured me incessantly about what I needed to do to improve my life.)

So as we sat on a rock in the deep woods, he said something like “I talked this over with my social worker, and he agreed that this was a good idea. I want you to agree to go along with what I tell you to do – when to eat, what to read, how to keep your schedule, get up in the morning and exercise – because these are the things that are working in my life, and I need you to do them to fix your life if I’m going to be able to live with you. I need you to do these things and not question me about them and trust me for three months, like a probationary period. If you can do this for three months, then you can stay; but if you get willful or rebellious or question me, then you’ll have to leave immediately. Remember, the social worker said that it was a good idea.”

Of course those aren’t his words. I can’t remember them specifically, and he was clever enough of course to sugarcoat them into something a lot less blatant than how I wrote them – how I wrote them is really what he meant, and I wish I had a tape recording of that conversation, so I could hear how he possibly could have phrased that so I could have possibly agreed to it.

But of course I agreed to it. I was demoralized, depressed, lonely, scared, I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. He hadn’t even hit me yet. How could I have called and said to someone “Larry is making me do what he tells me to?” I was humiliated, and I still am. I am so ashamed that I said yes.

The five months from my birthday until I left him were the lowest moments of my entire life, lower than I could ever imagine possible. He gave me books to read and wouldn’t let me read anything else, and anyone who’s known me for more than a day knows how much of a violation that was. I would sneak to the library on my lunch break and get out books that I wanted to read and leave them at the office and sometimes even dare to keep them in my purse, all the time making sure never to say “I read something the other day” or otherwise give myself away.

He wouldn’t let me listen to the news in the morning, and I would turn the radio on to hear the weather and if I left it on after the weather he would get out of bed and glare at me with those stone eyes and berate me for trying to get away with hearing some news.

Mind you, this was all for my own good.

He would keep me up late at night and then insist that we get up early to exercise, except that his back always hurt and he stopped doing it himself, insisting that I do it alone, but do the exact routine he specified, and every morning I tried to just get some more sleep, oh please god I just need some sleep before I trying to make it through a whole day at work, and he would berate me for trying to get away with sleeping in.

Around my birthday I was taking singing classes and one Sunday perhaps two weeks later I came home from class exhausted – it was about six PM – and Larry started going on and on about how I needed to keep my schedule organized and I needed a planner. When I told him, hello, I’ve got an electronic planner that works fine, he insisted that I needed a written one, even though my handwriting is bad and I hate how my hand cramps up and I never had any problems with the electronic one, because he had a written planner, and I had to do it his way, right? (Never mind that he was constantly missing or late to appointments even with his oh-so-precious planner.)

Fine, fine, I said, I’ll get one in the neighborhood tomorrow at work. That wasn’t good enough – even though it was almost seven already at this point, he wanted us to go to Staples (a good 200 block trip one way) that evening, and when I protested that I was too tired, he said, “that’s it, you’re not keeping to our agreement, you don’t trust me, I want you out of here, out of my apartment, out of my life, start making arrangements to get out.” And as I sobbed and wept and protested how unfair it was, he looked at me with disgust and said “look at you, look at how upset you are, how you’re acting, what’s wrong with you?” which made me cry even more, and this cycle continued and continued until I literally thought I was going to die from the crying, or I wanted to anyway, and then something snapped in him and he started holding me and stroking my hair and comforting me as my breath came in great heaving sobs and he did that to me time and time again and I am so ashamed still that I lived like that, in such turmoil.

I lived like that for five months. Every day on the edge, sick, scared, furious but unable to acknowledge it even to myself, beaten down, subjugated, humiliated and silent. The physical assaults were nothing compared to this whittling away of me, the thousands of daily little cuts that shredded me.

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Asking for it

I feel like I end up writing some kind of definitive conclusion at the end of my posts: I used to think that, now I think this, and the lessons have been learned, thank you very much.  But I want to talk about something that I just have no idea how to sum up, or even what I think very clearly about it.  I am hoping to process.

I am going to write about sex, so if you know me, and don’t want to read about my thoughts about sex, you might want to stop reading.  (Also, be forewarned that there’s some graphic descriptions of fat hatred below.)

So the other day I was looking on a website described as a Facebook type site for kinky people (I am being circumspect intentionally.)  I am not exactly sure I would describe myself as kinky, although perhaps kink-friendly and kink-curious would fit the bill.  Primarily I was looking because having had this difficult relationship with my body all these years, I don’t feel like I am always in my body during sex.  Doing yoga, sure – I can really take up space and fill up with breath and be right there in the moment (at least for a moment), but sex is harder.  I have been sexually active for about 20 years and often still feel as if I am observing from afar or performing.  I am often not embodied during sex, because I still haven’t entirely convinced myself that I can ask for more from sex than using it to prove my worth as an attractive woman.  So I thought that this website might be a good place to look for a community of body-positive people and find some resources for getting into my body during sex.

One of the things I did was specifically search for the word “fat,” to see what came up.  I realize I do this a lot with any sort of new experience – try to suss out beforehand what kind of reception I might get as a fat woman.  Is it even worth trying out?  Is this a safe place for me?

I found fat acceptance groups, which was reassuring to see, and fat fetish groups, which I expected, and even found groups like “no fatties wanted, only hotties!” – the existence of which, having perused Craigslist for more than three minutes, didn’t surprise me at all.

But then I found some groups I had no idea existed, and which really knocked the wind out of me in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.  These were groups like “fat pigs and the people who love to abuse them.”  Where women with bodies like mine post invitations like these:

“Feel free to leave humiliating comments and share my pics with anyone who needs a laugh! Please point out to me all of the flaws with my body in merciless and cruel detail!  If you send me a humiliating message, please really tell me in detail everything about my body that is unattractive…. If you are not into BBW’s at all, then please tell me that too. Make it perfectly clear that you have zero interest in me sexually. Tell me how I am WAY too fat for you to ever consider having sex with and how disgusting my body is to you. Feel free to use my pics as a joke to gross out your buddies.”  (This is just a tiny sample of what I found.)

I felt physically sick after reading this, because these are the words and opinions that I have tried to avoid my whole life, the kinds of things I have feared my whole life.  I remember dating Jeff, my first boyfriend, and how much he loved when I would perform for him sexually yet he would be embarrassed to introduce me to people in public.  How he would cry tears of self-pity because he wanted a girlfriend who was small enough to sit in his lap, and yet he wound up with me.  (And I remember how I stayed with him for years after that, even after he broke up with me and he slept with me on the side.)  I remember the men who would pick me up at bars and act as if they were attracted to me until they got me where they wanted me, until they got what they wanted.  I remember my sexual assault.

My husband and I have been together for seven years, and I think that it has only been since the last year that on some level I have stopped waiting for that dangling sword to fall, for him to tell me one day, by the way, I think you are so hideous and worthless and disgusting and I never loved you and you were a fool for thinking anyone could ever love you.

So when I look at these fetish posts, I have an immediate recoil – how can someone invite this kind of abuse?  How can someone respond sexually to this kind of abuse?  It is something I absolutely never want to have anywhere near me, ever again.

But I wonder about the woman who posted these words.  Maybe she is tired of waiting for the sword to fall, wondering when the cut is coming.  Maybe it gives her power to decide when and how this denigration of her body that she feels is inevitable will occur.  Do the words lose their sting when they’ve been requested?

(And what of the people who want to deliver this abuse?  I don’t even know what to do about that, not today.)

I still feel like I’m judging her, and I don’t want to.   I have some submissive tendencies in bed, and I can easily understand them as my own imperfect way of dealing with a lifetime of misogynistic messages.  Everyone copes in their own way (although I don’t want to position kink as a mere response to societal messages).  But I just really want a world where people don’t have to preemptively hate themselves because it’s better than waiting for the inevitable.

(So this is me thinking about it – I would love to hear from people who have thought these things through in deeper ways than I’ve been able to accomplish here. )

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Fat is easy, acceptance is hard

I have been at least lurking if not participating in the fat acceptance community for so long that I can forget how un-mainstream the idea of not wanting to lose weight can be. I received a lovely email from a reader the other day cheering me on and wishing me happiness and success, including in losing weight.  I was so pleased at her kindness that I had to do a double take and realized, wow, I’m not communicating myself very well if it sounds like I’m unhappy being the size I am.

So for spelling it out loud, my name is Claudia, I’m fat, I don’t diet, and I don’t hate myself for being fat.

As difficult as it was growing up with the stigmatizing messages I got from my family and those around me, I’m grateful that my voyage to fat acceptance has been pretty smooth sailing, all things considered.

After all of the diets I’d been put on as a kid, I picked up the mantle myself my senior year of high school, and went on the most restrictive diet I’ve ever been on.  I was eating far under 1000 calories a day, weighing myself three times a day, and exercising at top speed at least an hour a day, if not more.  Such drastic behavior would better be described as disordered eating, but as the weight came off, I got accolades instead of concern.  I was a straight-A student at the top of my class, but everyone looked at me as if dropping those dress sizes was somehow my greatest achievement.

(I remember two lone voices of dissent at the time.  We had to keep a food journal for a short time in biology class and my teacher told me that I needed to be eating more – not something I wanted to hear at the time.  My brother also told me that counting fat grams was going to make me boring, which now makes me laugh with its truth.)

Of course, you all know how the story ends.  The work it took to maintain the loss and try for more became untenable.  I was buzzing on the adrenaline of righteous hunger and the banishment of my old self, and couldn’t bear a single break in the wall I’d built up to protect myself from being who I used to be.  I remember my father bringing home sandwiches for dinner, and my plain veggie sub had oil and mayonnaise against my strict instructions for bare bread.  I remember sobbing and screaming that he was trying to sabotage me – clearly, I wasn’t in any kind of sustainable state.

So when I couldn’t do it anymore, the weight came back.  Again, not an unusual story, but I was lucky in that I only had a few more minor dieting attempts before I realized that this just wasn’t any way to live my life.  Now I’ve been about the same size for about 15 years, and I feel as if I’ve reached a state of true acceptance around my body.  My body is me, I am my body – I live in it every day, and I try to live the best life I can, just like everyone else.  Giving up the Sisyphean task of dieting and self-hatred feels great, even if it means that my body doesn’t look the way I used to think it had to in order to be happy.

What occurs to me now, though, is how much trouble I have with acceptance in just about every other aspect of my life.  I am impatient at small inconveniences, rage against my life not being exactly the way I think it should be, think that if I just protest enough, life won’t be what it is. I may not feel inferior for being fat, but I’ll feel inferior for being over-educated and under-employed, for being raised in a blue-collar town in a family without much money, for being in my mid-30s without owning a house or having the picture-perfect marriage, for having recurring depression, for being somewhat unfocused and unclear about what to do with my life.

So now that I’ve accepted being fat, maybe it’s time to start accepting the rest of me.

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Happy returns

One of the reasons I started writing again is that my husband and I are going through a separation of sorts.  It is hard to know what to call it, how to view it.

I met Carl almost seven years ago, a year after I had ended a physically and emotionally abusive relationship that left me reeling.  I wrote like a fiend in that year I was single, processing my pain, trying to fit things in perspective, purging all the things I didn’t have the safety to feel or acknowledge when I was with my ex.  It was such an intense time, a roller coaster of emotions that had been repressed for so long, and so heady with self-discovery.  Right before I met Carl I had gone to northern California by myself, for my first trip I ever took, planned, and paid for by myself.  My mother had fretted about me going alone to “such a big city!”  “Mom, I live in New York City – I’m in a gigantic city every day.”  “And I worry about you every day!” she cried.  I come from a very anxious family, and don’t exclude myself from that description, but the trip to California was amazing, everything I had hoped for and more, with no anxiety at all.  When I came back to New York, I felt on top of the world.

(The picture at the top of the blog is me stepping in the Pacific Ocean for the very first time.)

Perhaps a month after I returned, Carl replied to an ad I had put on a dating site and since forgotten about, as it hadn’t gotten a single response in months.  He wrote me short, sweet emails that were curious and respectful and well-composed (all rarities in internet dating!), and although our first encounters were a bit awkward, I soon fell in love with his intelligence and calm nature and dry sense of humor and the knowledge that I would be safe with him.

Not long after, I stopped writing.

One reason is that I didn’t feel comfortable writing about Carl online, since he is a much more private person than I am, and I wanted to respect that.  (I still do, and am trying to keep the right balance here.)

I also thought to myself, I am so happy – I can only write when I am miserable. What could I possible have to say now?  So I stopped with the daily checking-in that writing provided me, even in my own personal journal.

Last year Carl decided to apply for a fellowship to do research overseas, for a two year period.  The application process was grueling in so many ways, but particularly because we had absolutely no idea how to talk to each other about it, about making such a drastic change in our lives.  He wanted the work and the change and the adventure so much that he couldn’t hear how dreadful the idea of being a trailing spouse was to me, and I was so scared of the change that I didn’t listen to how important the fellowship was to him.

So he sent the application in, and I figured that statistics were on my side – I would just assume he wouldn’t get it, and shoved it off to a dusty corner in the back of my mind.

Well, I am writing this post in Europe.  So much for denial.

We have been here for a year, and it has been an incredible strain in so many ways. After much fighting and depression and sadness, we mutually agreed that it made sense for me to go back to New York, while he stays to finish his work, and we will re-assess our relationship when he is done.  I write this not to air our dirty laundry, but because of what has changed in my life since committing to going back.

Like I said, I haven’t written seriously in years.  I didn’t even feel like writing; I felt numb.  But suddenly words are just pouring out of me, like water out of a collapsed dam.  I can’t sleep at night, with all of the words racing in my head.  I felt fuzzy and dulled for at least a year and now I have this calm, razor focus.

It might seem that I’m suggesting that Carl is somehow responsible for my writing slump, seeing that I stopped writing when we met and am only starting again now that we’ll be living apart.  But really, it has so little to do with him, and so much to do with me.

I wanted safety so bad after my ex that I sacrificed a part of my life that I found useful and fulfilling because I didn’t want to rock the boat.  Because it might make Carl uncomfortable.  Or because it might force me to realize my dissatisfaction with various parts of my life.  Because if I grew or changed, I might lose my safe haven.  Yet this stubborn denial of myself turned a safe haven into a small, suffocating box – for both of us.

(Pretty clichéd, right?  But it’s a cliché for a reason.  I know I’m not the only woman to fall in this trap.)

It’s only now that I was able to say hey, I really need to go back, I really want this, that things started to change. So my goal here is to exercise my rusty voice, aiming for clear, compassionate honesty.  Let’s see how it goes.

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Being Auntie Claudia

I don’t have any children, but I have two nieces who are the love of my life.

Bella is almost ten.  She has the loveliest warm eyes, a smattering of freckles across her nose that she doesn’t like but I think is the cutest thing ever, a wickedly sardonic sense of humor even at her age, and an enthusiasm for life that bubbles right through her emails.  (We have become pen pals since she got an email account.)

Maddie is almost seven.  She has blonde hair like my brother did at her age, and is breathtakingly fearless – she will jump into any activity without a second (or even first) thought.  She loves to make faces, scream, make noise, make herself heard.  She has a fashion sense that has nothing to do with prescription and is pure self-expression.

My family, as many families are wont to do, makes comparisons between the generations.  There is a picture of my brother Jeremy when he was young that Maddie used to think was a picture of her, they looked so much alike at the same ages.  The family lore also says that they have the same personality – Jeremy was the daredevil while I was the bookworm, and Bella and Maddie are seen in the same way.

Bella looks a great deal like me, to the point where she has been mistaken for my daughter in public.  She also has many of the characteristics that my family liked to note in me at her age: she’s clumsy in comparison to Maddie’s dexterity, she reads and writes beyond her age level, she can sometimes get caught up in her head and not notice what’s going on outside of it.  Her parents even call her Mini Auntie Claudia, particularly when she’s just tripped over something.

It is an interesting experience watching my nieces grow up, one that is often poignant.  At Bella’s age, she is already starting to show some signs of puberty – like me in childhood, she is not just above average in her intelligence and skills, but in height and weight for her age.

It is hard for me to remember when I was first scrutinized for eating, when I was first put on a diet, because I was so young that I can’t be sure.  I have strong family memories that help me put it in some context: one of my first is of eating some Doritos at a party my parents threw and my father scolding me for not needing them in front of all his friends.  I was about five, if I remember correctly.

When I was six, my grandmother bought me a shirt and told me I could have it only if I lost ten pounds.   My mind boggles now at the sheer cognitive overload such a request was at that age, but then I really just wanted that shirt.  It was navy blue with long sleeves, and had a Noah’s Arc scene embroidered on the chest and the arms, and I loved the animals.  I also hadn’t the faintest idea how to lose ten pounds.  She eventually got disgusted with my lack of willpower and gave me the shirt anyway.  The animals had lost their charm at that point.

When I was eight, my mother gave me a diet book and told me to start following it.  I don’t remember the name of it, but I can picture it vividly in my head.  It was bright yellow, and had before and after pictures of kids from fat camp.  I remember it had recipes requiring copious amounts of saccharine, exhortations to think of spaghetti as bloody worms so you wouldn’t want to eat it, and suggestions to tie bags of frozen peas to your ankles in lieu of weights for leg lifts (this particular technique was supposed to give me the shapely legs of an ice skater.)

(My mother still has that book on the bookshelf in her bedroom.  I want to take it from the shelves and set that fucker on fire.)

Meanwhile, my mother still cooked the way she always did.  I don’t blame her for that one bit; we had little money, my father is an incredibly fussy and inflexible eater, and feeding a family is hard.  (Hell, I find it hard enough in my family of two.)  But I was eight, and told to make that diet work for me, while nothing in my environment changed.  At the same time, I remember coming home from the third grade one day after one of those dreaded public weigh-ins, and my parents demanded that I tell them how much I weighed.  I laid face first on the kitchen floor with my head in my hands and wouldn’t say a word as my father shouted, “I bet you weigh as much as your mother!”

Writing about this, I notice an urge to downplay how much it hurt me.  Other people have had it worse, right?  My mother’s mother (of the shirt bribe) was an alcoholic, and I grew up hearing stories of how abusive and chaotic the household was.  (My mother often couldn’t hear me when I talked about what was hurting me, because hey, at least I didn’t have to raise my siblings and clean up vomit from my drunken mother.)  Even the body shaming could have been so much worse.  I remember reading an account of a woman whose father would give her a lashing for every pound she didn’t lose toward her “goal” weight.  So this makes me feel in some ways like a whiny little baby for even talking about it with any kind of gravity.

But then I look at Bella, living so happily in a body so much like mine at that age, and the idea of her undergoing any of that shame or self-hatred crushes me, in a way I couldn’t feel it for myself.

I look at Bella and Maddie, and I want a different life for them.  They are so vibrant, so carefree and alive and at home in their bodies and their personalities and their right to exist and take up space and be noticed.  I know this isn’t an easy world for girls, and that they will have darker things to deal with as they get older, pressures to hide their light lest they shine too brightly.  But I want them to have a fighting chance.

I have never talked to my brother about weight or food, not really.  He went through an anorexic phase in his teens so I know he didn’t get out unscathed either, but our family is good at avoiding talking seriously about, well, anything.  The idea of talking to him scares me, feels like making myself vulnerable in a way I’m not used to showing him.  But I think about saying to him, see what was done to me, and how long it has taken me to feel worthy or valuable, to eat and love and live without shame.  Use my experiences to help your daughters avoid that same pain.

As for me, I’m just going to keep being fat Auntie Claudia, loving my nieces with everything I’ve got.

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Thinking about abuse and my body

I’m still pretty new at getting back to writing, so I don’t know how polished this will be just yet, but I want to throw some thoughts out.

So, this post.   One of the things that stands out to me with more distance since it happened is that yeah, sure, I would certainly have done things differently.  I probably would have taken more safety precautions, not met him in my dorm room, etc.  But you know?  I’ve gone home with strangers plenty of times and NOT been assaulted.  The difference is that of the person who chose to assault me.  So I don’t beat myself up any more about my choices.

What really strikes me, though, is how much a lifetime of having my body be completely devalued for being fat totally contributed to me being the perfect target for abuse.  Since I was about five, my parents berated me for eating and being fat and not exercising and of course they “meant well”, but how does someone that young really understand that they were just disgusted by my fat and not me, as if again, my body were somehow a foreign grotesquity my brain was trapped in?

And of course it wasn’t just my parents.  My story is nothing unique to fat kids at all.  I was picked on on the playground, taunted, called a whale.  (I remember my mother telling me that I should just tell them that “whales are beautiful and proud creatures and so I’m happy to be called a whale,” which, while I appreciate the sentiment as an adult, was about the least useful advice for elementary school bullying I can imagine.)  The school nurse in 4th grade yelled at me because I came to her with a twisted ankle and she said that my ankles were so thick that she couldn’t tell if it was swollen.  My orthodontist, during the three years I wore braces, would wait until he had his hands in my mouth and then tell me that I really needed to lose weight.

These instances – only the tip of the iceberg  – were really painful to live through, although I have rarely admitted that out loud to people.  Even now some of the shame lingers (hence my decision to write about it, get rid of it).  But my overwhelming emotion now is anger.  Anger that my body was not my own, but something public, something to be remarked upon, criticized, forced to be modified to become more pleasing to the people who had to look at it.

Is it any wonder that the man who sexually assaulted me felt he had the right to my body as well?

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