No, this post is not about my kids going around cussing people out (I'm sure that's coming). This is about that other F word, one that has dogged my entire existence and permeated my view of myself and one that I hope never enters my daughter's self-estimation. I'm referring of course to FAT.
Friends, my pathological fear of being fat is so deep, I am ashamed to say that one of the things I will probably regret on my death bed is that I never reached my goal weight. I hope that is not the case, but I have already wasted so much headspace and energy and angst on what I weigh or in trying not to care so much about what I weigh, there is a very good possibility. When I was in high school, I saw this made for TV movie about Karen Carpenter, who died of anorexia. I'm sure the makers of that movie intended it as a warning about the dangers of eating disorders and not as inspiration for weight loss, but that is exactly how I took it. Fortunately, I never could pull off self-starvation. For one thing, I get very shaky and faint-feeling, not to mention super cranky, after just a few hours of not eating anything. If I truly went down the anorexic path, someone would probably bludgeon me to death for being insufferable long before the disease did any damage to my health. For another thing, I simply love food. And hate it, of course. It's complicated, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton or seemingly large portions of America and Donald Trump, although that is a toxic relationship I can't pretend to understand. I also tried bulimia--while I excelled at the binging part (crushed it, truly), I have a freakishly weak gag reflex and have in fact thrown up exactly 11 times in my entire life, which admittedly has featured very little alcohol consumption. I have never been able to make myself vomit, despite great effort. So I never developed an eating disorder, despite years of trying and the ideal setting--boarding school was the perfect venue for pursuing an eating disorder, and I'm sad to say some girls had more success on that front. For one thing, the food was wretched, even by my very low standards (I even thought the Indonesian Beef and Bananas was edible). Then of course, no one really pays attention to what you are eating (or to you in general, and there is of course a connection there), except for your friends, and honestly, I am ashamed to say my worry about my friends' possible starvation was fueled more out of fear they would be thinner than me than actual care for their health. Yes, I told you, it's pathological.
So in lieu of a real eating disorder, I have spent my entire life doing what so very many women do, going around in super fun cycles of eating too much (which at age 40 consists of a cookie. ONE. Sigh.), self-flagellation, dieting, weighing myself, getting depressed, then start the whole wonderful thing over again like some sort of endless breastfeeding session. It was particularly bad in the early 90's--my deep depression during that time aside, the fashion trends were terribly unflattering (does anyone look good in high-waisted, pleated, tapered pants? No, they don't.), and I'm extremely saddened by the throwback trends were are seeing now. I predict a rash of mental illnesses stemming from a return to 90's fashion. Other than periods of ugly fashion, pregnancy and post-childbirth was pretty brutal on my self-esteem--I gained a TON of weight, outweighed my husband by around month 4, and afterwards looked like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters. I have occasionally gotten into healthy cycles where I ate very well and moderately without really worrying about what I weigh, but those never last more than a few months. The early 2000s were a good time for me, due to the prevalence of boot- and trouser-cut, flat front pants--very flattering on everyone. Getting into running was a big boost as well, because I started focusing on strength and performance rather than weight and appearance. I viewed myself as an athlete, and as big of a stretch as that is, I totally bought my own hype and it was glorious. Sadly, I haven't been able to run much of late due to injury, and things are starting to slide (including my butt down the back of my legs). I am doing other exercises, but it's pretty hard to think of yourself as an athlete and not a aging suburban mom when you are speed walking around the hood with the retirees.
In general, I hate feeling BIG. I am a tall woman with big bones, and just to stand upright and exist as a human, I have to weigh a certain amount, which is about 25 pounds more than I would like to weigh. I will never, ever be a beautiful, small Asian woman, as I have always wanted to be, or what I refer to as a "teeny girl," who is like 5'3" and 100 lbs and is at the top of the cheerleading pyramid and can be thrown around in the air by pretty much anyone or a stiff wind and is married to someone who towers over her and when they kiss, it is like Gone with the Wind, she practically throws out her neck and has to wear toe shoes just to reach his face and when she is 9 months pregnant with quadruplets she still weighs less than I do now and she is just adorable and tiny. Somehow in my mind, which is obviously really screwed up, that is more feminine than what I feel like much of the time, which is some kind of amazonian female football player without any athletic ability (Can I tell you how many times I've been asked if I play basketball? Sadly, that requires hand-eye coordination in addition to height).
I won't go into the roots of my issues here, they are many and complex, but they are real, although if you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking, "This girl is RIDICULOUS," I would have to agree with you. It IS ridiculous that I care so much, this is one of my battles that will probably go on for the rest of my life, unfortunately. I continue to work on letting go. I also try very hard not to pass my affliction down to my daughter. I can already tell she has my cankles and general body type, and I ache to think she may one day find fault with her beautiful, healthy body. I'm sure it will happen to some extent, due simply to the culture in which we live. But I don't want her to expend the kind of time and emotional energy on something that, beyond basic health, does not matter.
And I'm happy to report, that in this one, small, tiny area of motherhood, I am mostly meeting my goals. I won't say I am having success, because time will tell, and a lot of this is beyond my control. But I have consistently, mostly done the following, with of course a few lapses:
1) I keep my own self-loathing out of her earshot. I don't talk about gaining or losing weight in front of her. I don't beat up on my appearance in front of her.
2) I talk a lot about health and strength and passion. I talk about how running makes me strong and how I love doing it and how fun it is (it helps that it is all true, I'm not faking it). I talk about healthy and unhealthy food, how too much sugar will make you sick, and how much our bodies love vegetables, fruits and proteins. She knows how to read a nutrition label and immediately finds protein and sugar content. We do not talk about calories and not even fat. We stick to sugar and protein.
3) I try never to comment on the appearance of others, weight or otherwise. If I need to describe a person, I try to do it objectively. This is especially true of her friends--if I meet one of her friends, I don't say, "She's a cute girl" but rather "She seems like a sweet person" or "He's really funny."
4) I do tell her she is beautiful, because I think all girls/women need to hear that and believe that about themselves. But I try to do it in a way that is more comprehensive, and I never, ever compare her to others (i.e. Susie has such beautiful hair. Don't you want to grow your hair out like Susie?)
Y'all know I don't really give parenting advice because, hello, I'm a freaking disaster. My parenting advice usually comes down to telling folks to get them a Zoloft prescription. But this is one area that I do feel strongly about--If you have a daughter, I urge you to please be conscious of what you say and do in front of her. We are all going to screw things up, and there are so many other influences on our kids than just us, but at least try to pass on a life of health and freedom in this area. I pray the next generation of women will do a better job of loving themselves and caring for their bodies than we have.