February 07, 2011

Part One: Weight Loss – The Early Years

I'm talking weight loss this week.  If you missed The Prologue, it's right hereIf you are not into this kind of stuff, here is your warning:  Go ahead and skip this one.

I personally think Weight loss and body image are fascinating topics.  Hell, Oprah has practically built her career addressing these issues and while she may not be a role model for successful weight loss, her openness to discuss her struggles about something so personal is respectable.  But context is key when you are discussing weight loss, I think.  Who wants to hear a supermodel talk about how they've lost those pesky three pounds and are finally bikini ready, right?  In order to give you an accurate understanding of what a profound change the last 6 months have been in my life, I feel like you should know a little context about my own struggles, so that is right where we are going to start this story.

When I think about it, I feel like I have struggled with my weight all my life.  The truth is this statement is probably more of a body image issue, however, and not a actual factual representation of the past.  Though closely related, the two are separate problems and gladly at 32 I am finally able to tell the difference.  When I see pictures of my younger self I was certainly no waif, but I also wasn't problematically obese either.  I was just perfect.  But I was also the daughter of an NFL defensive Lineman, and my body reflected that -- we've talked about this before.  Why it became problematic was that I was a competitive dancer and that is a subculture that doesn't take kindly to all body types -- this shouldn't surprise you.

What may surprise you, is that I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting when I was 9 years old.  It was a gray room of old people, I thought, and I remember leaving with boxes of powders and no clue what to do with them.  Maybe this makes you wonder what kind of heathen parents I had to make me do this, but I assure you my mother only took me there after weeks of me begging.  The message from my ballet teacher was loud and clear:  I needed to lose 20 lbs if I was going to have a career as a dancer.  And damnit if my little 9 year old Type -A self wasn't a hair close to the character Natalie Portman plays in Black Swan.  I was going to be perfect.

I knew that losing weight was going to be the solution to this problem, but at that age I had no idea how to get there.  Losing weight is not something you know how to do at 9.  I thought I would go to these meetings and get better.  No one was discussing the basics of food really, and I didn't even do the grocery shopping so the relationship between what I ate versus what was happening with my body wasn't linear in my mind.  I attended these meetings where women talked about using food to soothe their emotions but I couldn't even relate.  I ate when I was hungry, I didn't when I wasn't -- I knew I wasn't "using food" but I also still had this extra 20 lb problem that seemed to not be getting any better.  

The whole thing is ridiculous in hindsight.  In defense of my parents, my mom only meant well and I'm sure her perception of how things happened is much different than mine.  Also, she was doing her best to help me with the tools that she had.  This may come as a surprise also, but I'm sure my ballet teacher meant well too.  She could see my competitive zest and probably wasn't trying to nip "my problem" in the bud early.  But the only real thing I remember during that time period was that I began to know shame.  During one of my meetings I ran into another girl from my ballet class and I was happy to see her.  But her mother pulled me aside afterward and in an almost scolding tone took me by the arm and said "Please pretend you never saw us here.  And DO NOT discuss it with others."  I learned that I needed to be embarrassed that day.  I learned that I was in this club that no one really wanted to join.  But still, no one thought to talk to me much about food.

Obviously this experience was not a success for me.  I know, you can close your mouth from shock now.  But at 13 I quit dancing altogether and transitioned to cheerleading with most of my friends and really this rendered the point moot.  I still wasn't tiny, but I was athletic, I had good friends and I was pretty sure the competitive pressure was behind me.  And it was for the most part, except for one day when our (crazy lunatic of an) adviser approached me in front of a room full of people during our uniform fitting and said "Wow, those are some boobs!"  So yeah, that was awkward.  And then she quietly suggested that I may want to try and lose 20 lbs and had I ever tried Weight Watchers, lots of people had had success there?  I just remember feeling so defeated, thinking I would never escape those damn 20 lbs and now all of a sudden I had to be worried about my enormous boobs?  Awesome!  No big deal, I mean what do you really have to worry about in high school anyway, right?

But the truth was, it wasn't that I didn't want to take the necessary steps to look a little different -- but honestly, at that point I had no idea how.  

In Part Two I'll tell you about how moving out and managing my own kitchen finally started yielding some results.  Though not exactly the the results you might think...


Amy said...

God, I can so relate to the shame thing. Growing up, my childhood best friend's mom used to constantly make comments about how "little" my friend was and just dismiss my body as "curvier." It was crazy that at age 5, someone had already mentioned that my body was different and by comparison, not as good as someone else's. I also had the dance experience, before a teacher brushed it off by saying I just didn't have a dancer's body. And then I knew that what she meant was that my body was imperfect. Couple that with a mom who has her own serious body issues and bam. The shame and struggle.

This is such a good post.

Kate said...

I'm so glad you're writing about this. I had the same thing growing up, always thinking I needed to lose X pounds. Of course when I look back at photos, I think I looked fine. Great, even! But at the time I was always looking to hide my shame somewhere. Usually under bad posture, baggy men's Levis, and oversized Smiths t-shirts. What a delight I was.

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