It would be a significant surprise to me and all who know me if I hadn’t been put on this Earth to write. It is all I’ve ever done. It is surely all I shall ever do.
You see, I’ve kept a diary (or twenty) since I first learned how to formulate a half legible sentence.
In the very early days, my diaries were filled with benign musings about new movies I wished to see, boys I thought were (“really, really, really, really, really, really, really”) cute at school, presents I wanted for my birthday, or places I’d gone on vacation with my family. You know, typical little girl nonsense.
I was about seven or eight when the pink tinged pages of my Lisa Frank diaries started taking on a very different tone. Twenty four years later, I am still singing the same unfortunate song: Dear Diary, I’m FAT.
Throughout elementary school, this solitary statement continually found itself scrawled across my diary pages in one form or another. Back then, I hadn’t made the transition from #2 pencil to ballpoint pen yet, so this was a sentence that was always darker and heavier handed than the other lines around it.
Leaving no room for someone to question its validity, I wrote this particular statement with such certainty and determination that the leaded point of my pencils often scratched clear through to the next page. I even capitalized the word “fat”, so you knew I meant business.
And yet, no one had ever called me fat before.
It wasn’t until about fifth grade that my body weight finally normalized, rendering me a kid of average weight. Still, I somehow managed to adopt a chronic, overarching fear of becoming fat, even though I wasn’t and had never been. All at once, my weight became a preoccupation that I still cannot explain or overcome.
So then, how did I come to the conclusion that I had something to be worried about?
Honestly? I still don’t know for sure, but it was the 90s for crying out loud. I mean, I can see how today’s youth could become overly concerned about body image at an early age, but back then? Even though obesity wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is now, I don’t recall there being an excessive amount of societal pressure to look a certain way—not like today, anyhow.
As for pressure from my family… that’s another story entirely.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Though they were never overzealous about health or weight matters, both of my parents were quite particular about watching their weight when I was growing up.
As early as five or six, I became consciously aware of how often my father would lift weights or make chocolate Slim Fast shakes. I’d always beg him to let me have some (I mean, it was chocolate. What kid doesn’t want something chocolate flavored?), and even though my mother would always tell him not to let me have any, he’d usually leave a little extra in the blender just for me.
Likewise, my mother was always careful to “watch her weight”, so I grew up being fully aware of what it meant to “diet” or “cut back”.
All the same, my parents never pointed out the weight of others, and they definitely never used derogatory terms such as “fat”. This is terminology I picked up elsewhere.
My grandparents (on my mother’s side) were very particular about weight. Not only were they mindful of their own figures, but they often took it upon themselves to be concerned about everyone else’s too. This was especially true of my grandmother.
My mother would always tell me how my grandfather would tease her, her siblings, and her mother by challenging everyone to get on the scale and see who weighed the least. Of course, he was the smallest one, so it was never much of a competition at all.
My mom would also tell me how her father used to tell her “not to get fat on him”. After all, she “needed to find a husband”, so it was imperative that she maintained a particular dress size. Being a kind hearted man, he surely said this primarily in jest. However, I am sure an underlying belief that most men aren’t particularly attracted to larger women played a significant role in “the joke” as well.
My grandmother always echoed this same sentiment when I was growing up—only much louder. I’m actually not going to talk about her too much just yet because she plays a significant role in this story later on. But for now, let’s just say that she was very much indoctrinated with the whole “women must be thin to be attractive” theory.
All of this sounds downright awful when I actually type it out, but I’m not bringing any of this up to demonize or blame anyone.
I understand that my grandparents came from a very different time in which finding a husband was usually a woman’s primary objective in life. Having these beliefs (however dated and ridiculous as they may now sound) didn’t make them bad people; it just made them people who probably shouldn’t have been sharing their views with their highly impressionable, people-pleasing granddaughter.
And so, like the dummy I was, I started parroting tidbits of this same erroneous and self-limiting belief system. Before long, my inner dialogue was rife with negative and grossly inaccurate criticisms.
The ranting scribblings of my diary became more fervent and concerned.
As I got older and became more interested in boys and fashion, my weight increasingly became the primary focus of my attention. I still remember putting myself on strict “diets” before important events such as the first day of school or vacations. I would read about celebrity diets in my parents’ and grandparents’ magazines, wishing that I could be as pretty (aka thin) as the actresses and singers within the glossy pages.
Food swiftly became my mortal enemy.
Upon learning to label foods as “good/okay to eat” or “bad/off limits”, my once sweet and innocent diary morphed into a scathing food journal… as well as a private space to berate my body, however normal it may have been at the time. I started throwing food away from the lunches that my mother packed and I wouldn’t eat all of the food on my plate at dinner. I religiously wrote down everything I ate and every minute of exercise I performed as though keeping track of the data would keep me on track.
Instead of watching tv like my friends, I would spend my afternoons in the basement, running on the treadmill or riding the stationary bike for hours on end. What should have been normal recreational activities were calculated rituals for me. I no longer did them because I necessarily liked them, I did them because I sincerely feared what would happen if I didn’t.
In between weighing myself several times a day, teaching myself to scrutinize food labels, and scrawling hate letters to my “fat and hideous” body parts, I began taking notice of other people and their weight.
Girls at school and perfect strangers on the street were simultaneously the object of my pity, fear, and loathing. I keenly observed how the bigger girls at school, however slightly overweight they were, were treated much differently than their female counterparts who would have been considered average or skinny.
Boys didn’t pay the “chubby girls” very much attention, and some were even made the object of their cruel jokes. The thinner girls seemed to have a slight aversion to them as well, even if the effect was far less notable.
The same girls who were good enough to chat with at school often failed to receive invitations to weekend get-togethers like trips to the mall, sleepovers, or birthday parties. And at a time when owning trendy clothing from stores like Abercrombie and Fitch was a prerequisite for social acceptance, the restrictive sizing of such brands left some of my classmates by the wayside.
Compliments = Currency
Around this same time, one of my teenage female cousins began to have noticeable weight issues, which our grandmother was swift to address. Even today, I can still vaguely recall conversations the family would have with my cousin about her weight. They didn’t think she dressed appropriately for her size, so they encouraged her to either choose more modest clothing (also read as less form fitting) or lose the excess weight.
At first, my cousin didn’t seem to mind everyone’s nagging, but I felt embarrassed enough for her. After all, she was older than I was… old enough to have a boyfriend! Didn’t she care if boys thought she was fat? Didn’t she care that her clothes didn’t fit properly, that she was regularly the topic of such unpleasant conversation? I certainly did.
As ashamed as I am to admit it and though I genuinely hope I never showed it, I often swelled with pride that I was the naturally “thin one” in the family.
By fifth and sixth grade, I had become quite the little fashionista, which my grandmother thought was simply adorable. She would go on and on about how stylish I was, how tall and thin I was (for my age), and how glamorous I would surely be one day. When I would go to my grandparents’ house to visit, I could always look forward to her turning our greetings at the gate into a five minute fashion show for her to ooh and ahh at my outfits.
It always made me so happy to hear someone say that I was thin and pretty–even perfect strangers. After all, I fretted about it enough.
But once the high of the compliments wore off, I would once again be left to worry about being viewed by others as “fat and ugly”. I didn’t want to be picked last for things at school or get turned down by the boys I liked. I wanted to be able to wear cute, trendy clothes and be popular. And I certainly didn’t want to end up like my cousin, who was routinely scolded for not eating properly or not exercising enough.
So often I would try to quell my anxieties by promising myself that no matter what, I would never allow myself to get fat.
Still, the fear grew. And as it did, the diary pages rapidly filled with bold, frantic #2 pencil.
© C.M. 2019 All Rights Reserved
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