When Dr. MB told me that she was going to blog about weight my stomach dropped. I grew fearful knowing that her post may trigger in me feelings that I did not feel prepared to address, and maybe even worse – prompt me to also create and entry about this topic. My history is in some ways complex and in others straightforward. You see, I’ve been morbidly obese, thin, and overweight. I too have fluctuated across many sizes but have pushed the limit of those sizes to places where discrimination and prejudice lie. Growing up I was always a big girl; my mother took me to the “pretty plus” section at Sears to choose from limited racks of uncool clothes, I was given a book as a tween “Can You Pinch an Inch” which confused me as I could pinch many inches, I was asked frequently by my classmates who had already internalized the bias of their parents, “how much do you weigh?” These are some of the most minor experiences of being singled out in childhood.
As I moved into my teen years and the manual scale at my pediatricians’ office kept being moved up in significant increments; the ways I felt out-of-place and unacceptable increased. Dating was off the table- my weight disqualified me from being attractive to my male peers. Constant doctors appointments, specialists, endocrinologists, nutritionists; these confirmed that I was a problem. My weight sky rocketed as I experienced some of my first depressive episodes, the ups and downs of being a teenager; the experience of being bullied for my weight by peers, teachers, teenagers who took pleasure in yelling insults at me out of the windows of their cars as I walked around my neighborhood trying to fix the problem that caused their jeers- these are the experiences of my teen years. If you have ever been morbidly obese you know the ways in which this world is not for you. It is painful and awkward both emotionally and physically; and the worst part is that everyone around you, including you, attributes these difficulties to a personal failure. I believe I know more about why I gained so much weight during those years now, but in order to provide some level of brevity to this post I will leave those musings for another time.
In college, just when I thoughts I could not live another day as an obese person my doctor, in exasperation, recommended surgery. He could help me no more. At first I was horrified and then I thought, “This could be my way out.” I was not in poor health, I was not diabetic, I was not bed ridden; what I was was a patient who couldn’t lose weight and a social pariah, and I was ready to be worthy of being welcomed back into the fold of the “normal.”
At the green age of twenty I was cut; I was given the gift of lovability, I could be acceptable. Had I known that I would have multiple complications that almost caused the loss of my life I probably would have still moved forward with surgery. After 5 days in the intensive care unit on a ventilator and 14 days in the hospital I was ready to take on the world! I only had to pack an open wound on my abdomen from the second emergency surgery for 3 months, and the one on my hand from a botched IV for 3 weeks before a skin graft could be attached a small price to pay to be accepted by this culture we live in.
Ironically within a year of my surgery I developed a condition that required medication that caused weight gain… oh well. But I did experience a sweet, sweet year of being thin enough to experience the thin privilege I’d always coveted. It was glorious.
I am now, 12 years later, overweight again. I do long to lose weight to again obtain some of the benefits of being thin. The birth of my first child, the advancement of my career, the hectic balance of work and family; these make it hard to take care of myself in the way I would like to. I now view exercise as activity, something that allows me to not experience it as punitive and aversive. I now see food as fuel, something that can allow me to feel powerful and energized and choose variety rather than just taste; I view health as a priority over weight. However, this topic still challenges me because of the trauma of a life-spent taking up more space than our culture feels is appropriate.
Here is a clip from an email I sent to Dr. MB after I finally read her post:
I’m in love with your post. To be honest I was scared to read it…. Scared because my weight, over the years, has caused me some significant trauma (some of which we have talked about and some I keep as shameful secrets). Doing so much with eating disorders I often see people say that it is just as bad to be accused of being too skinny or being asked if they were anorexic as it is for someone to be bullied for being overweight. This feels hurtful to me in those moments because being overweight in this society bares with it prejudice and discrimination at the systemic level that being thin or underweight does not. The personal attributes of thin people are not assumed to be “lazy, slovenly, unhygienic, dumb” the way overweight and obese people are often perceived. Having been both morbidly obese and thin I have first hand experience of the different ways our culture receives those two things. I think your perspective as a black woman is interesting and challenges some of the things I know to be true in white culture. I think obesity (or morbid obesity… even the name is terrifying) is universally looked at with disdain however; perhaps I am wrong on that though. Anyway… your post was wonderful, it was thoughtful and honest and really balanced and I want to write a contribution to follow it. This topic is so very raw and I always have to think about what I am comfortable saying because it’s so tender to me.
So I write my post and hold my breath. Hoping it is not met with judgment, or disgust, or the thought that “she asked for it, if she just ate less and moved more…” This is my experience and I know that it is one shared by many people whose weight struggles have extended to the highest levels of the normal curve. It is my truth and I share it boldly with courage and vulnerability. I am a believer in the healing power of stories; healing that occurs in both sharing and receiving. Stories that sustain us through thick and thin.