Friday, October 27, 2006

Fat

This post is a long time in coming. It's long overdue, and probably the reason for it's delay is the same old societal voices and familial expecations that have dogged me since I was a very little girl. But I am writing it now. It was spurred on by an anonymous commenter on someone else's blog. I have disabled anomymous comments, so this person couldn't comment directly here without losing anonymity. I was surprised by the level of venom and hatred there. This person found something to criticize about every member of my family, just by looking through my blog. It covers the gamit, from long hair on boys to enviromentalism/liberalism right down to the fact that I am fat.

Yes, I am fat. I am fat. I am fat. I am not "overweight", I am not "chubby", I am not "pleasingly plump" (well, maybe that last one...). I am fat. Obese, even.

I have been or felt fat for most of my life. The earliest I remember going on a diet to lose weight was at age 11. I look at pictures of me at that age, and I wonder, what was I thinking? I wasn't fat. I was...kind of awkward looking. I was going through that adolescent thing where parts grow at different rates from each other. But I wasn't fat. I felt fat, though.

Society expects certain things of us. Some are reasonable. Some are not. This anonymous commenter wrote about lots of these societal expectations, implying that my kids are freaky because they still like to dress up as people other than themselves, at age 9 and 12, especially at times other than Halloween. That is one societal expectation that I definitely would like to challenge. Why is it bad to explore lots of different ways of being after small childhood? I cannot for the life of me understand that. But this post is about body image, not about dressing up.

I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing those who have made it their goal to lose weight in a healthy way. I applaud those of you who have done this while not tying your self-confidence to weight loss. For me, self-confidence was always some pounds away. If I could just lose that weight, and be able to fit into a size X, I would feel better about myself and then I could accomplish things and be a more confident person. Then people wouldn't think I'm a slob.

I can remember, on the day that Zachary was baptized, talking with a friend about how discouraged I was that I'd gained so much weight and looked so frumpy and awful. It didn't help me all that much at the time (I still felt frumpy and awful) but what she said to me worked it's way into my psyche and perhaps started my little revolution. She said that she thinks society is awfully hard on moms. People expect them to be "back in shape" by three months after birth, when the reality is that pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing take a big toll on a mother's body. And she said I was beautiful.

I've for years pinned my change of mind on reading a book that I'll highlight in a minute. But right now I want to go to the day that Hibi was born. Carissa, she was then. (Yes, Anonymous, I even let my kids change their names if they want to.) On the day she was born, I felt so powerful. I'd been wakened at 2 am by the waters breaking, and labored hard for four hours, when at 6 in the morning Carissa was born. I did it without drugs of any kind. I did it with minimal other interventions from the doctor and nurse (though they imposed some extremely unhelpful ones...). My body had done this amazing thing! I was beyond ecstatic. I could hardly believe that this body that I'd always thought of as a burden could possibly do something this wonderful. I think this was the true beginning of my own little revolution in the body image area.

In 1999, in the spring just before we were to move away from Boston where Paul went to seminary, and Zachary was two years old (and I still hadn't lost that baby weight, and in fact had added more), I read an amazing book. It was called (at that time) Adios, Barbie. It has since changed it's name, because of a certain huge corporation being a bit upset about that title. It's now called Body Outlaws.

This book was an amazing thing for me. It made me look at my own body in such a different light. I saw that yeah, I'm fat. Fat is another body type--there are slim, short, tall, stocky, willowy, many types of bodies. My body is healthy. I have always been a very healthy person. I have not been sick very much in my life. I do not have any major health conditions, and never have. (I actually just returned from the doctor and she said that she doesn't usually see people with such negative health history--meaning nothing to report!) This book told me that I have the option to not only accept my fat--be resolved to it is what we hear from some quarters--but to love my body as it is. To love how it looks, how it feels. To see myself as a person of substance. I remembered when I was thinking about that a conversation I had with a teacher in high school. As I've recently posted, I went on Teen Missions when I was 14 and 15, and one of my teachers was asking me about the experience. He asked me about the physical part of it--the first year I went it was a physical labor team, and we worked *hard* in the hot Egypt sun. Then he asked me a strange question. Did I think that someone more frail like, for instance, Stephanie, would be able to handle the labor? I was truly taken aback. Stephanie was one of the popular girls. She was one of the girls whose body was perfect and sexy. I couldn't imagine that anyone would think that someone with a body like that couldn't handle physical labor. But it hit me while reading this book--my body is capable. My body can work hard. I found that confidence later when I was building a straw bale chicken house and I was moving around those big straw bales by myself, mostly. (Paul did help me some, especially when we got to the third layer of bales.) I routinely carried 25 pound sacks, sometimes two at a time, when I had chickens. I could do things with my body, and being fat didn't diminish that at all.

I do not gorge. Especially after I read that book and began to stop trying to lose weight. Anonymous said that if I ate some meat I wouldn't feel the need to gorge. Number one, I don't gorge. I eat very well, good healthy foods, and I don't eat huge amounts of them. And number two, I gained all this weight while I was still eating meat. I have gained, at most, 10 pounds in the time since I read that book, 8 years ago.

Am I a liability to the environment, as Anonymous asserted? Anonymous was quoting an article that was just out the day that the comment was posted, that said that fat people use up more fossil fuels. I am sure this is true. Yes, I'm sure I use up a couple more gallons of gas each year because I weigh 80 pounds more than the "average" woman. (I don't know what the average weight of women is, I'm just pulling that number out of the air.) I'm sure that tall men, you know, those that are over 6 feet tall, also use up more fossil fuels, but I don't see anyone asking them to shed some height for the environment.

Why is my body this way? I had to ask that question, once I gave myself permission to realize it's not how I eat that makes my body this way. It's genetics, first off. My mother was overweight all the time I lived with her. She's not now, and I don't know how she's managed to keep the weight off, but I don't know that she's being all that healthy about it. Some months ago there was an item in the newspaper about a suspected virus that caused obesity. That was intriguing, but I haven't seen anything else about it since.

Ultimately I don't know why my body is like this. I don't know why there is a rise of obesity in this country. But I do know that we've put an unhealthy focus on skinny bodies, a goal that is impossible to attain. Will my obese body cause me health problems in the future? Maybe. I don't know. If it does, I can try to deal with it then. Do tall bodies cause health problems? Do short bodies cause health problems? Do skinny bodies cause health problems?

I guess I'm saying that this is who I am. Society wants you to think that since I am fat, I am a slob. I am undisciplined. I should change. Well, I am not going to change just because society wants you to think that. So, the ball is in your court now. You are free to think those things, or you are free to come to your own conclusion. You know, challenge assumptions. Think.

I'll tell you some very positive things that have happened since I accepted and began to love my body. First off, I began eating in a much more healthy manner. I did used to binge, while hiding the fact that I was eating. I'd wait until no one else was around and eat then. I didn't want people to see me eating. Now, I don't worry about that, and I eat when I want, which frees me to only eat when I want, not take opportunities of solitude to eat. My focus has changed to eating very good food. My philosophy is that life is too short for bad food! I eat whole foods, I eat healthy foods. I don't skimp on stuff like fat, so I don't have the deprivation issues that would lead to my bingeing.

Confidence. Confidence is what I'm doing *now*, at this moment, not at that magical time that all the excess pounds should be off, whenever that will be. I found that I was living my life in a holding pattern, waiting to do and be all that I could until that magical time. I am now free to focus on other things besides my weight, and I'm getting a lot more done.

A moving away from self-centeredness. Keeping so much focus on losing weight is inherantly self-centered, as one is continually looking in the mirror, looking at the scale, looking at self and trying to improve self, and not focusing on all the wonderful things one could be doing outside of self. Self-improvement is good, I'm not trying to say don't try to improve yourself. But it becomes obsessive when one is constantly trying to obtain the unobtainable, or at least the fleetingly obtainable. Yes, I did twice have major weight loss in my life. The first was when I did all that physical labor in the hot Egypt sun. I lost a lot of weight and got down to a size I'd never been before. But it all came back. The second time was just before I got pregnant with Hibi. Needless to say, I also gained that weight back.

Some will argue that if it's okay to be fat, we'll all soon be 600 pound balloons. This is the same kind of thinking that causes people to say that if you aren't hard on your kids they'll be totally spoiled. That if you give an inch they'll take a mile. My body has self-regulated. I can't say how large my body would be if I had never had the kind of oppression on me that I did, but after I stopped trying to lose weight I stopped gaining it. My body has found some equilibrium. It's found a weight that it likes.

And God created this body. Who am I to try to change it?

**********

If you're curious to read Anonymous' comment, you can find it on Katie Allison Granju's blog.

I plan to follow this post up with discussing the book, Adios, Barbie, and other books about fat acceptance. Watch for it. But not right now--that's been enough typing for now!

13 comments:

DebD said...

Oh my gracious! Someone posting about you on someone elses blog?? How rude! And, I never did like it when people not sign their name - they usually have nothign positive to say.

Interesting that they brought up the kids dressing up. They would be appalled (simple APPALLED!) that my oldest and her best friend would wander in the woods dressed in full Ren. outfits up until she was 17 yrs old! Shocking!

Never heard of the book, can't wait to see what you have to say. I never let my girls play with them either. My poor deprived daughters.

DebD said...

Ugh - I wish they had an "edit" on this thing. Or, better yet, I wish I had a better grasp of grammar.

Jennifershmoo said...

I think Anonymous should go shove it in his or her ear. :-(

Susan said...

I am so upset. It is like Christina said about anarchists. If you cant show your face you have no right to protest. If you're not going to say your name, you have no right to criticize!!
First let me say, the way your raise your children is your business.
Second, your weight is your weight, nobody has any business making a comment.
Third, you dont owe anyone any explainations.
I think you are a beautiful, loving person, who lives what they believe.
I admire you very much for this.
I get really upset when somebody hurts my friend.
I feel very honored to know you!

Elizabeth said...

Sounds to me like you are doing a grand job of raising your kids and running your life :-)

I think Anonymous is a sad, strange individual who does not even have the courage of her convictions and hides behind anonymity.
That`s cowardice in my opinion.

Philippa said...

Isn't it amazing how much power we give those who don't sign their posts?

Laurie said...

I read your post and then the comment that prompted it. The comment was really distressing to me. Sometimes I feel very conflicted about the internet. Among its many other problems, it allows people to say outrageous and hurtful things that they (hopefully?) would never say to a live person's face. On the other hand, I discovered you and your family via the internet and am grateful for that. It's nice to read the experiences and thoughts of someone with whom I have a faith and a lot of beliefs/inclinations in common, but who is a bit ahead of me in the life cycle.

I would love to hear an analysis of the book you mentioned. I puzzle a lot over the issue of western/American culture and female body image. i've definitely seen female body image problems in the countries in the Middle East in which I've lived, but nothing like here. First of all, the standard of female beauty there is about 20 lbs heavier than it is here. Second of all, people there seem to have some sort of grasp on the different body types you talked about. At first I was shocked to hear people there very openly and casually refer to someone as "fat" or "chubby," but then I realized that they could do that so freely precisely because there wasn't the negative weight attached to those words that there is here. A person is fat. So what. They're thin. So what. They're tall. So what. And you have a point with the strong thing. I went to a wedding in Pakistan where the bride was absolutely perfect and gorgeous by western standards. All the old women, however, were sitting around clucking about how it was a pity she was so frail--that she wouldn't be able to do heavy housework, and if she got sick she was so bony that she'd waste right away and die and leave her children bereft of a mother.

I'm not overweight, and when I've lived in the Middle East, I've worried very little about what my body looks like (although the focus on having the "right" clothes there can be pretty intense and depressing). But it seems like as soon as I get back to the US I start thinking that I'm fat or worrying about my stomach or all that other bs. Why is this? That's why I would like to hear an analysis of the book.

And anonymous, it is bad enough to launch such a biting personal attack on someone (not to mention their children) in a public forum, but it's simply inexcusable to do it under the cover of anonymity. If you don't like someone's ideas, have the grace to argue in a civil fashion, and if you have a personal critique, do it constructively and politely in an e-mail or other non-public forum. In either case have the courage to attach your name to it.

Mimi said...

I am stunned. What a nasty and unwarranted attack on you and your family. Oh dear Elizabeth, what a mess, I'm so sorry.

I also look forward to the book review, I think that body image acceptance is one of the biggest issues facing our society.

karrie said...

I'm fat too.6ft tall and strong and fat so this anon better watch his or her step! :)

I can only imagine what kind of freaky anon attention you attracted on Katie's blog. For some odd reason her site attracts a few very mean people who spew venom and nonsense.

"Adios Barbie" is new to me. I;ve read the other two that you mentioned.

ausurfer said...

Hello...I have been a regular reader of your posts ever since I looked for blogs relating to Portland (which I visited in May, just before I moved back home to Australia). I have absolutely enjoyed reading about your life in Portland, your children, your husband, and especially your drive to make a difference in the community. I like that you value diversity.

Anyway, I wanted to say that your post was very well put together and I do understand some of the frustrations you have experienced through your life with "weight"...I too have experienced similar issues, from a male point of view.

The comments that Anon made showed to me that he/she was someone with very little self-esteem, which is usually evidenced by putting down someone else. The fact that he/she attacked your family, and did so on someone else's blog also told me that the "person" has no scruples.

I applaud you for taking the time to get your frustrations out in the open -- believe me, most people can identify with many of them.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

Well, I couldn't find the comments made by Anonymous on Katie's blog, but it was cool to see her blog anyways and catch up on her life, she and I were coincidentally on an alternative parenting list many many years ago together.

Anyways, I really enjoyed reading your _Fat_ post. It's amazing how the messages we receive about body type, especially as young kids, are so misleading and just plain wrong. I too was a "fat girl", though looking back at old photos it's hard to see why I thought that about my very normal slightly chubby pre-teen self. It's something I feel extra-vigilant about because both my husband and I are stocky big-boned people and so are our kids. I don't want them to ever feel "less than" because of their body type.

I recently blogged about this issue (body size, body image) too. If you're interested, it's at: http://ironmom.blogspot.com/2006/11/glossy-lie-nine-years-ago-i-was.html

Anyways, just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed reading your blog. From another homeschooling Oregonian!

Blue Skies,
-Robin-

Elizabeth said...

Hi Robin, and welcome! Thank you for your kind words about this post. I have visited your blog and I can say, I'll be back! I enjoyed reading about your life. We're just about to move to our own home and I, also, want to have urban chickens. I've had chickens rurally, but not in the city. If you have any tips for me, I'd like to hear them!

Jacob said...

Howdy...

I was just scanning blogs over for updates - and I read this entry listed in your favorites just because it is a topic of interest to me lately.

Attitudes towards fat are quickly changing as science improves - this can only be good for people who have it.

On-going research indicates that fat is far more than a energy storage device - it is an organ that plays a significant role in how we desire, metabolize and sensitize/attune essential systems in the body.

If you check out Byron Richards' work on leptin he really has started asking the right question: How fit is your fat?

I started following the leptin diet nearly a month ago - I definitely noticed a shift in mental state - no energy level rollercoasters and I get the same amount of energy from about 1/3 less food per day.

Based on what you wrote about what you eat, I would bet you would only need to make the same changes that I did (adjusting when you eat, more than what) - but I think for me what sold me on the diet and the concept was that it was about helping your internal organs work to their fullest potential, rather than simply 'lose weight.'

For example, healthy fat can reduce tissue inflammation and can also reduce elevated histamine responses (allergies, fibromyalgia). Healthy liver activity stabilizes blood sugar levels and improves triglyceride clearance from the blood stream.

Anyways, his website has a lot of valuable free information if this kind of stuff still interests you... http://www.wellnessresources.com