Friday, February 13, 2009

The Other F-Word

It seems that Jessica has committed the unthinkable faux pas, she's gotten fat. To compound her transgression, she wore "mom jeans" in public. Sorry, I should have warned you that I was about to drop that shocker on you. Those of you with sensitive psyches may want to skip the next sentence. Jessica performed in a skort at her most recent concert (skort= a cross between a skirt and shorts, we used to call them culottes). According to The Dish Rag, Jessica's skort is enough to make Mr. Blackwell roll over in his fashionista grave.

I'm left with a serious dilemma. According to the headlines, Jessica Simpson is fat, disgusting, and without any fashion sense. I decided to compare a picture of me to Jessica and clearly, I'm not fit to leave my house. If Jessica is fat and repulsive, then I need to shutter my windows and spare the world from the sight of me.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs recently, The F-Word, and ran across a post about a 2008 study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. According to the study's findings, weight discrimination is more prevalent than discrimination based on sexual orientation, nationality or ethnicity, physical disability, and religious beliefs. I hope that a lot of money wasn't spent on this study; any fat person could have shared this info without the expense of a study.

I've been fat since I was five. There is a photograph of me at age four, leaning against the family Buick, a lean little girl with braids. I don't remember her. My kindergarten picture shows me at age five as a round face little girl with a round body. Growing up fat is a series of rejections, of not fitting in with the group. I was never athletic, when it was time to choose teams at recess, I was always the last one picked. Eventually, I just took my book and went off to some quiet spot. It is far better to choose not to participate rather than not to be chosen.

Whenever I see a fat child, I immediately want to befriend that child. I feel the same way about fat adults. By the way, I prefer the word fat. Obese sounds slimy, like some type of oily discharge. Overweight has never made sense to me. Over whose weight? Big-boned is just a euphemism. Fat is a simple, descriptive adjective. I'm a fat person.

I was around eight years old the first time I went on a diet. It lasted about a day, but the pattern was set, for the next 40 years, I was either on a diet, about to start a diet, or having my last meal before starting a serious diet. When I look back at pictures of me in my teens, I realize that I was fat but not grotesquely so. I just felt as if I was grotesque. The most insidious thing about loathing your appearance is that you lose all objectivity about your appearance. When you look in the mirror, all that you see reflected is the rejection that you feel every day, and rejection isn't pretty.

I became what the medical profession labels morbidly obese by the time I was in my late 20s. Years of dieting, losing 20 pounds, then regaining 30, took its toll. By 1998, at the age of 43, I weighed 440 pounds. I don't have pictures of myself at that weight. There must be a few, but for the most part I avoided being in front of a camera; I was the one who was always taking the pictures. It was the best way to avoid being in the pictures.

I didn't know exactly how much I weighed until I was hospitalized in January 1998 for congestive heart failure further complicated by atrial fibrillation (an erratic heart rhythm). In spite of my fear of dying, and my intellectual understanding that my weight severely lessened my chances of surviving my cardiac problems, I couldn't deal with all the reasons that I ate and the emptiness that I was trying to fill with food. I wish that I could say that I had a revelation and understood the psychology of why I was a compulsive over-eater but there was no self-realization. However, in 2002, my doctor told me that I had Type 2 diabetes. I knew that one of the complications of diabetes if it wasn't brought under control was amputation. I became obsessed with having my legs amputated. Everything that I read confirmed that if I lost five percent of my body weight that my diabetes would improve. I wasn't ill enough to take insulin and I didn't want to get to that point because in my mind, insulin use equalled amputation.

This doesn't really make sense to me, but amputation of my legs scared me more than dying. Maybe we all have that one thing that we fear most. I didn't go on a diet, I just stopped binging on food. I didn't think of myself as dieting. For a long time, I didn't realize that I had lost any weight. I still had issues, but I didn't try to resolve them by stuffing myself with food.

My sister's husband, Bob, snapped a picture of me one day. The next time that I visited, Rhonda told me that I needed to look at the picture. I saw a woman who sort of looked like me but with part of her missing. Rhonda also banned me from wearing the flowing dashiki cut top that I was wearing in the picture, and told me, "Go buy some clothes that fit."

In about 18 months, I lost 160 pounds. I've kept it off for a little more than two years. However, I haven't conquered my weight issues. I'm not quite 5' 4" tall, and I still weigh 280 pounds. My diabetes is under control and I just seem to maintain this weight. I think that I skipped the step of really dealing with the myriad reasons that I have sought comfort in food since I was a child and that's why I've stopped this journey. I suspect that there is some pay off that I get from holding on to my excess weight, but I've learned some things and made peace with others.

This society is obsessed with weight. It's a rare woman that I know who isn't convinced that she needs to lose weight. What else would we think, after all Jessica Simpson is fat, so clearly the rest of us must be in need of weight loss. Of course, tomorrow's headlines will be about some young starlet who suddenly looks too thin. Maybe it's not weight that we are obsessed with, but appearance. Yet we all repeat the same lines to each generation, "It's character that counts. Beauty is only skin deep. It's who you are on the inside that matters." Nice platitudes, but do we really mean them?

It's taken me a lifetime, but I know that fat really is just an adjective, a descriptive term and not a summation of character. I think that my impulse to loose weight because my excess weight was literally killing me was a practical approach to solving a problem. I think that all of those diets, living off of bananas, eating cabbage soup, three-day fasts (there are those of you who know exactly what I'm talking about), were a manifestation of self-loathing that was far from emotionally healthy.

I'm still working on eating healthy and getting in some exercise. I'm also looking inwardly, trying to understand what voids are still there that I need to fill. I don't know Jessica Simpson personally, but I hope that she knows that it's okay for her to use the other f-word, and tell all of her critics, "Fuck off."


Gerry said...

I certainly related to this entry, for I have gone through so many kinds of adjustment to being a larger size than most women, although I am around women who are disabled and even larger, so I think about what they must feel. I felt good when you posted this photo of yourself. I admired it. I thought that is a good thing to do, and that's how I feel when the camera catches my large thighs exposed or beefy arms, and I have come to accept myself a little more all the time. I have come to terms with the fact that I am often left feeling empty and unfulfilled, so I eat to fill the void, have done that for years and am now not apologizing for it, it is just a fact of life, real, that many of us are unfulfilled for various reasons. And I find that people are often the most critical who are not willing to spend a little time with me to fill that emptiness in what even they would think was a healthier way if they were really thinking. I think people who criticize people for their weight are essentially cruel people so have an even worse problem than I do. I think I will be able to lose weight only if I am less empty and I will keep trying to get the kind of sustenance that I think I really need and I know that you do, too, when you sit down to the computer and reach out with powerful words to connect. Gerry

Leigh said...

Thumbs up on that last sentence!
Being a woman with weight issues all my life, I understand this all so well.
From the Twiggy era(yes, I do remember) to today, we have been surrounded and bombarded with what the image of "perfect" should be. When we can't achieve that, we are left to find ways to compensate, develop self-defeating coping techniques from overeating to starvation diets, anorexia, bulemia(sp) and psychological damage that now spans generations.
The inner person may be golden, but not many will look beyond the tarnish of imperfection. Their loss!
I'm struggling with so many of the same issues. You've expressed it so much better than I could.
I wish you the best in your quest of self.

Hugs, Leigh

Miss Ginger Grant said...

Amen, sistah! When I was a child, I was very, very skinny- gross skinny. My best friend Kathleen was the fat girl. Her reputation was not helped by the fact that she was extremely smart and mature for her age. Most of the other kids picked on her incessantly, and the picked on me as well because I befriended her.
Now that I'm older, I have become fat (Momma said it would happen!) I don't look good, I don't feel well, I have high BP and high blood lipids, and my doctor bitches at me every time I go. So I don't go. I just can't wrap my brain around being a fat person, even though I'm smart enough to KNOW I am killing myself if I don't lose weight! I guess I'm kinda waiting for my "amputation scare". So I guess I'm fat AND stupid, huh? Momma must be the proudest angel in heaven. Thanks for your tought provoking post... I've got some soul searching to do!

cw2smom said...

As a woman who's gone from one extreme (an eating disorder-anorexia in my early 20s) to another...FAT and still fat, I so relate. For anyone to call Jessica Simpson FAT is an outrage! I too am at risk for diabetes as both my parents were diabetic, so I have to get a handle on this, but as an emotional eater, it's so tough. I congratulate you on your amazing weight loss! You are beautiful just the way you are..and since we're both are definitely my friend! LOL! Hugs, Lisa

warrior scout said...

firstly, i really don't think jessica has gotten fat. she has gained weight. but i understand your point and it's painful to read, so it must be even more so to endure and survive beyond reading. there are so many wonderful things about you sheria. they just aren't the ones that photograph as well as the different wonderful things in others. it's a bitch to see it all boil down to a photograph.
and it's even more a bitch to not feel connected to one's body or in control of one's life.

although i find with my one day at a time philosophy- if i can remember how much better is today than it was previously, the fact that it isn't perfect seems less awful and much more bearable.

and i still say that all of us have aspects of ourselves that suck and aspects that rock. and i know the latter is true about you...

happy valentines day-- i posted a blossom dearie tune on fb... it's really sweet.

Des's big daddy said...

I love the way you ended this!

Beth said...

Sheria, I am sending you a hug for your honesty about this. I am very fortunate in that I come from a smallish family with high metabolism, so I've never really struggle with weight. But I agree that our society is obsessed with the issue.

The most important thing is being healthy. With your diabetes, you have added health issues to deal with, and I hope you have a handle on that. You know what you need to do, so I will trust you on that. But make sure that you take care, because we want you around these parts for a long time to come. :)

Love, Beth

Yasmin said...

i relate but the other way round I was always slim until I got into my 30's then it just seemed to pile on I'd lose it and pile it on again, now I'm just fat(your right obese is a horrid word) coming from a family that suffers with diabetes and heart diesese I now have to re-think my eating habits again and also take some kind of exercise. Socoiety do you look at you diffeently if your fat because the align it with being lazy and brain dead greedy etc.etc.

In the UK there is much publicity about getting people of junk foods and adopting healthier lifestyles(A whole other discussion)but although they are correct it's not that easy to implement. I remeber a couple of years ago they said that Jessica Simpson was too thin, I think she looks great nothing wrong with having some meat on your bones.
Great post

Yasmin said...

I forgot to add I had noticed that you have lost a lot of weight, and the picture you posted you look great.


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I think you look fabulous in the picture. As we age, we all struggle with the weight gain. I know I have paid the price for stopping smoking (the healthy thing to do) by putting on and extra 10-15 pounds. Thing is, I just can not give up my beer. So big I remain :o) Hugs to You!

Indigo said...

You know in all the pictures I've had a chance to see of you, the first thought that always comes to mind is: "Damn she has a gorgeous smile". Your eyes light up when you smile did you know that. Growing up with a disability I had a different difficulty with self image. I was way too thin, it still shocks me I was only 85lbs. when I get pregnant with my daughter. I wasn't healthy.

I didn't know how else to be, by the time my daughters 1st birthday rolled around I was back to a size 2-3. My weight roller coastered like crazy. When I drank I came to the point of being dangerously anorexic again. It took me years to learn to eat right. I was on the oppisite side of fat and just as ostracized.

Now I'm at a weight that's not dangerous low and it's not anything but just right. I'm 115 and happy. I don't see size anymore; I see someone's personality, beauty of spirit. If you watch your weight let it be for your health. Otherwise keep being the beautiful Sheria I know. (Hugs)Indigo

lisaram said...

I come from a family of fat people. My mother, most of my sisters and cousins were/are fat. So I have no understanding of fat bigotry. I know I don't discriminate against fat people...but I also am aware that fat bigotry does exist. And it sucks.

This obsession with physical appearance is just another disservice that our friendly media have done us...

Marc said...

As a gay man, I can tell you we have almost the same issues about weight as most women. And while I feel nothing but compassion for fat women, I get irritated with straight men who can be 30 and 40 pounds overweight and not seem to think twice about it. And sometimes irritated at the women who love them while obsessing over their own weight. The double standard is all over. Look at Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, Al Roker and Meredith Viera; Alec Baldwin and and Demi Moore; Al Gore and Hillary Clinton; men in the spotlight can gain weight and wommen can't; only Oprah gets away with it, and it's still a big issue for her.
One thing you can be sure of: there weren't any overweight cave men/women. Neither were there alcoholics. Our culture has "evolved" to the point where we can medicate our psychological ills with substances. Alcoholics choose liquor, food chose you.
What I think needs reminding is that one cannot expect others to judge you more kindly than you judge yourself: if you were turned off by what you saw in the mirror it goes beyond the fact that society told you fat is "bad." We are hardwired to find attractive what looks like the best genetic material to pass on, including in ourself. Of course modern American society has fetishized this ideal, but at the same time 30% of Americans are obese and 30% more overweight. I don't know if ostracization applies so much when the minority becomes the minority. But this tack sure doesn't seem to be working to keep societal weight gain down.
I know the only reason I care about my weight is because I want to attract the same kind of man that attracts me. I have no control over what visuals turn me on. Men are like that and unfortunately, men still set the standard of attractiveness for society at large.
We sorta talked about this when you were here. I hoped you haven't forgotten your openness to checking out OA again. Whether or not you lose another pound (that's a great pic by the way) the 12-steps are a great design for living sanely, period.
As for Jessica Simpson, she chose to enter a world based on extraordinarily high and hard to maintain standards of beauty. I think it's ridiculous that her mere increased curviness should be called "fat," but I daresay that would be how she defined it herself before she gained the weight. Again, she can't expect to be judged differently than she would have judged herself. She never presented as an Aretha Franklin, with a voice and style so beautiful no one cares about her weight. She presented as "love me because you want to be like me or sleep with me." She's reaping the consequences of playing that game.

~Rebecca Anne~ said...

I've read your entry, and all the comments and wonder what in the world I could possibly add to the mix.

I'm one of those rare ladies thats never been on a diet, doesn't own a weigher (?) and rarely thinks about my body in a size or weight direction. However, that doesn't mean I haven't found my own self soothing and bad habits (Smoking) which carries it's own set of stigmas.

My daughters and I had a big discussion about Jessica and her weight yesterday since I had a magazine with her on it. We all agreed that the reporting was moronic and completely out of line. Unfortunetely, like Marc said, she's in the 'business' of perfection.

I hope you find a balance that you seek. I'd like to think focusing on health rather then 'weight' is and will continue to be the solution for you.

Linda S. Socha said...

You dear are elegant, and beautiful and lit from within with a spirit light..

If Raphael were painting you, you would definitely fit in as a model. Life. I was never overweight until I had my second child. I was the bean pole ( in the south) I never saw myself as fat. I am overweight and I still have a had time seeing it....Just as well. Food plans work but dieting just feels like deprivation.
What is it about us as humans that must judge and then have such a difficulty just embracing and appreciating all differences...learned in childhood I think

Thank you for this post. It is well said, gutsy and honest and helpful

Anonymous said...

Seriously there is NOTHING wrong with you at all! You look just fine...

Congrats on the loosing the weight! Me and my mother are working on that. We are working on getting back in shape and being fit again.. Its gonna be a long road!

Ps.. I never hear from you on the blog anymore... So hows it going out there on the east coast?

~ Christopher ~

aims said...

The first time I heard about this, I wondered how many young girls this would affect in a negative way. Not to mention, Jessica Simpson. Why in the world are people so mean? It's just wrong. I can't say that I can relate to the weight issues in the same way but I did have appearance issues. I was the girl with the "boyish" figure. Even so, I can relate to being the rejected kid who turned to books. I wasn't athletic either. That's ok - We can say that being rejected made us smarter. ;-)
Amen! on Marc's comment. There is a double standard about weight.

I've missed you Sheria! I've been so busy for the last couple of months, I haven't had time to blog or read blogs. I hope that changes soon - I am sure I've missed a lot.

The pictures you posted are beautiful. Of both YOU and Jessica.

Robin said...

How'd the heck did I miss this post, and I must say, you do NOT look anywhere near 280 pounds. Admittedly, it's not svelte, but you're dressed sharply, you're keeping your head high, you look good. And, admittedly, I'm still working on eating healthy and getting in some more exercise myself:) Better shape (and better blood sugar regulation). I suspect part of that goal is comparing ourselves to the best selves we personally can, or should, be, not comparing w/ others. Can and should differ at times. I was never chosen, either, but b/c I was too scrawny and bony (and not anorexic, but my heart goes out to anyone who is, or who overeats). People can be cruel on either end -- albeit overall a lot less cruel to the too thin than the too fat. I can't imagine life at 440 pounds, and I'm glad you found something inside of yourself to say, no, I won't accept x outcome for my body and health (even if x was amputation). WOW to come down THAT much. Beauty is SO much more than appearance, Tyra Banks addressed this issue once and I loved how she did. I hope Jessica and the others who look up to her, also get that message.

Cathy said...

Not sure why it matters what the definition of "fat" is these days, versus 50 or 500 yrs ago, a blink in the eye of time. Remember how rail-thin women AND men were in the roaring 20's? Then farther back in time, a healthy woman was well-padded and fleshy, which was also sexually appealing. This age of media diarrhea about what's the proper way to look is just pulp. Happiness within ones' self is absolutely strikingly gorgeous.

The Urban Perspective said...

Thank you for sharing your story. And I love and agree with your last sentence to sum up what critics think :)

Joy said...

What a brave and affirming post! You made big changes, and your honesty an inspiration.

Char said...

As always, a great post. I am 64 and tried like hell most of my life to get UP to 110 pounds. I accomplished this accidently in my late 40s. Now I weigh 140 and all in the wrong places. My legs are still sticks, only now I look like two tooth picks stuck in a plump olive! But now, I just kinda like me. And the shallow people that want to judge me for my outward appearance can just F* off!

gina said...

hello's been a while. i've not been on blogger much these past few months, but thought i'd drop in to see what you've been up too. as expected, your entries have made me smile, reflect, nod in agreement. hope you are doing well...and a belated happy birthday!