My body doesn’t feel like mine: On fatness
I can’t remember the last time that I felt like a food choice was mine. If I overeat, it is either in rebellion or helplessness. If I restrict, I either feel powerful or like I’m giving in to what others expect of me. There is no choice, then. There is only “should” or “should not.”
Just lose 10 pounds or so, and it’ll fit, my mother told me. It was ten years ago, Christmas. She had bought me a beautiful, brown jacket. Soft. Warm, with wool lining.
Or I might just steal it from you, she said. Tried it on.
What a nice jacket I got you, she said. Fits me great!
She wore it around that day, and when I moved out for real after college, I left it at the house, even though by then it fit me.
She still wears it.
Around that time, I had gained some weight, after I had lost a significant amount of it the previous year. That’s how my weight goes — up and down, generally in significant chunks (pun intended), 40 pounds here, 70 pounds there, repeat.
At this time, I was up 40 pounds from previous significant loss, and my mother had noticed, employing a tactic that has since become consistent: buying clothes for me that are too small, as incentive for me to lose weight, or pretending not to know my size when she very well does, or comparing her own size to mine. My mother got liposuction, a tummy tuck, and a boob job (all at once) when I was in high school, so she will always be smaller than me, because I refuse to get it done. Seeing your mother in a wheelchair after cosmetic surgery will do that to you.
My family has a strange relationship with food. I’ve talked about my grandfather a few times now on Medium, but I’ll reiterate that he is a hearty butcher who just had gastric bypass surgery last year. Before, he would flaunt just how much he could eat, easily knocking back a 20 oz steak, multiple pieces of dessert, and ten or so brandy old fashioneds in beer mugs instead of cocktail glasses to go with it.
Now that he’s had his medically-sanctioned anorexia, he brags about how little he has to eat. Only a few bites here and there, liquid diets. If he eats too much, he could bust open his staples.
Can’t even get my arms around you, he told me this Christmas, there’s a whole lot of woman here!
Looks like that chair is getting a little snug on you, he said.
At least you won’t fall out.
He was smiling the whole time. Patted me on the back, even.
Later, he offered me some of his clothes, the ones that had fit him when he was some 400 pounds. They were Harley-Davidson shirts, and normally I’d readily accept that gift — I love Harleys, and their apparel has come quite a long way from the buxom women and ugly orange bar-and-shields. But when he said, “I thought we’d see if they fit you, since they don’t fit me anymore,” I had to hold back tears.
I can see where my mom gets it.
My grandfather used to encourage unhealthy eating — eating a lot (particularly a lot of meat) made me one of the boys. When I was born, my mother tells me, my grandfather hated that I was female, forbade her from even bringing me around. All of my cousins were male, and it took me quite a lot of fishing, hunting, callousness, sausages and steaks to get in his favor. As long as I wasn’t gaining weight, he’d pat me on the back, say, go ahead Nikki.
Now, he pores over what I eat, but in a different way. Scrutinizes it, polices it. As does my mother. Last Christmas, my father asked me if I wanted to split a steak with him.
Before I could answer, my mother said, “why would you ask that? She doesn’t need that.”
My mother tells me my grandfather calls me The Lard Ass. After exchanges like these, I wonder if she thinks that, too.
She says all of this because in grad school, due to a number of factors (new medications, the Depo shot, stress, less exercise, poor diet, basically everything that makes people fat), I gained a significant amount of weight and I couldn’t lose it, no matter the efforts I made, including going back to Eating Disorder Land and restricting and puking. It was hard not to notice the weight I gained, because I gained it very quickly, and at least it’s now been validated by doctors to have at least partially stemmed from medication.
Anyway, she and everyone else obviously noticed the weight gain and became “concerned.” Except for my mother, concern often turns into control, and she amped up her efforts to take control over my eating and weight gain.
Once I started gaining weight, no one in my family immediately noticed because I was living 10 hours away. Maybe that’s why it seemed like I gained so much weight overnight, I don’t know. But after visiting them and having my weight become the center of all of our conversations, my relationship with food became much worse. I gained weight, at first, without eating much more than I had been before grad school. It was an anomaly — I was running everyday and eating a normal amount of food and still gaining. When I came back from the first visit in which I was fat, though, I started caring less and less about what I ate, because it felt hopeless.
After awhile, I started directly rebelling to what I guess could be called “fat shaming” by today’s standards. Once, when I visited my mother and she made hurtful comments, I ate cheesecake like a piece of pizza in front of her. When she told me to avoid red meat, I ate a one-pound steak while I was on the phone with her, and she didn’t know it, but it felt exhilarating (albeit nauseating). When she hid the salt shaker from me last Thanksgiving, I bought a salt grinder and brought it with me. I pulled it out of my pocket, looked her right in the eye, and ground a much larger portion of salt into my food than I would have otherwise. She went outside to chain smoke while I inflamed my taste buds.
I tell people about these memories in jest because in part, they are funny. It’s funny to picture cheesecake as pizza. The salt grinder incident is one of my proudest moments of subversion. The steak, not so much. We all have our moments.
But the memories also disturb me, not just because they are hurtful to recall, but because I told myself I was in control of my eating and boy, was I going to show her! I don’t really think the choice was mine. I wasn’t actually eating what I wanted to, or what I’d naturally be eating. I was purposely eating crap because I knew it would upset my mother. The choice was a reaction, it was grasping at straws, which means it wasn’t really a choice that came from my autonomy as an individual.
Even if I had responded differently, I’m not sure I’d feel autonomous. If I avoided the salt, or the cheesecake, or the meat, the reasons would be to avoid conflict, to appease my mother, to fall into the trap of what I should be doing.
I can’t remember the last time I felt like a food choice was mine. If I overeat, it is either in rebellion or helplessness. If I restrict, I either feel powerful or like I’m giving in to what others expect of me. There is no choice, then. There is only “should” or “should not.”
As a result, my body doesn’t feel like it’s my own. In many ways, despite my weight being partially the result of my “choices,” I don’t feel like I’ve chosen this body. My body is pound after pound of criticism after criticism. The weight of abuse has become literal, and believe me, it’s heavy.
And despite the fact that I complain all the time that my mother constantly reminds me of the idea that I’m fat, even though I’m the one who has to deal with it every day, I sometimes forget that I’m in this body. I forget how much space I take up until I run into something or am around a lot of people and suddenly feel like an inconvenience. I forget that I’m out of shape until I can’t bike as far on my bike anymore, or go on a walk without getting winded.
I forget how big I am, because under all of this padding, I am small.
And I don’t know how to get back out.