I had a bit of a meltdown yesterday right before Thanksgiving dinner. Everything had been going more or less okay; I got up and on the road to the parents’ as early as I could, since my mom had texted me the day before, telling me to hightail it early since I’d be trying to outrun bad weather. I was flying solo, as Ray had to work that afternoon. That sucked, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I couldn’t get my mom to answer the house phone or her cell, and she hadn’t answered my “need me to pick anything else up?” text early that morning. My brother was at his girlfriend’s house in Arlington and so couldn’t track mom down for me. Dad was at work so I didn’t even bother calling to bug him. Finally I got my sister on the phone and she told me that mom was having a bad day and still in bed, so she was getting the turkey ready for its broth bath. Her first time taking the reins on the turkey dinner. We assessed what else we’d still need after my grandmother’s and aunt’s contributions (dressing aka stuffing to all you yankees, yeast rolls, macaroni and cheese, green beans, banana pudding, butternut cake, etc.) and I stopped off at the Lakeland Schnucks and heaped a cheese plate, couple of sodas, salad fixins, and two pomegranates into my basket. I cranked up Girl Talk and car danced my way to the house.
Things were going fine. I was in a good mood. I knew mom felt bad but she was coming around and getting ready, and my sister had the kitchen under control. I made and stored the salad, peeled a pomegranate, and went outside to take pictures of the horses as a storm blew in and we waited on the family to assemble.
And assemble we did. It got hot in that house with all the people and heated surfaces working and the outside temperature not quite cool enough for an open door to make a difference. I went into the bathroom to put my hair up to get it out of my face, and came back down to survey the kitchen to see how else I could help. My dad looked at me with a squint in his eye and said, in front of everyone, “Lindsey, are you gaining weight again?”
And, obviously, the answer is yes, by every observable standard. Yes, world, I have gained weight. I lost a couple dozen pounds several years ago by drinking only water (okay, and a glass of wine a night), cutting out all fried foods, fast foods, and sweet foods, and consuming no more than 1,100 calories every day, while working out and burning at least 1,500 calories a week. It was a fairly fucking miserable diet but I got used to it and it felt great to watch the weight fall off. I had foot surgery and stopped working out for a while since it hurt to put any pressure on it, and got out of the habit. I started letting crap food back into my life the day of surgery, when I went and ate at Soul Fish and allowed myself some French fries. Etc. And in spectacularly human fashion, I have allowed those pounds to creep back onto my bones over the past four years.
So. Back to dinner. My eyes grew wide as saucers and I said something to the effect of, “Yes, I have! Just like everyone else in the world at some point!” Bitchin’ comeback. I’m known for my wit.
And you know that feeling you get in your gut, like it could almost be accompanied by falling string music and that camera trick where it seems like the background and the foreground move in opposite directions while you stand still in the middle? I had a smirk plastered on my face while my brain raced and raced to find somewhere safe to put what my dad had just said, because it was just a bullshit, one-off comment that probably meant nothing and so what if I had gained weight? Haitians were dying of cholera and starvation as we spoke and lava was swallowing up Indonesia. And yet my brain, my useless fucking brain, could not find a place for that comment, and in fact blew that comment up on the jumbotron inside me and all my senses’ attentions were directed to it. They stopped their happy little holiday bopping and looked up at it, and all I could feel was shame and failure. Shame and failure. Shame and failure. The muscles in my face seized up and I sat there until my aunt moved away from the oven so I could back up my chair and go somewhere, anywhere, where could I go? It was storming and cold outside by then so I just went out to the carport and wedged myself between my sister’s car and the garage door and had myself a moment. A long one, I guess, because my sister came looking for me later because it was time to eat.
I played like I had been on the phone out there in the cold and not sobbing like a fool, and I rejoined the family to a chorus of “where were you it’s time to eat what’s wrong are you sure you’re okay” and then my dad said grace. And my mom hugged me and asked me if I was okay, at which point I lost my shit and ran off to the bathroom like a drama queen. I had to get it out of me, let the heaving get done. I shooed both parents who tried to talk to me through that door and I was in there for an hour. On the floor. Unable to coax myself off it or out the door. How could I possibly go downstairs and put food in my mouth when everyone had just been made acutely aware of the fact that I am more of a fatass now than I was at the last Thanksgiving I got to attend a couple of years ago?
And I know it’s overly dramatic and completely irrational and I’m ashamed to even write about it. There is a horrible shame cycle to body-image bullshit and in general I try to not even indulge those neuroses. Publicly. But they are always with me. Always. I’ve clearly got a demon that needs exorcising. I don’t really know why what my dad said hit me as hard as it did, except that his statement comes bundled with a lot of baggage and I unpacked it there on the spot and it fucking leveled me.
It leveled me because I know how I look. I have to look at me every day, get this body into and out of clothes every day. I know how it has changed and I fucking hate it. I don’t think my dad has any idea how much I hate myself, how so many moments of every day are spent wrestling with very deeply rooted self-loathing, because I keep quiet about that stuff. I can’t imagine that he could have any idea about the kinds of things I say to the mirror when no one else is around, the way I will spit insults at every dimple in my flesh, every crease, every shadow. I know how narcissistic that sounds and is and I hate myself even more for getting tangled up in this ridiculous web that I KNOW is a farce. It’s my silent shame, and it is with me always. My dad saying what he said to me — after I had gone to the bathroom to put my hair up, which is something I do reluctantly these days because I always feel like, with my hair up, you can see too clearly all the extra flesh on my face — just gave a voice to all the toxic shit that swims in my head every minute of every day. It confirmed my fears about how I appear to other people and it labeled me a failure in front of my entire family. Because, you know, fat = failure. According to popular sentiment.
I know he didn’t mean to set off that insane chain of reaction in me, and I feel genuinely awful that he feels so awful about accidentally hurting me. I spent the entire night in seclusion. After my initial shame had subsided enough for me to want to leave the bathroom then bedroom, I was overcome with embarrassment and just wanted to disappear. And yet I couldn’t make my apparently too large body disappear. I could only hide.
I am fucked up about my body and always have been. I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I remember being in middle school and attempting to see how many days I could go without eating when a boy I had a crush on called me “lumberjack legs.” (For the record, two days.) I think most women will tell a similar tale. We all want to try and act like we have risen above it but body consciousness is a quicksand. Secretly we want to look great but as though we don’t spend any time worrying about how we look. That’s the ideal. I can be a bulldog of a feminist all day long but when I close my eyes at night, I don’t want to wake up ugly and unattractive. And I FUCKING HATE THAT ABOUT MYSELF. I have tried to squelch that part of me but it comes back bigger and stronger every time I try to put it down.
My dad has said something like his comment above to me before. I remember we were riding in the car together on the way to Jackson. We were talking about relationships. I don’t remember if Phil and I had broken up or what, but I remember my dad pretty much told me that I was lucky Phil had stayed with me as long as he had, considering I’d gained weight after high school. I remember the sting I felt when I heard that. I love my dad so much and I wouldn’t trade him for any other father on this or any other planet (that fact is well documented here on this blog), but he has never quite understood that there are some things that are better left unsaid.*
And so every time I prepare to make the trip home to see the family, I look at myself in the mirror and I get nervous about what they are going to think about how my looks have changed since the last time they saw me. I am getting older, my jowls more pronounced, my thickness everpresent. If I am not pretty enough, and just slim enough, I am not good enough. Of course they don’t think that way but this is what I have internalized, what I have made myself believe.
But here’s the thing. I grew up in a family of thick people. We are all overweight or have been for most of our lives. I never really learned how to eat well; I maintained a general pickiness throughout my childhood that allowed me to eat crap food. I remember one time when I was really young that we had Brussels sprouts with dinner. I didn’t want mine because I was generally leery of green things, but my parents tried to make me eat them. I got a little bit down and then made myself sick. And I got in trouble. But I didn’t learn how to like things that are good for me. I didn’t learn how to use food as fuel. I like fatty things, sweet things, buttery things, cheesy things, breaded things. Carbs. Lord god, carbs. And of course, these things are fine in moderation. But when they are the only things you like, it is hard to moderate.**
My palate has gotten more sophisticated as I’ve gotten older, but I’m still not where I need to be and I know it. I think about it every effing day, every time I pass a reflective surface, or feel the folds of my skin touching, or hide my face from my boyfriend when I laugh because I’m afraid he’ll suddenly see all the imperfections I see and decide he doesn’t love me anymore. What sent me over the edge Thursday is when someone else copped to noticing.
I’ve got a lot of work to do. I probably need a head shrinker to help me comb through some of this, but I’ve been reluctant to pursue that route. Obviously I need to get back to exercising because it’s good for me, but frankly I am busy lately. Insanely busy with a weird, backwards-ass schedule. (“Make time!” sings a chorus of self-righteous demons cruising for a punch to the mouth.) I will make time. I’ve done it before. It was not easy. And it’s interesting because even though I have all these fucked-up body issues, I don’t have particularly bad self-esteem. I mean, I genuinely know that I deserve to be loved and appreciated, and I think I am worthy of love and appreciation. And I think I am more or less an attractive person, in spite of the extra trunk junk and the crazy in my brain.
But obviously even if I lose the weight again, I am still going to need to get that self-hatred poison out of my head. It doesn’t want to go away, no matter how many hours I spend on the elliptical.
* Dad, if you ever read this, or if someone ever reads this to you, know that I love you dearly and I know you didn’t mean anything by either of these things you said. I forgive you, and I’m sorry I made you feel horrible.
** I appreciate your kneejerk desire to comment or e-mail me diet or nutrition or exercise or whatever tips, but I don’t want them. This post is not a solicitation for advice or a chance for you to prove that you have slayed the weight-maintenance beast by imparting your wisdom. At the risk of coming off as a total asshole here, please keep your concern trolling to yourself, please and thanks.