Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Not Really Heads or Tails Tuesday: Obesity

(Please scroll down for Ruby Tuesday.)

Went to sign in to Mr. Linky and discovered that Heads or Tails Tuesday has been canceled. The theme was to have been wait or weight. I chose the dark road of weight. Since the post already up - except for what I'm adding now - I'm going to leave it.

I cheated though. This is one of two articles I wrote several years ago on the subject of obesity and agoraphobia. For those with nothing better to do here is a link to the other one. Weight is a profoundly painful issue for me and has been so for my whole life. Although I was not always obese as I am now, I always FELT obese even when I weighed a 118 or 125 pounds. One of my keenest memories is standing next to my closet feeling fairly good about myself at 118 pounds and having my mother come in and say to me, "If only you lost some weight, you could be so pretty." The history of my mother and her obsession with my weight is a long and painful one. Anyway, here's what I wrote.

I am not in my body
It is filled instead with fear
And voices, many voices
They are angry with me
And I don’t know why
They are angry about that too
“Stupid girl,” they say,
“How could you not know?”
My body is big – very big
It is like a costume I wear
So people won’t see how small I feel
So people won’t see my fear
Or maybe that’s why
I’m not really sure
It doesn’t work, of course
And now the voices scold about that too
“Stupid, ugly, fat girl,” they say,
Have you no shame?
Ironic they should ask that
Since it seems I am made of shame
Shame and fat and fear and nothing else

~ Katherine E. Rabenau

Obesity stinks. There. That’s it. I’ve said what I have to say. Obesity stinks. You don’t get to enjoy your food. Everyone thinks you do nothing but eat, which isn’t the least bit true. You don’t get to wear pretty clothes. Even though the selection of clothing for the size-ually challenged has improved, it still isn’t very good and of course the way things look on the skinny models in the catalog has nothing to do with the reality of what they look like on an actual fat person. Adding insult to injury, the darned things cost more than the pretty clothes that skinny people wear. Grrr. There are a lot of things about the big outside world that are not friendly to the morbidly obese. Bus seats are designed for space conservation and normal bodies, not outsized ones. Movie seats, airline seats, restaurant booths can be difficult, uncomfortable, or for the very obese, even impossible to manage. No wonder we stay home. We are not welcome out there.

I’ve been pretty lucky (except for my family) in terms of people being overtly unkind to me about my weight, but many people aren’t so lucky. I am so shy and anxious when I am out in the world that the cruelty may just pass me by. And anyway, there’s nobody out there who can be more unkind to me than I am, which has just reminded me of an exercise I did in therapy a number of years ago. I think I will share it here because while it is my personal inner dialog, I don’t think that my self-hate falls far from the norm. We each brew our pain out of the cauldron of our unique life experiences, but in the end, by and large it is the subtleties that are different, while the core of self hate remains constant. Dr. Jim as I called my awesome therapist, assigned me a series of writing assignments at one point in our work together. It was some of the most profound work we did together and since I like to write, it was also fun. I don't remember exactly what the assignment which brought her to life was, but one of the voices born of these assignments belong to someone named "Madeleine." I have to say that I kind of love this dark, cruel, Madeleine side of myself. She’s so incredibly mean that it’s hard to understand why, but I think what I love about her is her certainty. She has no self doubt. Madeleine is pure in the truth and depth of her cruelty and hate. I think I admire that certainty. I think that loving her, finding her amusing, is also a way of protecting myself from how annihilating her hatred of me is. But enough introduction, Madeleine speaks quite eloquently for herself:

Madeleine watched with disgust as the large woman moved laboriously down the street. It was bad enough to be that gross and ugly, but how could she dress that way, with the wrinkly cellulite bulges packed into her pants so that every ripple and wrinkle and fold of flab hung out there like an affront to all decent people. How could she wear clothes that rode up and bunched and curled and let the contours of her grotesqueness show? How could she?! Did she have no pride, no shame? Bad enough to have had so little control that she was huge and ungainly, but to walk around like that, to force other people to look at her. Ugh. It was disgusting. It was thoughtless and inconsiderate. It was shameless. Oh, she knew fat people had rights, but they didn't deserve them. They looked horrible and they took up too much space and even the best of them looked slovenly. Clothing was not designed for those kind of contours. Nor should it be. They deserved their shame these women who ate and ate and ate and did nothing to control themselves, but still, they should have some pride, some consideration for the feelings of others. But no, they were content to be eyesores, to wear clothes that fit too tight. It was disgusting enough when these little thin women did that, let their bodies be outlined, their nipples showing underneath their clothes, their legs bare and arms and throat. But when these huge monstrosities did it, it was obscene. Why, some of them even wore shorts these days! Shorts. And you could see their fat, stumpy legs, and then, what really repulsed her, the knees, screaming attention to the huge, dimpled thighs, that no longer even looked human. It was crude and vulgar and low class to look like that. You did not see any fat Rockerfellers or Kennedys. There were no fat writers or singers or lawyers or business people. It was a sign of some congenital dementia. It was a sign of stupidity and ineptitude. It was a sign of greed and venality. Fat people ought to die or be locked up somewhere for the protection of solid citizens like herself, so they could not cheat and steal and eat more than their share. And they oughtn't to be allowed on buses and trains either. It wasn't crowded enough without confronting one of these monster women, these one- person crowds? It made her skin crawl just to look at them, made her want to vomit up her lunch as though her body wanted to make sure she was never like that. She wanted to push that woman into a ditch somewhere and leave her there stranded and helpless, trapped there by her wicked mounds of flesh to be eaten by rats while she struggled like a beached whale to right herself and get away. "Yes," Madeleine thought, "that would be justice."

Well, Madeleine, is an extreme voice. She does not sugar-coat her feelings or cloak them in the social niceties. It’s clear exactly where she stands. Unfortunately, I don’t think that she stands far from the place that many or most of us who carry an extra body around to punish ourselves for being human stand, if we really admit the truth. She does not stand far from where our culture stands. It does not approve of fat people. Actually, it does not approve of fat women. Men, for some reason are not judged as harshly for extra weight as women. But that is the subject for another day and topic.

The messages that we as individuals take from society are ultimately only reflections of our inner vision of ourselves, the voices of our inner Madeleines and Marges and Marys. The first step in disabling them of their power is listening to what they have to say. Hearing it for the cruel insanity that it is. One of the “agreements,” in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements is to understand that the cruelty that life dishes out to us “isn’t personal.” That’s true of the voices of judgment that come to us from outside, but also true of the internalized mothers and monsters whose voices often dominate our lives. Ruiz’ analogizes it to being offered a cup of poison, which you can choose to drink or not to drink. For so much of my life, I have dined on that poison as though it were nectar from the gods.

Madeleine’s voice inside me will not be silenced easily. She has been there almost forever. Instead of being charmed by her certainty or fearfully drinking her brew of hate, I know that I have to stop and listen with my heart. However powerful she may pretend to be, Madeleine’s voice is a voice of fear and loneliness. I also have to face the truth that however the seed of her malevolence was planted in me – by my mother, my brother, society, a rapist – in the end, Madeleine is me. Since I am no longer a child, I am responsible for her behavior and her words. And also for my own. So instead of partaking of her poison the next time she offers it – and she will – I think I will offer her a bowl of chicken soup, maybe, with a lot of love and hope and even some forgiveness mixed in. “Hush, Madeleine,” I will coo to her, “It’s ok. I love you just as you are.”

I wish I could say that I had lived this last paragraph. I haven't. But I'm still working on it. Too many people share this kind of pain. I think it is sad and destructive and wicked and I wish we would change our ways because too many people - especially young women - suffer needlessly and think less of themselves when they have no reason to do so. What a tragic waste.


storyteller said...

This is a powerful post … and I’m glad you decided to leave it. Lots here ‘resonates’ with me, and you’ve given us much to consider. My HoTs post at Small Reflections is much more ‘light-hearted’ on the matter of ‘weight’ and conveys my frustration at ‘waiting’ …
Hugs and blessings,

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm not even quite sure what to say because nothing I can think of sounds even close to adequate after something so raw and powerful. I'm sorry to hear that you grew up with a message about weight that likely influenced your thoughts today, but it's refreshing to see you working toward healing. I've always assumed that there was a lot going on behind the scenes of obesity beyond just eating too much, and this gives me a glimpse. I leave here knowing more and hoping that you find peace in whatever way works for you to find it.

Anonymous said...

Raven, I'm another one who doesn't really know what to say. Your post is powerful and full of strength.

Your poem spoke so much to me about the pain we are in everyday, as we put on our masks and smile and pretend that nothing hurts us even though we are dying inside.

My body is big – very big
It is like a costume I wear
So people won’t see how small I feel

Those lines there speak about so many of us...not just to do with size but to do with the costumes we wear and the face we show the world, the one we hide behind so that no one sees the real us.

I wrote an entry for this weeks HoT and it is at my place:

♥.Trish.♥ Drumboys said...

very insightful and poignant, so sad obese people have to deal with this.
I am glad you left it up too.
Wishing you strength, hope and resilience.
Mine's up too on wait...
My Little Drummer boys
warm regards

Hootin Anni said...

Very, VERY profound. It's amazing that in this day and age, prejudices still exist. The inkling of someone's own stupidity and well...all, out and out rudeness, astounds me.

I for one, don't look at obesity...I look at the PERSON inside. I am sure it's trauma, and I think how anyone who is supposedly 'different' being treated like an outcast [be they obese, or retarded, or black or white, or male or female...the differences are what make the world a wonderful place...and we should respect as INDIVIDUALS, not how we look or how we dress or what car we drive...etc. etc. etc.]

Stepping down from my podium now...
I FOUND your H o T amazingly thoughtful, deep and profound.

Jeni said...

Sad to say but so many people in our society DO, unfortunately, view people with weight problems -regardless of what those issues may be -as obscene, grotesque, unworthy, etc., etc. And you are so right too about the search for clothing that is even remotely stylish if you aren't the perfect size 8, 10, 12, etc. As if those of us who are larger than we should be for our frame don't already carry enough "baggage" around with us, we then have the fashion industry forcing us into wearing apparel that is far from attractive too. This was a great post! Yes, it was raw and ugly to read in places but it put things out there that others who do not have these problems can perhaps begin to understand how folks feel, and hurt, deep in side.

maryt/theteach said...

Raven, I don't participate in H or T but I am so effected by your post. All you say is so true. I find it hard to say more...

ShannonW said...

Such a strong post! I am glad I stopped by to read it today.

I played along too! Happy HoT!

Carletta said...

Raven, your talent with words is so evident in this post. You have excellent command of your words here. I think that is why many of us are lost for the right words to comment. I know mine pale in comparison to yours that are so thought provoking.
Society does rear its ugly head when it comes to obesity. You hit the nail on the head when you said of obese women - the most obese man is never ridiculed as much as a woman half his size is.
Raven, the voice may not be easy to silence, but keep telling Madeleine to hush - we love you, Raven, just the way you are!

Maria's Space said...

Raven, very open and honest post. I was very moved by your words and will return to read more of your posts.

JP/deb said...

What a tragic waste indeed when we diminish ourselves and succumb to self-loathing. You've written so powerfully about this subject - bravo for the honesty & insight. Peace, JP/deb

San said...

Hi there. I googled "vanity wordzzle Raven" after having read a vanity wordzzle at another blog and so I landed at your place. And what a place!

This is a wrenching post. Your Madeleine, tragically, does reflect our culture's attitude toward obesity. Obese people can be our scapegoats. There is so much unhealthiness--on the levels of body, mind, and soul--in our culture--so why not project all of this sickness onto fat people? That's a heck of a lot easier than getting down to the level of spirit and transforming ourselves into a people who really feel pain, let alone DO something about it.