Shaping

My plan was to write about shaping and living my life, as in this quote from Pearl Cleage:

My mother’s passing was so important to my own realization that I was a grown woman. I understood then that there was nobody to stand between me and the shaping and living of my own life.

But then there was something I felt that I needed to deal with first.  Then I thought that I would not post this because it is too raw and personal.  Then I said: what the heck.ike2

The year is 1959. Imagine that. It’s the final year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term as President and still very much the 50’s. No Kennedys in the White House. No race to the moon. I am only seven, so if there is activity in the movement for civil rights, I don’t know about it. I barely see the news and in first grade, we don’t discuss current affairs.walter My childhood life is circumscribed, but seems okay, if I don’t focus on certain things at home. I can watch the mouse-clubMickey Mouse Club on TV and pretend that I inhabit that heartwarming and imaginary world.

My maternal grandmother is spending a lot of time with us in NJ, because my grandfather is in Europe for his job. She refuses to fly in an airplane, so they live apart for many months at a time. I suspect that suited both of them. He was a dapper, worldly man and by all accounts, he thoroughly enjoyed his traveling adventures. She did not have a domestic bone in her body, so the relief of not having to make and maintain a home for him was, I suspect, quite pronounced. I will never know how having her mother around so much was for my mother, but since they never seemed cozy close, I suspect it was a strain.

So Nanna, as we call her, is essentially living with us, for a week or so at a time. Then someone will drive her back to her apartment for a week or so and then back she will come. Because she is so often with us, she has become a patient of our family doctor. What her ailments are, I do not know. Dr. P. has been our backyard neighbor all my life, with his office on the first floor of his home. He has just recently moved his practice into a new high-rise apartment building a few blocks away.

Nanna goes to see the doctor at least once a week and I go along with her. Whatever. I don’t suspect anything the first time they weigh me, but when they begin to track my weight on a weekly basis, I am a little confused. What’s up? Neither my sister nor my brother is being measured. Then, one day, Dr. P. who is a very large man, sits me down to explain. Nanna sits across the room, nodding approvingly.

The problem is that my size is wrong and unacceptable. He passes judgment, invoking all of his power as a medical man, to tell me that I am five pounds overweight and this is a crisis. Soon, he tells me, boys will start to pay attention to girls and I will be rejected, unwanted, because of my size. This sentence of doom is passed on to me as if by an oracle. This is my future: to be unwanted, ignored, unchosen.

I’d like to say that I didn’t get it, that I didn’t understand these dire predictions. On some level that’s true, since I wasn’t yet thinking of a future need for boy approval. But part of the message came in loud and clear, with every weekly weigh-in and with the change in my treatment at home. I was not okay. How I looked was not okay. My appearance was what really mattered, not my behavior, not my thoughtfulness, friendliness, kindness, sense of humor, intelligence or any other aspect of me. It was all about how I looked. My value, my worth was measured by a scale and tape measure. And they were telling me that as a little girl I was failing.

So, what does this have to do with the topic of shaping? Well, this was pivotal for me, this moment and the years that followed. In the bosom of my family I was repeatedly reminded that as a girl, what was most important was that I be attractive to boys. Doctor, parents and grandparents shaped me, with their attitudes, into a girl and then a woman who was stifling her own anger at the same time she was trying to live up to their expectations.

The ability to shape shift, to change my sense of self, did not really open up until my mother died, as Cleage notes in her essay. By that time, my rage at their ignorance and cruelty had been bottled up for decades, with occasional minor eruptions. After she was gone, there was only my father, who never stopped his misogynistic rants, never imagined questioning the belief that female value is based on appearance.

Yes, there are echoes of the revolting attitude and statements of PEOTOS here. Yes, I am angry. The cutting edge of that anger has been essential in my ability to begin “shaping and living my own life.”

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Breaking the Contract

“…Break[ing] the contract you signed when you were three years old, promising not to ever, ever tell the truth, promising your family secrets would go with you to the grave.”                                           Annie Lamott

Breaking the promise not to tell secrets. Breaking open the entire, so-often-toxic idea of secrets. Transparency has become a buzzword in the public sphere over the last couple of decades. Not that it has gone very well in that sphere, of course. The nature of the beast, public life, seems to include secrecy and behind-the-scenes manipulations in every public arena, from politics to business. But that’s not where I am going with this commentary. I’ll leave that to others who are more knowledgeable about those worlds. Mainly white men and those who have chosen to study and infiltrate those realms… women and people of color, for instance. Although learning a bit about those machinations intrigues me, I’m definitely not willing to invest my time to gain a thorough understanding.   jersey-girl

I am and have always been, perhaps by necessity, more interested in the secrecy and lack of transparency in the private sphere. My personal analysis is that white men, white Anglo Saxon men, men in general, have shaped the rules of secrecy in our personal lives in much the same way as in the world at large. ‘Protecting their power’ and control is one way to frame it. Of course there are widespread cultural differences of degree, but I feel comfortable asserting that this dynamic exists. I was raised in a culture that was rigorously shaped by WASP men and gender roles were fairly rigid. Men did not talk about feelings and if women needed or chose to, it must be kept out of sight. Hush, hush. No good would come of airing one’s emotions, much less troubles; that was the nearly iron clad rule.

On the most tragic level, this injunction forced women to suffer rape, sexual assault and abuse in silence. The victim-blaming and victim-shaming standards held sway for centuries and despite some advances in my lifetime, still hold women in a cage of secrecy. Trauma of any kind was something to be kept private, in spite of the obvious harm this caused to generally blameless humans, even or especially children.

Here we go…

If you have already seen something I’ve written about this, please forgive the repetition. goldtreeWhen my mother gave birth to a Downs Syndrome child in 1963, my baby sister’s very existence was kept a secret. When she died a little over a year later, the (dare I say, natural) need to mourn her death was truncated**, denied by the fact that if people did not know she had lived, how was grieving to take place? I was eleven years old. The package of secrecy and denial was tightly wrapped in a final (and I do mean final) injunction: we were never to speak of her again. The rare times that a spark of self-preservation leapt from my inner self and I spoke her name or referred to her life and our loss, I was smacked down quite vigorously.

There are chronologically earlier, and equally painful, examples in my family of the denial of reality by use of secrecy and others that came later in my childhood. They continued right through to the day I confronted my 84-year-old father about his excessive alcohol use. (The Alcoholics Anonymous program states that only the addict/alcoholic can take on that label and I agree, so I do not refer to him as such.) I confronted him and told him I had taken away his car keys. I named it, his drinking, a secret that had been protected by the family code of silence for my entire life. By naming it (and taking away those keys) I took away some of his power. He was furious, cursing me and trying to hit me with his cane, telling my mother that I did not belong in the family.

Those who know me, I think, would describe me as discreet, someone who can be trusted with confidential information; a compassionate listener, a kind and sensitive person. I also love surprises and will go to great lengths to assist in the planning of happy surprises. But do not come to me with a secret that is being held in order to protect someone who has power or that has the potential to harm someone less powerful. Mainly due to my early experiences, I’ve become a vigilante against toxic secrecy, down to my very core. I will not abide by the code of silence. I am committed to breaking that dreadfully coerced promise whenever I can.

** Truncated: ORIGIN late 15th cent. (as a verb): from Latin truncat- ‘maimed,’ from the verb truncare

I had no idea that truncated was also a mathematical term; I always pictured a tree trunk, like this:    5b3fopm8f7gsmkq7ovdd12xm7dlsjbclzjqimcqa1nlrx5wsughsjrwdgqwhihsc2lmds128 nablopomo_badge_2016

Period

“Mom, do you know what a period is, other than a punctuation mark?”

I had gathered my courage and spoke from the backseat of the family station wagon, circa 1961. Mom was backing out of the driveway and we were alone.

Today I noticed a tampon package, belonging to my daughter, sitting beside an elaborately decorated Vera Bradley makeup bag, also my daughter’s. The design on the tampon package essentially matched the Vera Bradley design. With a chuckle, I thought about the marketing people who decided to decorate the paper wrapper on each tampon. A far cry from how menstrual supplies were hidden back when I began to bleed, which was shortly after asking my mom to share a little information with me.

What she shared with me, or actually, bought for me, was my very own sanitary napkin belt. If you ‘became a woman’ after the 1970’s, these little belts probably never crossed your path, or your hips. There is a sassy article on the web written by a woman who experimented with using a belt – she bought one on eBay as vintage item. Her post is a little raunchy, not PG, but I give her credit for being curious enough to try the contraption. These dainty belts were our only option when I came of age and I have to say, they were quite awkward and uncomfortable. They certainly helped to maintain the shame factor related to menstruation.

I once tried to explain a garter belt to my daughter, a relic from life before pantyhose. She could not imagine having to use such a device, and that went over your underwear. I know there were days when I wore both contraptions at once. Oh the glory days of adolescence. And now the tampon wrappers are designed like fancy accessories. What a world. What a wonderful world.

‘My period’, ‘My friend’, ‘That time of the month’ or ‘The Curse’ were a few of the expressions used back in the day, at least the ones that I heard. Pretty tame compared with some of the choice words and expressions today. I wondered how it came to be called ‘a period’. Obviously it refers to a period of time, but this note about the origins of the word seems to point to the unhealthy aura associated with menses.

Late Middle English (denoting the time during which something, esp. a disease, runs its course): from Old French periode, via Latin from Greek periodos ‘orbit, recurrence, course,’ from peri- ‘around’ + hodos ‘way, course.’ The sense [portion of time] dates from the early 17th cent.

Many excellent writers have published feminist analysis of the historical misogyny related to menstruation over the centuries. No need for me to go there. And I have no conclusion for you either, dear reader, except to say that menopause has been good for and to me. My wishes for you are: light periods, no cramps, pregnancy when and if you want it, an easy time during peri-menopause and kind, skillful Ob-Gyns wherever you go.

Period. Full stop.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

 

 

The Day After

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollThe announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer who killed Mike Brown, coming on the heels of reading about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the frightening reality of how many of the U.S. soldiers come to be there (joining the National Guard for the chance to go to college, then being deployed to fill the ranks of a ‘volunteer’ army) was too much for me yesterday.

Thus the title of my post: Too much wrong.

In reaction to these shameful manifestations of injustice, I began thinking about and investigating the research on privilege. There are apparently eight or nine agreed upon forms of privilege. I added one. I found the illuminating statements below on the website of Media Smarts, a Canadian organization. They helped me to frame my thoughts.

“… privilege is not merely about race or gender… it is a series of interrelated hierarchies and power dynamics that touch all facets of social life: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, gender identity, age, physical ability, [and body size.]”

“… privilege, discrimination, and social groups all operate within interrelated hierarchies of power, dominance, and exclusion. Just because someone is privileged in one way doesn’t mean they may not be underprivileged in another (and vice-versa). It is therefore important to be aware of the various groups to which one belongs in order to be able to question our own participation in a system of discrimination and privilege.”

“… the privileged group is the one that is commonly treated as the baseline against which the others are judged or compared – it is seen as ‘ordinary’ [or the ‘norm’.]”

So here is one list of the forms of privilege and who has it, as they are generally present in western culture. The information is mostly taken from the Media Smarts website, with some modifications added by me.

  1. Gender (male authority, stories and perspectives)
  2. Gender Identity (how one identifies and express oneself in gendered terms)
  3. Racial (institutionalized racism: system structured to privilege one group over others)
  4. Sexuality (heterosexuality assumed)
  5. Religious (WASP: religious practices and observances recognized as the norm)
  6. Education (access to higher education)
  7. Class (economic status & social class)
  8. Ability (able bodied, w/o mental disability or addiction)
  9. Body size (“In terms of media, it is extremely rare to find representations of individuals whose [body] does not conform to cultural expectations. In the rare instances that such characters are portrayed, their nonconformity is typically used to elicit… laughter, or may be portrayed as a kind of mental [disability].”)
  10. Age (youth)

This gives me a lot to think about.  I have a renewed awareness of the groups to which I belong.  At the very least, I want to remain more conscious of the ways that my privilege makes things easier for me in my daily life. I do not expect that it will be comfortable, but it seems critical to focus on my “own participation in a system of discrimination and privilege…”

The work I am attempting to do here, addressing issues of fat stigma, sexism, corporate greed and so on, feels like a privileged indulgence, unless I also honor these realities.  These seem like the right thoughts to carry with me into Thanksgiving Day 2014.

PS:  How to be a White Ally by Janee Woods

Not

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Guess what?             I am not a victim.

What do I mean? Why is it a big piece of news for me?

I woke up at 5 AM this morning, obsessing about a brief article in the Globe yesterday and a careless comment made by someone who I know loves me and I was all bent out of shape. Got out of bed, came to this desk and began digging around on the internet to see if the N.Y. Times had also printed the item, from the Associated Press. As far as I can tell, they had not.  I got more and more outraged and worked up.  Maybe part of feeling ill was induced by lack of sleep, but the rest of it was from drinking poison.

Poison, you say?  What? Well, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this quote previously.  It is attributed to the Buddah.  If I have, sorry, it deserves repeating.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

It hit me hard the first time I heard it.  I’ve found it tremendously helpful in situations with other people, where I needed to let go of anger that wasn’t bothering them, only affecting me.   So clear, so simple, so true.

Well, this morning  I understood it differently. For a couple of years now, I’ve been writing and processing my hurt and anger re: a lifetime of fat shaming and stigma and the evils of the Processed Food Industrial Complex in all its parts.   This has been a cleansing and healing journey for me. But I have remained stuck in the anger more than I want to be. In a funny (not hah-hah) way, it became comfortable to be swaddled in outrage, which is only one small step removed from the longtime familiarity (comfort) of living in shame.     Not.

Each time I respond with visceral rage to the ugliness and ignorance (and in the case of this Globe/AP piece, sensationalizing spin of the media) of others, I dig myself in deeper. Ranting and railing against their behavior perpetuates my experience of feeling trapped and abused. ‘They’ may have been or may be victimizing me, but I’m the one who takes on the label of victim. I believe that articulating and expressing my anger was/is liberating.  It was/is an important step toward freedom from being locked in self-blame. But now I need to step out of that anger box and stop wasting my energy.

The PFIC is the enemy and exposing, for myself, the links between its various elements is really important. But it is not a battle, a war that I can win. Not an enemy that I can conquer, no matter how many facts I uncover, allies I discover, insightful connections that I make or words I write. That’s just how it is. I can still ‘fight the good fight’, as so many other, inspiring people have done and continue to do, confronting both local and global issues.  But as an individual, I cannot move forward in my life if I keep drinking the poison.

So, it’s a new day. Yes, I’m disappointed that the Globe editors chose to print an article, dramatically (and somewhat misleadingly) headlined: Global Obesity costs hits $2 trillion. They chose to emphasize the serious weight of the economic impact, rather than the sociological aspect of the issue.  I am so sick of that bias.

I went to the source, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, wanting to understand how the $2 trillion figure was calculated.  Can’t say I was able to decipher that information, but what I did find was an extensive and nuanced study, entitled How the World Could Better Fight Obesity. It is available for download, if you are interested.  The PFIC is in there, on the list of things that need to change. I wish the media would not choose to inflame bias and stigma with crappy headlines and lifting phrases like ‘a stark prediction’, when the report is, in fact, an honest look at what is and what could be done.   Grr.   Breathe.

As for the person who loves me, who for some reason chose to describe a group of people as including ‘…two really fat people’ and in response to my reaction, stated: ‘That was the most obvious thing about them.’; well, I’m stymied.  I’ll try to accept simply being puzzled by the choice and logic.  As I toss away the poison potion, I’ll hope to release the hurt. That is my intention.  I don’t want to hold onto any more hurt and anger. No more. Not swallowing it, not carrying it, not wasting time and energy on the victim life any more.  Let the anger fuel forward motion.

Receiving

Receiving, or letting people help you. Not easy in our independence-minded, survivalist, lone cowboy culture. I like to think of myself as above or outside of all that bs, but in fact, it has its tentacles in my psyche as much as anyone else. It’s a rewrite of the standard aphorism, but for me (and many of us, I think) it’s far easier to give than to receive. And I’m questioning why. Do I not want to admit weakness? Do I not want to become dependent? Or, horrors, am I afraid to be beholden to others?

Giving makes me feel good. I know, I’ve posted recently about the downside and dangers of care-taking. But when someone is in need, it is ‘instinctive’ (and what do I mean by that?) to want to help. Often that means cooking something: for someone who has been ill, had surgery, has a new baby or a death in the family. That’s old timey, neighborly, ‘we take care of each other’ giving. Akin to shoveling snow for someone who is elderly or giving someone a ride to the airport, right? And of course there is gift giving, something that can become a costly (in time and money) obsession at this time of year.

But that’s not what I’m trying to examine here. It’s hard for me to look at this ‘rejection of receiving’ issue. Makes me uncomfortable. What is it about wanting to believe that I am self-reliant and supremely competent? I’m searching for words and understanding, but I can tell that there is a defensiveness to this automatic stance. I’ve come to believe that it is ‘smart’ to hire professionals to do certain jobs for me. Where I might have once felt some embarrassment, I now see these as sensible choices. It’s the more personal help that is harder to accept and nearly impossible to request.

I think ‘should’ and ‘guilt’ are probably operative words here. I should be able to ‘handle this’ on my own. I feel guilty when I cannot. Or when my need is somehow visible, so obvious that a friend will offer to bring me a meal or take care of me in some way. Ah, there it is: a glimmer of, a dawn of understanding. It is about shame after all. The drive to hide any family imperfections was paramount in my childhood.   Also known as the imperative to maintain proper appearances, even if that required creating an illusion. In reading some of my old writing last month, I came across a fabulous line. When I read it, I laughed out loud. Understated, but it captures the ethos: “You never share reality.”

That was written in a notebook, what I would consider private writing. Now I am putting it out there. Doesn’t matter who reads it; the impact for me comes from having ‘said’ it. It may be that a lot of the writing I have done and continue to do, certainly what I share here, is almost a direct response to that interdiction.  The thing about ‘receiving’ is that to do so, you have to choose to let people see the real you.  The drumbeat, the chant of all I have found helpful and healing over the years is this:

Share your reality.

Just “me having a bit of thought about this…”.

 

 

 

The Care & Feeding of Friends(hip)

I believe it was Descartes who said: “I think, therefore, I am.” I could say, or certainly in the past could say, “I feed, therefore, I am.” This is (has been), obviously, not always a good thing. Particularly when used against myself, as in “My worthiness is determined by my service to others… i.e. feeding them.” But that is the shadow side. There is so much that gives me pleasure about feeding others. I am proud of my knowledge and my skills and I love to share them, as well as the resulting food for consumption. Random associations include:

  • long time friend JR saying: “Cathy used to bake all the time… ” which recalls the years when I worked as a baker and constantly baked sweets at home for my friends;
  • talking with a young mother about ways to put together quick, easy, nutritious and varied pureed food for her baby;
  • making a Key Lime pie for my elderly grandmother every Christmas for 15 years;
  • cooking up large batches of Guatemalan black beans and rice for family and friends;
  • trying new recipes and food/flavor combinations;
  • playing with fresh produce or herbs from my own garden or a farmers market…

Many happy memories. I am quite sure that I could continue adding to this list for a long time and that it would more than out weigh [sic] the ‘cooking as a responsibility and burden’ occasions that are also a part of my history. And I do want to share my thoughts about the subject line: The Care and Feeding of Friends and Friendship.

Nurturing is what makes a friendship strengthen and grow, just as feeding a child is essential for its growth and development. Sharing food is an elemental manner of nurturing; preparing the food adds another layer to the connection. In virtually every culture, the act of eating together represents an essential bond for family and community. There is some powerful magic that can happen when humans focus on their food, setting aside, even briefly, the contentious stresses of everyday life. Sitting together to eat or drink can bring forth the conversational sharing that solidifies relationships. I’m not saying that people must share meals in order to have healthy meaningful friendships, but it doesn’t hurt, does it?

Alright, I am going to move away from this warm fuzziness for a bit, because I need to share something from Caitlin Moran’s book, which I mentioned yesterday, How To Be a Woman. I’m just going to put the raw material out there, which for some reason I’ve avoided doing in this blog, thus far. I think that I’ve begun to understand why I shied away from putting it out there.  When I first read it, it knocked the wind out of me, in both a good way and a terrifying way. Good, because she put into words something that had been my experience, but I could never have articulated. Terrifying, well, for the same reason, I guess. It explains a piece of my personal psychology and experience, in part by placing it in a larger cultural context, which is devastating in its simplicity, obviousness and outrageousness.

from How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

[The fact is that]… people overeat for exactly the same reason they drink, smoke, serially f**k around or take drugs.  In this trancelike state, you can find welcome, temporary relief from thinking [and feeling]… Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction and self-obliteration. You get all the temporary release of drinking, f**king or taking drugs, but without… ever being left in a state where you can’t remain responsible and cogent.

In a nutshell, then, by choosing food as your drug… you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, pop in on your mum and then stay up all night with an ill five-year-old… something that is not an option if you are [shooting/snorting drugs] or… knocking back quarts of Scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of f**king yourself up while still remaining functional, because you have to.

Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead they are self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.     [Emphasis is mine.]

Well, it happened again. Every time I read this, I am struck dumb by the truth of it and the power of it. In one fell swoop it deconstructs so much for me about addiction (of all kinds) and women, food, care-taking and responsibility.

I encourage you to check out the whole book, which is, as stated by the reviewer I quoted yesterday “… as much attitude as analysis. … in equal measure, intellectual, rebel[lious] and goof[y].”  Or at least to take a look at this article about the chapter from which these lines are drawn: I Am Fat. Moran describes a visit to a friend in a British rehab center who reveals to her the ‘ranking’ of addictions being treated there. And Moran plays out a pointed and hysterical tale about dysfunctional and beloved rock and roll musicians, whose behavior and unreliability are forgiven and somewhat glorified.   What if they used food instead of drugs? They would show up for every performance, but how would their fans react to the fact that they look not wasted, but fat?

In closing, a comment about an editorial in today’s Boston Globe. It expresses a very sensible opinion, with reference to some very interesting research about food labeling. You can find the full text here.  But…

Can someone please tell me why the editorial writers or staff decided to include a photograph of two XXXL women, taken from behind, which emphasizes their XXXL butts? The headline is One soda = a five mile walk. The research tracked the behavior of black teenagers. So, is this choice of image perhaps playing to the basest responses of the reader? Is it about shaming? Misogyny? Shock value? Comedy?

It is cruel and wrong, wrong, wrong. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, for furthering erroneous stereotypes.  It makes me so mad.

Promising

Thinking about the article I quoted yesterday, (Professor Pothos’ research findings), I started to chuckle, struck by an ironic thought. The image that came to my mind once belonged to the women’s [sic] magazines in the grocery store checkout lines, but now includes the sidebar of almost every Internet site. I’m speaking of the weight-loss and ‘New Diet!’ claims that sprout endlessly in our media-saturated and weight-obsessed world. Seems like there is a new, sure-fire plan every day.

It’s easy to mock and scorn those annoying promises, so gloriously promoted and later debunked. However, it’s also true that articles touting new research on ‘causes of obesity’, or in this case, ‘Why it’s so hard to diet’ are regularly presented as earth-shattering, only to be pushed aside by the next big thing. Are they different sides of the same media game?

As I once-upon-a-time grasped at the latest weight-loss solution, I am now likely to seize upon a new study that appears to explain the whys and wherefores of body size. I’d like to think that I’m a bit wiser now about the whole hype game. I turn a blind eye to the magazine headlines proclaiming that some starlet with a small belly has found the true and sacred answer to weight loss. I sneer, curling my lip at the ‘Never eat these five foods’ adverts that pop up on the computer screen.

I exercise my critical eye.

I read snippets from studies that conclude, based on research with rats or mice, that there are mechanisms that are hard wired within me.  Some are species specific, some familial-ly genetic and some are neural pathways that have been created by trauma or the death of critical microbes in my intestines. These scraps of information, taken with a grain (but no more) of salt are something I want to share with others who may not have the obsession or time to seek them out.

I believe these data bites are pieces of the puzzle. Although my history and the story of millions of large people cannot be rewritten, these studies contain a cautionary note. This may be what my researching and writing are all about, really. I’m driven to understand what has shaped me as a person, both physically and emotionally.

I want to share the information and insights I have acquired from food researchers like Michael Moss (Salt, Sugar Fat) and others regarding what I call the Processed Food Industrial Complex (PFIC). I want to share the psychological and sociological information and insights I have gained from Brene Brown (I thought it was Just Me…) and others, which have helped me to de-construct the monster called shame. And I need to share some of these new ‘facts’ that are trickling out to the public, backed by oceans of scientific research, explaining or attempting to explain misunderstood phenomena about weight.

I want people like me to know that it is not our ‘fault’. The boogeyman and cudgel named the ‘Obesity Epidemic’ has many causes, with roots deep in our profit-driven, misogynistic culture. I am determined to throw off the blame, the claim that we simply lack discipline and will power.  In some ways the deck has been stacked and it’s time to understand that and listen to our own bodies. For far too long the slick voices of the PFIC, presented by their marketing and advertising geniuses, have dominated and we have internalized their inaccurate and self-defeating messages.

End of diatribe.

Next time:  Friendship

What if…

Another line of thought, springing from: What if… I had been told, ‘don’t worry about [my] size’… is more concrete: my actual body size and eating behavior over the years. I was first placed on a diet at age eight and my food intake was restricted for the next ten years by my parents. There was a lot of stigmatizing, teasing by my siblings and parents (there was a post about this last November…) a lot of shame and a concurrent, childhood pattern of ‘secret eating’ began. If your siblings are given ice cream after dinner and you are told that you cannot have any because are too fat, I think that it’s a fairly predictable response from a preteen. It’s the same as hearing: you can’t go out after 8 PM and sneaking out the window to meet your friends; or any other prohibition that triggers a defiant response from a child.

Some forty years ago I first heard about ‘yo-yo dieting’ and the body’s ‘set point’. The most basic explanation made sense to me immediately. It seems obvious that the body needs and expects a certain level of nutrient intake for optimal health. As an organism, it responds to an experience of starvation (read, restrictive diet… and the diets of the late 20th century were certainly restrictive) by drawing on its reserves (stored fat, then muscle) and adjusting its expectations/needs. As I understood the concept at that time, the body changes its ‘set point’ and proceeds to operate in starvation mode. Add a few extra nutrients (calories) and the weight piles on. In the case of yo-yo dieters, where their weight goes up and down repeatedly, the body’s internal regulatory systems get completely messed up.

That’s pretty much how I understood the concept back in the 1970’s: simplistic and undoubtedly containing medical inaccuracies. However, over the years, a lot of research has been done and mountains of literature have been published about the ways in which the body reacts to healthy and unhealthy eating. Remember, overeating and dieting are equally unhealthy eating patterns! I have found much of the latest research into the neurological aspects of this issue is fascinating. One such article crossed my path recently.

“Emmanuel N. Pothos, associate professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and neuroscience in the Tufts School of Medicine’s Department of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology and his colleagues are focusing on the reward system in the brain that motivates us to seek out food…”

“When an animal eats a meal, the brain’s food reward system releases dopamine, one of a group of chemicals called neurotransmitters that relay signals between brain cells. Dopamine produces a pleasurable sensation that lets the animal know it has satisfied a primal need.”

“A number of factors can knock the reward system off kilter… Gaining weight and losing weight alter the system… as can certain diseases, including addiction.” (Ah, addiction.)

“Starvation… will alter this reward system’s otherwise tidy feedback loop. When an animal is having a hard time finding enough food… the brain doesn’t want it to feel satisfied after just one meal. The brain wants to compel the animal to keep looking, to keep eating, all day if it can.”     Here is a link to the full article.

… That Bass

This is the line from Meghan Trainor’s  All About The Bass that got to me: “My mama she told me don’t worry about your size…” Maybe it’s obvious, if you know me or have read any of my earlier posts on this site, but I was told just the opposite.

I was told, in no uncertain terms and in every possible phrasing and manner imaginable:

“Worry about your size.”

“Worry about your size more than anything else in the world.”

“Your size is all that matters.”

This message was/is culturally ubiquitous, of course, but the saddest part for me is that the primary carriers and promoters of this credo were my progenitors, my parents. From the age of my first consciousness until they each departed this earth, that was what they kept telling me: in every possible phrasing and manner imaginable: “Worry about your size.” “Worry about your size more than anything else in the world. Your size is all that matters.” Yes, I have repeated myself. On purpose, it is not an editing error.

As I have stated before in these posts, I don’t seek to blame my parents. I fully acknowledge and understand that their own backstories and the prevailing opinions and norms of their world supported this behavior. But you can’t blame me for wondering: ”What if…?”

There are (at least) two lines of thought that I have followed here. One is the emotional impact it might have had, to be told that I was okay, loveable, worthy, acceptable, even beautiful, by my family. It would have been contrary to the chanting of the outside world, but I might have been able to face that negative onslaught with inner fortitude, rather than ‘knowing’ that the ugly assessment of my non-value was ‘correct’. What might I have chosen to do with my time and energy if I felt sustained, rather than drained by the daily battles of shame? We’ll never know, of course and I will reiterate that I am grateful for the hindsight that shows me the richness of the life I have lived so far, despite this emotional handicapping.