This is a long post for me, but it's been very cathartic and eye-opening for me to write. I hope even though it's lengthy, others will take the time to read my story. I've really enjoyed reading what others have had to say on the topic.
Drazil & Linda have brought up a good discussion about childhood obesity - as in what should a parent do if they see their child is becoming overweight. That is a great discussion. Should the parent step in and take charge of the situation and perhaps cause the child to have self-image issues or should the parent let the child be blissfully unaware of the fact that their overeating could be leading to a life-time of obesity and possible ridicule? Obviously neither of those is the best choice, but what is the middle ground?
I do not have children, so I can not tell you what I would do in this situation. I can tell you what I *think* I might do, but who knows if that would work out, right? I can imagine it's a whole new ballgame when you've got your own children and see them dealing with these issues. So, given that, I won't even pretend to know what is right and wrong. Ever family is different as well.
All I can tell you is my story. I was a fat kid. I was THE fattest kid in every class I was ever in. I was bigger than the boys. I was the fat kid from the fat family.
However, lucky for me, I grew up in the best little podunk town ever. I never recall having been made fun of. I went to the same school from K-12 and everyone knew me and I guess liked me. And, on top of that, everyone had manners. Because of that, I never knew ridicule and teasing. I never knew that I was supposed to be ashamed of my size. I knew I was bigger than everyone else, and I knew I did not want to be bigger than everyone else, but I never felt particularly ashamed of it. More than anything, I just wanted to be able to wear the same clothes as everyone else.
My family was fat. All of them. We still are. We all struggled with our weight. We still do. So, lucky for me, I never had a skinny sibling or a skinny mom to compare myself to. I was just one of the crowd.
I was an active child of the 80s. I was always outside and rarely played inside. I road my bike, played in the woods, ran around, biked around the neighborhood and rarely watched copious amounts of TV. I played basketball on a team every single year from 2nd grade until 7th grade. My mom never made a big deal out of my weight, but she would let me try to lose weight. I would initiate that on my own. Maybe she figured that I was so active that eventually I would burn it all off and grow out of it? Actually, that is exactly what she would tell me. She would tell me that if I kept up doing all the things I was doing that when I got older and taller I would grow out my size and I would be taller and more slender. I think it was a very good way to put it - it never made me feel bad, it just made me feel good because I can remember thinking that one day I would grow up out of this "phase"... It made me feel good, but I guess it was also a bit of a stretch because in my little kid mind, I thought that it would just happen and I wouldn't have to do anything to make it happen.
I can remember the summer after 3rd grade when I called my former teacher to inform her that over the summer I had learned how to ride my bike and lost 10lbs. I was so proud. This really isn't something that an 8 year old should be worrying about, but I did... I can VIVIDLY remember running around our yard in a little running path that I had mapped out for myself. I would challenge myself to run around it however many times. I would be huffing and puffing and singing "What's Love Got To Do With it" by Tina Turner as I ran. My mom didn't make me do that...she didn't map out a course for me. She didn't set a goal number of times to run around the yard - I did. I did that all on my own.
Eventually the fat held me back. I wanted to play basketball so bad, but I was embarrassed because the uniform never fit me right and the shorts were always riding up and the shirt was too tight. So, I didn't allow myself to play very well because the more I ran, the more those shorts rode up and I just knew that everyone was looking at me. Finally after the 7th grade, I quit basketball and become the bookkeeper for the Varsity boys basketball team. I was a smart kid and the coaches all liked me and knew I would do a good job. BUT, it wasn't what I really wanted to do. I wanted to play.
I don't recall my mom being a constant dieter, but I knew that she had been to a doctor about her weight before and that at one time she had been on a 600 calorie a day diet that the doctors had put her on. She still had all the papers and pamphlets from all of it and would get it out sometimes. We ate fairly healthy meals most of the time. It was just the in-between stuff that was so bad. We never had lots of snacks around the house. We would go on the weekend, get the snacks, and go home and eat them all in one sitting - and a lot of it. That was what made us fat. It was like a family binge eating frenzy.
Even to this day, my mom is in denial of the binge eating...I clearly remember my mom and brother and I going to the store and picking out chips, soda, several candy bars and snack cakes (plus anything new that was on the market so we could try it) and going home and eating them all while we watched rented movies together. It was truly ridiculous amounts of food. It was horrendous.
We hid the binges too. We hid them from my dad. Not because he was a mean, ogre who would call us all fat or do or say anything mean/violent. No...he wasn't like that. He was fat too! But, he just had a different kind of bad eating behavior. So, these binges would occur on weekends while my dad was on hunting or fishing trip. We would eat copious amounts of food and dispose of the evidence before he got home. Often we would get snacks at the grocery store or while we were out running errands, eat them in the car on the way home, and then toss the wrappers out the window on some old country road. (This makes me cringe now as an adult...littering is a BIG no-no in my book).We were hiding it for no other reason than shame. I don't think it was mine or my brother's shame...it was my mom's shame.
Eventually we learned the shame. This is the behavior that I learned from my mom that has lead to how I am today. Eating junk food is kind of like a private affair because I know there is going to be so much of it that no one else would understand and they would judge me. I can look back into the recent past and see how many times I exhibited that behavior. I introduced that behavior to my husband. Who never criticized me for it - he thought it was fun too! Then, we both kicked that habit together and continue to do so.
Even though I knew I was held back physically from my fat and hid binge-eating, somehow, I managed to grown up mentally unscathed by the whole situation.
There is one thing I will tell you right now - I love me. I love me no matter what size I am and I always have. I always will too. I've never let this fat hold me back from much besides physical activities. I'm not exactly an extrovert, but I'm hardly an introvert either. I will speak up in a crowd, but I may not get up and do karaoke in front of a crowd, ya know what I mean? I think that's just who I am and that may or may not have been because of the fat.
I've always had confidence and pride in who I am. I always allowed myself to be a wacky kid and I was interested in things that others may not have been. I wasn't afraid to be smart - even if it wasn't cool. I followed the beat of my own drum and didn't let peer pressure enter the picture. I was always way more proud of being a good student than being pretty or cute. I'm still that way today... I don't care if people thing my hobbies are dorky I don't care if I don't wear super stylish expensive clothes all the time - I would rather spend my money on something else.
I'm very happy that I grew up with that attitude. I'm happy I lived in a place where people were nice and respectful. I live in a place like that now too. I'm glad that I still have the same attitude and I feel lucky because of it.
I think the reason I am this way is because my family never made an issue out of being fat. We never had lots and lots of dieting going on. Nothing negative was ever said to me. I was always encouraged to be active when I wanted to be.
That environment gave me a good outlook on life mentally.
It did not do me any favors physically.
I'm not sure what my mom could have done to "fix" the situation. The only thing I think she could have done was "fix" herself so that her habits would be showing us an example. I don't think that if she encouraged us to eat well and exercise that would have given me a bad body image. Not if she continued to remind me how much she loved me, how pretty she thought I was, and how smart I was. I think that is mom had worked on fixing herself then no only would our food habits have changed, but she would have been free from the fat for once in her life. She was an obese child as well with some pretty awful experiences in her past. The priests at her Catholic school would give the boys a dollar if they could pick my mom up...pretty terrible stuff.
Later on as an adult I found out that my mom almost had stomach stapling surgery in the early 80s. She had the date set and went to her pre-op surgeon's appointment and backed out of it at the last minute. She had doubts about it. Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if she had gone through with it. The surgeries were not very safe back then, so in some ways I'm glad she didn't risk it. But in what if it had worked? How would that have changed the lives of my brother and I? How would that have changed her life?
My mom's struggle with weight breaks my heart. She's only 63 and she's almost immobile because of the weight's wear and tear on her body. At 59 she had to have her hip replaced. She lost my father 4 years ago when he died of a heart attack. A heart attack that was caused in part by fat. All of this is what makes me cry as I write all of this. Not me. I can fix me...I have control over me. I don't have control over her. I didn't have control over my dad either. I can't fix them and that makes me so sad because I want to. I want to fix the parent that I have left so that I can have her in my life longer.
I love my mom. I can't really blame her for my being fat. I don't think that's totally fair. She was a wonderful mother and still is. It's not like she meant to teach us bad habits. She did those things unknowingly. Because I've been fat all my life, I have to deduce that the habits I learned from her as a child is what set me on the course I am on today, but I still wouldn't change a thing. When it comes down to it, the fat made me who I am today. It taught me a lot about who I am and what I'm REALLY made of, so I have to be grateful for that experience.
But, I'm not going to keep it around forever. I've learned what I needed to from it and It's time to say our goodbyes.