Escape From Stepford: A Weighty History (pt. 1 of 3)
because when it comes to weight and body issues, i know.
where i come from, it's not really okay to be fat.
i don't know how it would've been growing up elsewhere, but fairfield county, connecticut is home to some of the nation's wealthiest and most beautiful people. and while not everyone can be wealthy or beautiful, the bar is set pretty high.
yes, in the land of stepford*, the standards of beauty are nearly impossible. and though they are unspoken, they are simply understood, palpable and deeply, deeply ingrained.
in and around stepford, body issues and body image and fear of fat start early; and unless you find some impressive way around it, you'll take on these standards as your own. and judge yourself against them your whole life.
when i was seven years old, i wrote a diary entry about how i hated my tummy. i wrote that my tummy gets fat and then skinny and then fat again and that i wish i could just be skinny all the time.
i wasn't even a chubby kid, but at seven years old i knew that i didn't want a non-skinny tummy. and knew i didn't like my body.
by the time i was nine years old, i'd started developing. i'd been otherwise fairly precocious, so i guess my body decided it would be, too. and it was miserable. the last thing you want in pre-adolescence is something that makes you stand out.
i had at least two things.
i mean, i did everything i could to ignore the changes my body was going through, but even in fourth grade i could've filled out a training bra. i refused to get a bra, mind you, because the thought disgusted me. i wanted to be flat and sexless like all the other girls.
seriously, who's equipped to deal with their sexuality at nine years old? instead, i just started wearing enormous t-shirts and did everything i could to hide my body from myself and the world.
of course, it was also around this time that i started putting on noticeable weight. not so much that i would be considered "overweight" but enough that i wouldn't be considered a "skinny little kid," either. especially since i was tall for my age. my parents started to be concerned. i don't remember what they said, but i knew that i needed to start watching my weight (not that i hadn't been already).
when i was 11 and in sixth grade, i hit full-on puberty. just before school started i had to get a bra, and hated that shopping experience so completely it made me ill. everyone kept telling me that getting a bra is what "young ladies" do, but i just wanted to scream at them. i was only 11 and not a young lady at all. i cried for a week.
by the late fall of that year, i also got my period. it filled me with dread. i realized there was no way i could revert to being a kid, and that i'd have to deal with the 'curse' for like, ever. i didn't want to talk about it or acknowledge it in any way.
and with my hormones on the fritz, my weight was all over the place. i experienced (what i NOW know is) normal weight gain as i started developing hips and booty and that sort of thing. but i hated it. i didn't have great eating habits, and i wasn't really the sporty type, so i wasn't doing anything to counter the weight gain. i started creeping into the junior-size 13s.
i would still be hard-pressed to consider me chubby even then, but i definitely did not have the body of a "normal" 11-year-old girl. and because i wasn't "normal" i knew i couldn't eat what -- or how -- "normal" kids eat. that is, with abandon. meaning without concern for caloric intake.
and what do you do as a parent in that situation? my body was changing and i was gaining weight and i was clearly unhappy about it and they wanted to help. and so we would talk about it. i think we discussed different diet ideas, too, but i don't actually remember. i just remember feeling deformed compared to other girls who didn't have "curves" (or height or acne or dark hairs) to worry about, and wishing it weren't so. and in trying to be supportive, my parents (and grandparents, and kids at school, and magazines, and and and) validated the idea that i needed to change. as-is, i wasn't okay.
the summer before 8th grade, my parents offered to take me to a diet center, and i thought that sounded like a great idea, since i didn't seem capable of "fixing" my body on my own. i don't remember much about the experience, other than that the woman who was my counselor probably weighed around 300 lbs. she gave me an outline of what i was allowed to eat and what i wasn't. i didn't like many of my options, but i felt guilty for how much the center was costing my parents, so for two months i followed the plan precisely.
which means that the summer i turned 13, i ate only a preservative-free bran muffin for breakfast, an apple mid-morning, a beef patty for lunch (or a plain salad), 3 or 4 small pieces of melba toast in the afternoon, and then a single, boneless, skinless chicken breast for dinner (sometimes with dry bread if i'd only had 2 pieces of melba toast that day). i drank a lot of water and crystal light. and i had swim practice 5 days a week**.
i dropped probably 20 lbs. maybe more, but i don't really know. i knew i'd lost weight, but my body looked the same to me. i was probably a size 8 then, and it still seemed like i was huge.
by the time high school rolled around, i had absolutely no idea what size i was. my breasts were still growing, so i continued to try and hide them with very baggy shirts. and because i continued to have a much curvier body than almost any other girl in school (except for the ones who were clearly "fat girls"), i just felt like i was unattractive. boys who liked me, i reasoned, were attracted to me *despite* my body, not because of it.
when i graduated, i was probably 25 to 30 lbs. heavier than when i started, and didn't even know it. it all felt the same.
my first year of college, however, was a turning point. i spent the entire year miserable for lots of typically collegiate, maudlin, woe-is-me reasons. and by the end of it, i was heavier than i'd ever been. i had assumed when i started school that i would be popular -- i thought that the only reason i hadn't ended high school as a Popular Girl was because of the town i grew up in and the kids who'd known me my whole life. i discovered, though, that it doesn't matter where you are; after a certain weight, you have to work it HARD to get with an "in" crowd, and i didn't have the energy.
and then the summer i turned 19, my best friend dragged my sorry ass to the gym.
*"stepford" is a fictional name, but the original movie was set (and filmed) in the town my dad grew up in and where i spent the first 5 years of my life.
**during the summers from the year i turned 9 to the year i turned 13, i swam competitively at the country club we belonged to. the club was in "stepford," though my family had long moved to the urban town next to stepford. this had several implications: 1) i had swim practice mon-fri. it was the only athletic thing i did with any consistency. i was good at it, in no small part because i was exceptionally tall and strong for my age. it seemed rather unfair. it was nice to win a lot, but i'd rather have been 6 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than MVP. 2) spending my entire summer with rich, beautiful kids was pretty challenging, especially since i was born the antithesis of a shrinking violet. i learned how to pretend that my body issues were non-existant. i did an okay job, too. i became pretty cool to hang out with -- i'd be the girl that the boys would talk to about who they liked. and i was safe, because it was never me.