THE WORD WEIGHT
“I’m dieting.” A familiar phrase heard in my house and my grandmother’s house for most of my life. My grandmother, my two aunts and my mother were my female role models whether I knew it at the time or not. The fact is that whoever the grown ups are in our young lives become our point of reference like it or not. Sure, we can sort it all out as we gain years, but at the early beginnings, we really have no choice but to use them as our jumping off points. We learn so much by watching and listening and sometimes the two don’t meet. Actions speak louder than words come to mind; what adults say isn’t always what adults do.
As a parent, I’d like to think I tried to learn from my parent’s mistakes and made the necessary corrections by following through when I said something by my actions demonstrating my notion of being a ‘good parent.’ I am sure if I asked my son, though, he could easily come up with a list of examples where I didn’t, but this is parenting. You win some, you lose some. I know for the most part I made a concerted effort. I also didn’t have a girl so the traps weren’t as powerful as they might have been.
My four female influencers had a common denominator between them; they were always and I mean always dieting. If they weren’t dieting, they were talking about dieting. They were always trying to lose a few pounds, trying to get to that perfect unreachable unobtainable weight number that would magically appear on the daily step on the scale only to learn that another day had come and gone leaving them disappointed yet again. I am not sure how it all started, this obsession with the perfect weight that would never come and even if it did, like a crappy relationship, it wouldn’t stick around long.
As a little girl who was active with gymnastics, hula hooping and playing outside, I didn’t notice very much until that little sexual awakening started and boys became my go to hobby in seventh grade. This is when I started paying closer attention to the way I looked validating my sense of self by the way the boy I was infatuated with at the moment paid attention back. This is when I started reading Seventeen magazine not being even close to seventeen yet thinking I was doing something risqué. Laughing aloud at the notion that a twelve year old girl could think an innocent magazine was provocative enough to warrant this thought. Free and easy access to online porn wasn’t even in the brains of developers and as a matter of fact developers were people who developed real estate. The only place a twelve year old girl could learn about the feelings going on in her body was from other girls and the feelings themselves. We surely didn’t have the types of conversations with our own mothers. What went hand and hand with these sexual desires starting to awaken in our little bodies was also the reflection staring back. The more magazines we looked at, the more tv we watched gave us our definitions of what we were supposed to be ascribing to as the go to body, the one that would gain the interests of the boys we desired. At least this was what my experience was in retrospect and the experience of my young peers.
We grew up with commercials like, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Imagine. Then there were the Noxema ads that basically said without great skin, forget it, you didn’t have a chance. Women’s liberation hadn’t hit the twelve year old circle of girls in 1976 yet, maybe it had with our mothers but we surely didn’t see that in our homes where many played the more traditional roles of moms who stayed home and dads who worked.
This is even hard for me to write because as these desires grew so did my need to feel my worth validated by outside forces. These forces quickly came to mean how I looked, how my body showed up in a bathing suit at the beach and thus the final end result of dieting and food talk, body image inner dialogue.
The weight talk or in the vocabulary of today, the self fat talk, I feel fat, I look fat, I am fat began at an early age for me like around the time of thirteen. I am sure it was because of a combination of the aforementioned but who really knows. My friend’s mother gave me a book called The Teenage Diet Book written in the 1950s and off I ran, grapefruit diets, cottage cheese and cracker diets, one egg, slice of dry toast diets, on and on. The funny thing about all of this is that not only did I not have a weight problem, I was a healthy fit and very active tween. There was no reason for me to be dieting or even conscious of the food I took into my little body, but there I was, starting the cycle of negative body shaming out of the gate. These days it may be called an eating disorder, I don’t know. I ate fine. I wasn’t purging, starving, binging or whatever other descriptors are part of this world. It was more the talk I had with myself every time I looked at myself in the mirror. I just didn’t see the same picture I see now when I look back at the photos of yesteryear. I didn’t see that my budding hour glass figure was a normal healthy body staring back. Maybe it was the magazines showing the examples of what I was supposed to look like? Maybe it was the constant dialogue about dieting in my household. Surely I wasn’t born with this, there was something that just clicked about the same time I started wearing my first bra. Maybe it was the comments about my body and others girls in my class from the boys. “She has a nice body,” or a comment from a boy in seventh grade, “Your face on so and so’s body, yowza.” Boys commentary on my young blossoming body with no positive patty mama to teach me otherwise was the beginning of the uphill battle. Boys hormones were flowing too and their go to bodies were their father’s Playboy centerfolds. Whatever it was, the end result was a teenage girl who became super conscious of her weight, yes, but more so her body image staring back. It is forty years later and here I am.
Waking up at three am (again) I put on my go to podcast which immediately distracts me from spinney head and oddly puts me back to sleep pronto. This podcast was Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations interviewing the famous Carole Bayer Sager, songwriter extraordinaire. They were speaking of her success in the business of song, her marriage to Burt Bacharach and the general Oprah questions to get to the layers of what lies beneath the success. Like Oprah, Carole shared the same perpetual issues with weight her entire life around food and the way she looks at herself in both the mirror outward and the language she says to herself inward, usually not too kind. Always feeling fat, always thinking about her food choices from the day before, for later, for tomorrow, always dieting. It was both sad because well it is just a drag to have to have the constant battle yet refreshing because it was her truth. The truth shall set us free for sure and when we speak it more often to each other, somehow it eases the burden of the types of self talk we all are guilty of on any given day no matter how many positive patty affirmations we surround ourselves with. I listened to her talk about the comments her mother used to say to her about her weight and realized she is almost seventy and still grappling with the inner critic.
Conversations about weight, body size, diets, “food plans” “lifestyle changes” are often and frequently the words coated with a film of self loathing. I have never had an honest conversation with a woman that doesn’t include our perpetual inner dialogue about our body size, shape, weight, workout routine, or new eating plan.
I was in Florida feeling pretty strong and thinking I looked pretty good in my sassy bathing suit so I snapped a picture and sent it along to my work out coach, leader, fitness mentor, thanking her for helping me look the same way I felt for a change, my inside self yapping about my body size finally felt like it matched my outside. Her response was, “That’s so great Alayne!! Have you lost any weight?” What?! Buzzkill with a capital B. I don’t fucking know. I don’t get on the scale anymore since it is a perpetual bummer and it will never be the number that I want it to be. The last time I got on the scale was when I was doing a weight loss challenge at said gym that I totally love by the way and the number flipped me out so much I started eating Ice cream sundaes and drinking wine with a vengeance. I had been doing nothing except eating “clean” for like five weeks straight and the scale went up.
Ok yes it’s muscle, yes I look great, Yes I am alive, but what is it with that frickin number of doom. Does any happy woman get on the scale and like the number? I see the fittest healthiest, aka trimmest, women working out at the gym with me and they dread the scale. They have that voice in their head too that says fat. What does that even mean? I think the word should be dropped from our vernacular. It has such a negative connotation like a disease or something and it surely isn’t a kind word.
I wish clothing sizes were labeled with instead of the numbers going up, just naming the vibe, like bodacious, bad ass, voluptuous, serena strong, I mean have you seen her thighs- super bad ass, and how about Beyonce? Rocking the house at some California music festival I have never heard of, with legs of steel owning her body power for the world to see.
I grew up with ads like “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins,” with Brooke Shields lying snake like inviting the world in front of her to imagine what this means. I think she was about fifteen at the time. Not to mention all of the other dieting messages that have always come our way surrounded by ads for Weight watchers chocolate cake and yogurt attempting to imitate an ice cream sundae filled with chocolate chunks and oreos, but low fat and only “100 calories.” What a load of crap. It turns out all that low fat eating was all bullshit and that the amount of sugar needed to make it taste anything like normal is worse for you than the fat would have been. I am so confused. Are you?
I remember watching an Oprah show many years ago that really stuck with me. She had moms with their daughters on who had eating disorders. Oprah was trying to establish some common denominators as to the reasons. These mom’s seemed to have the greatest intentions with their daughters, positive self talk, encouraging language, direction, but what we learned in the show was that their actions didn’t always meet their voices when it came to the topic of weight. “You are beautiful, you are smart, strong, healthy, brilliant, good enough,” only goes so far when what you are doing on a regular basis is staring at yourself in the mirror filled with disdain and scorn for the body or the face or the hair that stares back. Talk about disempowerment. By the way, our boys are watching too and this made me a little more self conscious of my actions and commentary in the reflection back when my son was around for sure.
“Muscle weighs more than fat.” “What size are you fitting into, that is your gauge.” “Who cares what the number is?” Well obviously a three page essay on the topic warrants the obvious. We have been told incessantly that we are supposed to care. Cancer risk, diabetes risk, heart problems, high blood pressure, cholesterol, all of these diseases are attributed to excess weight so beyond the cosmetic factor of pounds, there is the pragmatic element of needing to weigh less to lessen the chances of dis-ease coming at us. There is so much information available out there on nutrition and exercise and at the same time, we are all seeming to be gaining pounds globally. Do we have the literal weight of the world on our shoulders with the amount of distractions away from our inner core causing us to eat and gain? We live in America here, what is there to be stressed about? We have freedoms in our country that should never warrant a moment of stress compared to other countries. But here we are dwelling on the silliness of a number on a scale to set our day in the right direction.
The more we talk about the talk that goes on in our heads with others, the better I think we will be. As Maya Angelou once said, “We are more alike my friends, we are more alike.” Honest conversation with each other about all topics, this is the way to get to the root, knowing we are not alone and this weight topic is one that most women I know struggle with every single day. My grandmother was always and I mean always dieting. She never felt good enough in her body and this translated right down the line supplying unintended body talk that would continue on in generations to come. Breaking the cycle is as tough as I would imagine it is for an alcoholic giving up the drink. I opened up a Shape Magazine and there was article after article about supposed fitness coupled with ad after add for Slimfast, Hydroxy cut and pharmaceuticals. Then there were the pictures and words in the Emma Roberts story, I know I am getting old when I don’t have a clue who she is. Words like perfect and fit and zen. The photos of a young girl who is so thin, I am not sure if the pictures are helpful or on the brink of dangerous. It’s opening paragraph is the description of what went on her smart head before the shoot and how she decided to “eat the cupcake,” beforehand instead of waiting until “after the shoot,” like her friends had told her would have been a better idea. This was the first paragraph of the story. If this story were about a man, does anyone think it would have been about his decision to eat a cupcake before the photo shoot? We have made progress I guess. I open the Athleta catalogue these days and there seems to be more curves, but even those models needed to have a description for some challenge they faced almost implying that the two go hand in hand.
Can we have hips and meat on our bones and be happy? I don’t think the magazines that are forced upon me everyday because I own a business and the companies think that I am going to place them in the waiting area, think that this is a possibility. After all isn’t this what sells them? The need to challenge the weak spot and plant the “you’re not good enough,” thought early on. I know after all the work I have done, all of the surgeries I have been through, all of the loss I have experienced, that when I eat with a vengeance it is to soothe the pain and it feels amazingly fulfilling when I indulge and super shitty a week later. I am not sure if I will ever overcome the constant food and weight and body talk jibber jabber that goes on in my crazy brain, but what gives me comfort is knowing that I am not alone in this. I welcome the conversations and the honesty from the tribe of women who grace my life in both my inner circle and my business circle. We are not alone and the more we communicate, the better our daughters and sons will be. This makes it all part of the party on the road to progress and never perfection. There is great freedom in that.