There are thirty bags of clothing in my garage.
I’m not talking about those tall, white deodorized kitchen trash bags. I’m talking about heavy-duty, “a dumpster-in-a-bag”, construction-grade trash bags, each stuffed to the top with preppy attire in slightly varied sizes.
Enough white button-down collar oxford cloth shirts to outfit a (plus-sized) private girls school.
No (size sixteen or eighteen) woman in the state of New Hampshire with access to my garage need go shopping for denim, at least until the next decade.
An ocean of trash bags. I could drown in them. And in some ways, maybe I did.
As I got started on my adventure in cleaning out our “storage closet”, which is actually a small room off the master bedroom, I looked around at the boxes and bags stacked awkwardly to the ceiling, filled with clothes that I’d picked up at malls and online over the past seventeen years. I couldn’t help but think of the show on TLC called Hoarding: Buried Alive… and I wondered if they could possibly do an episode on me.
On the second full day of bagging and tagging clothes, I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t better a subject for a Lifetime made-for-TV movie about a compulsive shopper whose wretched husband holds an intervention to stop her from sending them to the poor house. (Incidentally, my husband has been remarkably patient with my little habit.)
On the third day, I was finally able to tackle the foundation of books that lay beneath the excessive piles of clothing, and a new concept surfaced in my mind about who this apparent compulsive buyer really is.
Here is a small sample from my extremely large book collection:
Intuitive Eating by Emily Tribole, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker,
embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!) by Connie Sobczak, How to Have Your Cake and Your Skinny Jeans Too: Stop Binge Eating, Overeating and Dieting For Good, Get the Naturally Thin Body You Crave From the Inside by Josie Spinardi, Embrace: My Story from Body Loather to Body Lover by Taryn Brumfitt, Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body by Lesley Kinzel, The New Atkins Made Easy: A Faster, Simpler Way to Shed Weight and Feel Great — Starting Today! by Colette Heimowitz, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution by Robert C.Atkins, Weight Watchers the Fit Factor: How Getting Strong Can Help You Lose Weight… by Weight Watchers, Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary, The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care by Judith Matz, Ellen Frankel, Self-Esteem Comes in All Sizes: How to Be Happy and Healthy at Your Natural… by Gary D. Foster (Foreword), et al, Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self by Frances Kuffel, Journeys to Self-Acceptance: Fat Women Speak by Carol A. Wiley, Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large by Kimberly Brittingham, Stop Dieting Now: 25 Reasons To Stop, 25 Ways To Heal by Golda Poretsky, The Easiest Diet in the World . . . and It Works! by Rich Stevens, Eat This! : 365 Reasons to Stop Dieting by Mary McHugh, Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout by Judy Gruen, The Good Calorie Diet Philip, Ph.D. Lipetz, The Two-Hundred Calorie Solution: How to Burn an Extra 200 Calories a Day and… by Martin Katahn, The Prayer Diet: The Unique Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Approach to Healthy by Matthew Anderson, Dieting For Dummies by Jane Kirby, Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat by Hillel Schwartz…, Fed-Up: A Woman’s Guide to Freedom from the Diet/Weight Prison by Terry Nicholetti Garrison, David Ph.D Levitsky, Making Peace With Food : Freeing Yourself From the Diet/Weight Obsession… by Susan Kano, Don’t Diet by Atrens, Dale M.; Valk, Peter, Real Women Don’t Diet!: One Man’s Praise of Large Women and His Outrage at the by Ken Mayer, The Dieter’s Dilemma: Eating Less and Weighing More by William Bennett, Joel Gurin, The 3-Apple-a-Day Plan: Your Foundation for Permanent Fat Loss by Tammi Flynn, Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It by Brittany Gibbons, Inspired to Lose by Howard Rankin, Ph.D., How To Lose Your Ass and Regain Your Life: Reluctant Confessions of a Big… by Kirstie Alley, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion by Virgie Tovar, FAT!SO? : Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size Marilyn Wann, Think Thin, Be Thin : 101 Psychological Ways to Lose Weight by Doris Wild Helmering, Dianne Hales, Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America’s Obesity Epidemic by Eric J Oliver, Fat Chicks Rule!: How To Survive in a Thin-Centric World by Lara Frater, Jenny Craig’s What Have You Got to Lose : A Personalized Weight Management… by Jenny Craig
Get the picture?
I’m not a hoarder, nor am I a compulsive shopper. I mean, sure, those labels could be loosely applied to me, but they do not describe what is at the heart of the matter.
I am a woman in distress.
For all of my adult life, most of my teenage years, and a sizeable portion of my childhood, I have been tormented by the inability to accept my body size, which might be a first world problem, but it is my reality. At this juncture, I will not discuss the personal why’s or the political implications of this problem of mine, but rather, I plan to describe my personal experience with it.
I could give you a pertinent example, or a million. Maybe I will.
I’m allowing this personal statement, my manifesto, to flow freely. Call it a stream of consciousness, if you so choose. So in the spirit of structurelessness, I’m going to start here… don’t ask me why.
I feel like a link of sausage in these stupid Danskin leggings that Mom makes me wear to school. A fatty, juicy sausage packaged in a stretchy polyester casing. (And I was a normal-sized child… thin, even.)
The anguish of body hatred isn’t a new thing in my life. I’ve been aware of, and uncomfortable with, my body since I was a child.
I worked at an ice cream parlor over a summer when I was in junior high school, I rode my bike to the CVS downtown and and spent all of my tips on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. This was my first toe-dip into teen independence.
In my teenage years I struggled with not being as small in body as I felt my person was in the world. A silly, dreamer, crossed with a nervous people-pleaser, I had never been popular in high school. Wearing my heart on my sleeve and a target on my back, I’d discovered that being insignificant was far better than being laughed at. So I isolated myself from the crowd and tried to stay safe by being as perfect as possible. “That’s right. Reclaim a bit of your lost power by keeping the girls jealous and the boys wanting you.” To accomplish this, I had to be thin.
In college I was so scared and alone, no girlfriends, just boyfriends, and when they dumped me, or I dumped them, which was somehow inevitable, all hell broke lose in my heart. I had no problem staying skinny then, because I’m a happy eater. I don’t eat to console myself, and in college I was too anxious to eat. But when I started working, the diets resumed.
I can still remember the first McChicken Sandwich I ever ate at McDonalds. Holy sweet fried chicken torture…. They were all I could think of. McChicken Sandwiches have become smaller and drier over the past 30 years. Just saying.
I remember returning from my honeymoon, about twenty-three years ago, completely disillusioned. Not disillusioned by the daunting reality of being a married woman, or distraught over how I was going to pay for a fifteen thousand dollar wedding. No, I was struggling emotionally with the six pounds I’d gained over the course of my wedding and honeymoon. Desperate, I headed straight to Nutrisystem, where they proceeded to weigh and measure me. The verdict: five feet six inches, 131 pounds (I have an amazing memory for details like this). “Yes, ma’am, you are indeed overweight and Nutrisystem can help you lose those unwanted pounds.”
“Did you ever hold a pound of butter in your hand?” My mother asks me when I lose only two pounds this week when my goal was four. “That’s a lot of unsightly fat! Don’t give up!”
“Are you pregnant?” asks my 7th grade student, Tommy DiMato, when I wear a blue pleated skirt to school. I never wore that skirt again.
“Why can’t I make this bulge in my stomach go away?” Partway through a set of one hundred sit-ups and fifty leg lifts, I ask the trainer at the gym, where I’m the sexy juice bar girl.
“That’s where your ovaries are,” replies the trainer. “You can’t exercise them away.”
And then I was pregnant and I couldn’t fully enjoy the experience of bringing a precious new life into the world because I lived and died for the weigh-ins at my OB GYN’s office. I found myself dieting when pregnant, and confounded by the fact that I was gaining weight still. In my mind were the Downy commercials in which a gorgeous perfect skinny mother holds her similarly perfect newborn up in the air in front of her and they exchange perfect smiles. I knew that a fat woman like me couldn’t be that perfect mother.
“When did you start packing on the pounds, big Mama?” asks Dr. Dolman with a smirk when he comes to my room after I’m checked into the hospital for the induction of labor with my third child, thanks to the onset of pre-eclampsia. I wisely decide not to slap the face of man who will soon be delivering my baby, but it isn’t easy to hold back. “Have you ever been pregnant, Dr. D?” In case you’re wondering, I didn’t ask him this.
A few weeks after giving birth to Sienna, a close family member notices I’m still wearing a larger size in clothes. “It’s a good thing you have those beautiful J.Jill clothes or you’d look horrible,” she confides with a sly wink.
I thought I’d be able to brush aside my body acceptance issues as I experienced the miracle of pregnancy, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I worried that I would never be the same, and I wasn’t.
I have never uttered a single word to my kids with regard to body weight. In fact, I refuse to allow them to so much as mention the word diet, which might be overkill in the right direction. My mother was aware of every bite of food I put into my body, and felt it was her duty to comment on it, because, you know, “men don’t marry fat ladies”. So I took a huge step back with my own children, encouraging them to eat when they were hungry, and stop when full. I do not want them to ever feel that they need to change their bodies, but rather I hope they will embrace the bodies they have been blessed with.
“I took more hell for being fat than I did for being an absolute raging drug addict. I will never understand that.” ― Kelly Osbourne
I never want to go to parties with my husband because party snacks and drinks have calories. Lots of calories. If I eat and drink them, I’ll get fat. And then I won’t look decent enough in party clothes to even attend this type of event. My alternative is to go to the party, have nothing to eat, and drink water. And be envious of all the people who are eating and drinking the good stuff. Now you can see why partying isn’t high on my list of things to do.
So let’s revisit my closet…
Here is how I ended up with a literal mountain of plus size clothes, growing at a fast clip in the next room:
*Maybe this outfit will make me look thin. I’ll buy one in every color.
*Oh, my God, my jeans are snug around the waist. Calm down… it’s okay. You need to accept yourself as you are. Ever since you had Sienna you have continually dieted and returned to this very same weight! Hello! Maybe this is your body’s natural set point? I’m gonna go buy bigger clothes. I’ll feel comfortable and accept the new larger me. After all, bigger is better. Right? Right?
*I think these jeans make my butt look a little bit smaller. I’ll buy five pairs. I don’t want them to run out or stop making them and then I’ll never be able to look this good again.
*For the rest of my life, I’m only going to eat fruit and vegetables and drink black coffee and have popcorn for dessert… because mentally I can’t go without dessert. (And after nine months of eating more apples, oranges and bananas than a fruitarian…) Now I need new clothes… woohoo!! I’m gonna buy a crap ton of “skinny clothes” cuz I’m not going back to my former fat self.
*But bread and cookies and brownies and mocha lattes … they taste so good. I’ll only have one… I mean it. Did you know that it’s much easier to gain weight than lose it? But gaining is still equally torturous. Because I remember how it felt when I was fatter than I am right now… I was not attractive and people thought I was lazy and some people thought I was worthless … and I was almost not fat any more thanks to Peeled Brand’s Dried Mangoes. But rolling stones gather moss and I can’t stop the downhill roll. And up the scale I climb. Shit. Time for new clothes that I can breathe in.
There are days I don’t eat until three in the afternoon because I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to be on a diet or not.
Sometimes I suffer over what I eat so much that I finally succumb to the “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” philosophy and I do something drastic like go on the Atkins Diet. I lived on a low carb diet for three years. My weight was under control, but it sucked to go out for ice cream because I’d have to eat the beef jerky I took from home. And I hate meat… and lettuce. Which made Atkins tough.
*If I could just find the perfect pair of slouchy jeans I would not have to worry about being fat or thin. I’m going to go online shop and buy boyfriend jeans from every store. One of them has to make me look cool, confident, preppy… or maybe like a free-spirited hippy. You know, like I don’t care about how I look, and about what people see when they look at me.
Twenty more minutes on this GODDAMNED TREADMILL and I’ll have burned enough calories to eat two Devil Dogs….
Aside: I just got distracted… I read a story of a person who lost a lot of weight but who did it did it in an admittedly dangerous manner. First impulse: I get an instinctive feeling that she is somehow better than me because she is thin. That she has more control over her life and is self-disciplined, and, generally, worth more. And everybody thinks she looks terrific and is saying so as I type this, even though they know that she lost weight in a way that could ultimately kill her! What does this mean? Hmmm… it means that being thin is more important than being … alive. ”You look great! Keep up the good work!” Huh?
I used to avoid my yearly medical check-ups because I so dreaded getting weighed. I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE NUMBER. Do you hear me??? I DO NOT NEED TO KNOW. Now I refuse to be weighed at doctor’s appointments. The regular nurses know that I don’t step on the scale. I hate it when they get new nurses.
And so, I ended up with a room full of clothes of slightly varied sizes and styles, all selected with the hope that I would lose weight and fit into them or stay thin and fit into them or wear bigger clothes and fit into them because I accept myself. Or be the perfect garment that would change everything for me and let me be a cool, confident I-don’t-care sort of cowgirl.
Back to the why’s of this sticky situation I find myself in….
I have pondered this topic incessantly… I’ve obsessed over it, even. Why am I convinced that in order to be happy I need to be thin? All I can say is it’s a society thing… At some point we all bought into the “thin=smart, successful, healthy, disciplined, and worthwhile” scenario. You want respect? “Then get your fat ass off the couch and onto the treadmill… and, for God’s sake, put down the fudge brownie! There’s a fudge brownie flavored low cal yogurt in the fridge!” And don’t forget this wise assumption: “Everybody knows fat people are lazy and self-indulgent… and stupid… and, I’m just gonna say it— disgusting. #sorrynotsorry.” This is no exaggeration, although I wish it were.
I’m a people–pleaser and I am aware that society wants my body to be thin… and I’ve tried, almost every day, for more than thirty-five years to deliver to the public what it so desires: a thin person…. And I’ve failed.
Even the currently (terrifyingly) most popular Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, thinks that fat people got no reason to live. I mean, would he really be my president? Would he represent me, with all of my Rosie O’Donnell physical similarities? I highly doubt it. And where I should be furious at him for possessing this backward attitude toward women/fat/Rose O, I feel shame. As if maybe Rosie and me don’t deserve equal representation in the democratic process because we have belly rolls.
In the midst of the contents of my closet… among the piles of clothing and the boxes and bins filled with diet books and you-don’t-need-to-diet-books and dieting-doesn’t-work-books, I see the clear evidence of a tortured life. Of pain that I accept because I have a body that I can’t accept. All the hurt and resentment and embarrassment and shame are stuffed into this backroom… living in the closet where no one but I know it’s there. (My husband has a pretty good clue it’s there, though, because when the cats get in the storage room they never fail to knock down precariously stacked bins, and that’s loud at 2 AM.)
As I sit here sorting through the physical evidence of my lifelong pain, the television is on the Investigation Discovery Channel so I have something to keep me entertained while I work. Marie Osmond chirps on and on about the wonders of Nutrisystem, and the “rough day” she looked in the mirror, saw the dismal truth that she was fifty pounds overweight, and knew she had to do something about it. (I estimate that the diet plan plays a motivating commercial at least five times each afternoon.) I’m being brainwashed even as I recognize that I have long been brainwashed by a society that has declared I am not good enough as I am.
Is it time that I accept my full self, including my body, and love and take care of the lush frame God gave me with a loving attitude… by exercising for pleasure and health and eating a variety of foods? Yes. I think the day has come.
Even as I profess that I’m going to love myself exactly as I am today, can I still the niggling doubt that tomorrow morning I’m going to tell myself, “Fruit only, fatso! Cuz you’re big ass is going to a family gathering next month and everybody will see the fat girl you really are! You better get started right now!”
But, maybe today IS the day I finally celebrate the real me. The me who I currently am. The woman who has raised her kids and loved her man and cared for her dying mother and written her books and emulated her sister and folded all the damned laundry and cared for so many hearts and souls of kids and cats and friends and family….
I so badly want today to be the day. “But,” the inner anxious me reminds, “thirty bags are gone… not thirty pounds.”
No worries, inner me… I’m okay. I’m the way I’m supposed to be. I don’t need to change, not for myself, not for you, not for anyone.
I’m beautiful. I am. I am.