Words I can't shake
Monday, January 12, 2015
**I thought I should preface this blog with a note that it is about a negative experience I am thinking through that involves talking about other people in a way that is NOT body positive or affirming--and therefore out of character with how I normally strive to be on SparkPeople.**
I can't stop thinking about this moment over Christmas vacation.
The entire holiday was intense in a different way than it has been before. After four years of college and six years of grad school, this was my first year taking time away from a "regular" job to be with my family. I wanted to be with them, but I felt pressed for time and worried about ending the year with no vacation or sick days left. 2014 was the year of illnesses--my own and my mother's. I pray for health in 2015.
On one of the four days I set aside to be with my family (I know I'm lucky I got to be with them) I travelled with my parent's to visit my Dad's family. It's about a six hour drive from my parents' house to the relatives.
It was stressful to get in a car for five hours after flying to visit my parents in the first place. And did I mention that my plane on the way home was delayed and I had to sleep in the airport overnight?
It was. And I did.
So, my patience was low. My holiday had already been stressful. Add to that that being drafted back into the family holiday road trip had a weird going-backwards quality to it. Last year, I attended Christmas for the first time with a "serious" partner. This year he's gone, no one wants to hear about it, and I'm still awash, at times, in anger over how it ended, how badly I feel I was treated, and how poorly I'm dealing with my first real experience of finding out that no matter how careful you are, you can end up in a romantic relationship that isn't good and, no matter how bad that relationship is, it will still hurt worse than you expect to end it.
After a few hours in the car, I ask my Dad to stop at a Sheetz for sandwiches. He says he'd rather stop at a Cracker Barrel. I was surprised, because he usually wants to rush through the drive. But I assumed this was meant to be a nice gesture. We found the restaurant down a winding road of an exit about thirty minutes later and settled in to a table by the window.
I was still curious why my Dad wanted to stop at a Cracker Barrel instead of anywhere else. But I know he likes low-calorie menus, and when I saw they had one, I asked him if it had drawn him to the chain.
"Not really," he said. "I think their food is a good deal."
Which is also true to character for my Dad. Nothing inherently wrong with that.
"Of course, most of those people obviously never order from the healthy menu," he said. He said it loudly enough that I looked around the restaurant and saw those people, wondered if they heard.
Those fat people.
Fat people eat bad food.
Fat people can't control themselves.
I heard all the things that he meant.
Maybe it doesn't land the same if you don't know my Dad, how it was meant. But I'm sure I heard all the things I was supposed to hear in that statement.
I don't think my Dad would actually say "fat people." He doesn't need to. He and my mom have made it clear through words and actions over many years who "those people" are.
And there I am, waiting for my order and knowing I'm one of "those people" to them. I know they love me. I know they love me despite what my body looks like. But that doesn't change the fact that "those people" are worth talking about as less than.
About four years ago now, I started my SparkPeople account. I felt drawn back to it today, and I considered starting completely fresh. A new account. New name. New people. New friends.
I lost thirty pounds on SparkPeople over two years. It was the difference for me between an unhealthy BMI and a healthy one. It helped me feel happier, sleep better, and gain energy. All my clothes fit. It was easy to find something to wear, to feel like I was dressed for the occasion. I wasn't hungry. I kept the weight off almost two years before gaining it back fairly quickly, maybe over a year or so at most. Now, I'm heavier than I've ever been. And the scale seems in danger of continuing to creep up.
I felt wonderful in a healthier body. But I hated it when I realized how excited my parents were about my weight loss. It made me feel exposed. It made me feel like my accomplishment was being turned into something that didn't reflect my values or my vision of myself. It also threw into contrast how difficult it has been for them to be cheerleaders for my other accomplishments. The joy with which they celebrated my weight loss highlighted the ways in which other things I've done--and worked just as hard for--have been downplayed or dismissed.
My Dad said he was glad I was healthy, not that I was skinny. And I think he was. But he connects health with weight in a way that goes beyond any evidence of that connection. In my mind, my parents' joy at my weight loss barely masked their contempt for "those people"--even if that meant me, or versions of me.
They're not bad people. My parents. I don't think they are. I also don't think they realize how their words land. My mother told my how pretty I was when I was skinny. She's said it before, but she meant it then, or I heard it differently. Definitely more often. I could hear that a hundred more times before I believe it. If I ever do. But I probably only ever needed to hear about "those people" once to feel ashamed, and I've heard it over and over, in different ways, through my life, whether skinny or "fat" or in-between.
I wanted to defend "those people". I was secure that, intellectually and morally, I rejected those words and the way they were said--privately, judging people as not really people, not us--"those people."
But I can hear those words and believe them so easily, believe the thing that they were saying and confirming as I struggle with what I feel about myself. Struggle with not being at the weight I want while knowing I'll never be happy at any weight if I can't move past words like that--even from people I love.
I want to find a way to tell myself the things I need to know a hundred times and find ways to set aside the things that hurt deeply even if they're only said once, even if they're not aimed at me, even if I've heard them before and I know they don't need to be said in that way, by those people.
But every day I look ahead at the long process of becoming healthy again, I am struck again by how much easier it is to hear and believe and know that I'm one of "those people" than it is to feel beautiful or at all worth the effort I know it all takes. I hate my body. I didn't feel that way before. Being happy in my body, in awe of learning to be healthy--that's something I would love to gain back more than I care about losing a single pound.