Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's in YOUR closet?

I'm not a confessional-type blogger, but lately things have been movin' and shakin' in Jezebella's head. I've been living in my head for nigh on forty years now, and since I finished every degree I ever intend to have, I've been poking around the "body and soul" category of my existence. I've been stuffing all related issues into a big closet in my mind labeled "ignore! IGNORE!! IGNOOOOOORRRRE!!".

Recently, I opened the door and found a big stinkin' mess. It's gonna take forever to clean this one out.

Here's one of the messes I've located and am trying to figure out how to get rid of:

It has to do with food. It has to do with living in my body. This is going to sound like mother-blaming, when in fact, my mother learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother. So it's not mother-blaming. It's systemic family crap. And it's my job to fix it for myself, I'm aware of that.

So, two things:

1. As a child, I, like most kids, was absolutely powerless in the household. I ate when I was told to, slept when I was told to, and lived according to my parents' needs and desires. This means that I ate whether or not I was hungry, because It Was Dinner Time. NOW IS WHEN YOU EAT. I was to eat everything put on my plate, regardless of my hunger, or lack thereof. So what is a kid to do? You try to do what you're told. I was a picky eater - still am - and when something revolting was on the plate (boiled okra, anyone?), a battle royale ensued. I spent many evenings at the dinner table in front of some disgusting food as I was not allowed to leave the table until I ate some particular portion of that disgusting food. So food became a means of control, and I was never taught, encouraged, or even ALLOWED to eat according to what *my own body* wanted or needed. I learned to ignore what my body was saying and eat when it was time to eat, and eat as much as I was given. I figured out that this was a systemic family issue when I remembered going to visit my maternal grandmother at age 7 or 8, and re-enacting one of these epic battles-royale over a pile of mealy, disgusting garbanzo beans. [You know, I was never invited back to those grandparents' house again without my parents. Probably to do with my refusal to eat disgusting things on demand.]

This is also an effect of scheduled school lunches and snacks. Children are scheduled according to the convenience of adults.

Result? I am trying to retrain myself to know what my body wants or needs. It's hard, after those early years of training. I spend a lot of time looking thoughtfully at half-empty plates of food, trying to figure out if I'm hungry or not. It should seem obvious, right? But it's not. I'm just now learning what "hungry" and "sated" feel like.

2. The other thing is also a maternal legacy. My mom, a yo-yo dieter, no matter how thin or cute she is, always looks in the mirror and says something like, "Yuck, my stomach is poking out, I'm so fat." She has said it every time she looks in the mirror since I was born, probably. At least since I was little. Kids learn what they hear, right? So recently I saw a picture of myself at age four or five, with a little poochy belly. Not FAT, just a pooch. Normal, right? But not. Because I knew, from pre-school, that my pooch meant that I was disgusting, fat, gross, all of those things my mother called herself in that mirror. I had a clickety-light-bulb moment about this one a few years ago when mom, at 60+, having dieted down to a size 10, looking just as cute as a 60-year-old woman possibly could, looked in her mirror and started in on how disgusting her fat stomach was. She's been pregnant several times, she's 60+ years old, she's cute as hell, and all she sees is that her stomach isn't perfectly flat. Huh. Wonder where I got the idea I was fat?

Because, see, I wasn't a fat kid. Thought I was. Mom always told me to "diet" but she wanted me to avoid getting fat, whereas I assumed I didn't need to be on a diet unless I was already fat. Plus, the mirror litany already had me convinced I was fat. I didn't start gaining weight until I was 17 or 18, and didn't even reach what you might call "fat" status until my early 20s. I had the self-esteem of a fat kid, but I wasn't a fat kid. Just how fucked up is that? I tell you what: it's fucked up.

All those diet tips were never about healthy eating or exercise. They were eat less, eat less, eat less, never "eat healthy." Never "be active." I was in elementary school when the diet chatter started coming at me. I got sent to school with "diet candy" in the third grade.

Result? I've spent the last few years trying to figure out how to have a healthy relationship with food, and rejecting "diet chatter." I refuse to engage in "diet chatter" or call myself "bad" for eating something I "shouldn't." When the women in my office start in on diet chatter, I walk away. It's like nails on a chalkboard. Like learning to listen to hunger, it's a process.

Here's the thing: I know where it comes from, I know what the damage is, but I'm not quite sure how long it's going to take to undo the damage. I'm not sure I know how. But I guess knowing is half the battle. It's a start, anyway.

1 comment:

Hazel Stone said...

I hear you! My parents didn't pressure me as much as yours, but the kids at school picked up where they left off. I ate a lot to console myself (and out of boredom) when my parents divorced. I look at pictures of myself and wonder how I could have thought I was fat at that age.