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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Really, I'm overweight? And next up at six, beans give you gas!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /
Honestly, I will never understand some people's preoccupation with trying to "fix" other people's weight problems for them.  Do I come into your house and try to manage your diabetes or asthma for you?  Sit you down with a cuppa and insist that you delve into painful childhood abuses with me so that I can fix it for you?  No?  Then how about you leave well enough alone about my weight!

I currently have a BMI of 32 - Obese.  Six months ago, my BMI was 38.6, morbidly obese.  My parents and various well meaning friends had tried, for years, to get me to lose weight.  I know it was out of love, out of concern for my health.  I know it was only because they wanted the best for me.  But it still hurt like hell.  Every well intentioned comment, every helpful gesture simply reinforced to me the belief that we can not fully accept you until you are skinny. You are not worth loving unconditionally if you are fat.

Telling someone who is chronically, morbidly obese that they are overweight, or suggesting "helpful" strategies to lose the weight (unless you have been explicitly asked for your help) is not helpful.  It's impossible to exist in our society without being aware, at some level, that you are overweight.  The tags on your clothes tell you.  The "narrow" aeroplane seats tell you.  Heck, even your small children who have an excuse for tactlessness tell you.  I almost broke down crying the day my five year old son told me in a change room "Mummy, you're too fat to buy that dress".  Trust me, overweight people know that they are overweight.  It's not breaking news.

People are overweight for many, many different reasons.  Some of them related to a physical condition, many of them psychological.  All of them complex, sensitive and requiring something more than a five minute fix.  Let me tell you my story, in the interests of greater understanding.

I was your typical "skinny kid".  Yes, me.  I was once chronically underweight.  When I was five, my parents divorced.  My mother moved in with my kindergarten teacher, who sexually abused me.  My mother's answer to most problems was chocolate and a sweet cup of tea.  She then moved on to abusive boyfriend number two and he finished the work of number one by leaving me alone sexually, but being verbally and emotionally abusive to me, and beating her in front of me.

I hit puberty, and suddenly started putting on weight.  All the comfort eating that had been fine up until age twelve, suddenly went to my hips and stomach at age 13.  Which initially, was kind of OK - I was chubby and boys didn't want me.  Which, for someone with a pathological fear of boys, was kind of a good thing.

As tweens melted to teens and hormones overtook fear, I started to care that boys didn't like me.  In fact, I hung a great deal of my self worth on it.  My first boyfriend told me, ever so tactfully that I was "not exactly the most attractive girl in the world".  In hindsight, I want to punch him - at the time I was "only" a size 14 and maybe 8-10kg overweight.  A series of teenage dalliances led me to believe that only skinny girls are worth loving for themselves and fat chicks are merely good for a roll in the hay.

What has this got to do with weight?  Lots.  I'd kept my "puppy fat" like a prize, to protect me from being used.  And then, in an effort to feel loved, I'd allowed myself to be used.  So I began to believe that my worth was determined by my weight, that I was worthless (because I was overweight) and worse that I wasn't "good enough" to ever be able to lose the weight.  I should be a fat chick, because that's all I was worth. I wasn't capable of losing the weight, because I was too stupid, lazy and useless to do it, so why even try?

Please don't insult me by telling me that suggesting a fad diet, a gym membership or the like is going to fix those kinds of problems.  My journey to weight loss began by recognising, and truly internalising, my intrinsic worth as an individual.  Once I valued myself, and my life, and felt that I was worth having the best I could have, only then was I able to start looking at how to get that.  I had to truly believe I was a beautiful size 20, before I could look at being a beautiful size 10.  That I was not defined by the sizing label on my clothing - I am a beautiful, intelligent, witty, sensitive and caring woman who happens to be overweight.  The first step was to put the problem on a diet - to realise that my size and shape were not the be all and end all of who I was.

Now, I'm 15kg less than I was six months ago.  It also matters less to me than it did six months ago, because what's more important is that I'm fitter, healthier and love myself more.  I respect who I am as a person.  I know that I'll "get there" (to goal weight), but it doesn't matter quite as much when.  Because I am worth loving NOW, and that is what I'll tell you if you try to "help" me lose weight.  Don't.  Just love me, for who I am now, so that I can love myself enough to be everything I can be.  Because even if I'm not as healthy as I could be, I am beautiful, just the way I am.

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