Who is this person I’ve become?
The words I read made me so angry I could have spit bullets. There it was, in black and white, the story of a fussy baby who was spoon fed ice cream to keep her quiet. Trained at six-months old to cry until she was fed ice cream. Cool, clean smooth, high-fat sugar saturated vanilla ice cream. I was reading a baby book and that baby was me!
I was indignant – how dare my parents comfort me – at six months old – with ice cream? No damn wonder I grew up to be a fat adult addicted to high fat sugary sweets. I was a fat baby and I became a fat child, a fat teen and a fat adult. All because at six months the solution for my tears was ice cream.
My mother had unearthed the dusky smelling baby book from parts unknown and sent it to me parcel post about the time I reached my weight loss goal. It was a sentimental gesture on her behalf, yet it unleashed my anger that had been building since the good doctor cut up my God-given stomach and deprived me of every comfort I’d ever known.
The surgery and resulting weight loss uncovered a terrible family lie: I wasn’t big boned after all. Until that moment of truth I believed the lie they’d told me: that I was big boned, not fat. In fact my weight loss exposed a small skeleton that is almost fragile. Without my fleshy camouflage some today call me petite. Another lie was betrayed as well: I did not have childhood arthritis as they told me, I had growing bones that were over taxed from carrying twice the normal weight of a child: that’s why they hurt. It had all been a lie that started with the first spoonful of vanilla ice cream fed to a pudgy baby in her high chair.
I was mad as hell, and I was blaming them – my parents – for twenty-five years of obesity. Twenty-five years of suffering and self-loathing. Twenty-five years of social inferiority because I was fat. It was their fault! A normally docile person, I was livid. I was enraged. I was heartbroken. There is so much pain associated with obesity, particularly for children and adolescents, how dare they – they who gave me life – put me in harm’s way by making me fat? How dare they?
Both of my parents are fat. They are morbidly obese. My dad says he’s fat because of a heart condition he says prevents him from exercise. My mom says she’s fat because her Swedish roots have decreed it so. They both eat too much high fat, calorie rich processed food and they exist in a sedentary world. They are unhealthy, lifeless, sad and tired.
And that’s what happened to their fussy baby. I grew up fat, unhealthy, lifeless, sad and tired. I learned to make excuses very early for my fatness and to blame others, mostly dead relatives who passed along the trait of thunder thighs. But I learned to blame myself too, to be self-loathing.
I harbored my anger for weeks: I refused their calls. I wrote angry letters which I never mailed. I prepared angry rants which I never delivered. Night after angry night I stayed awake, the memories of my fat life tormenting me. Every mean comment, every embarrassing moment played over and over until the momentum of my anger took a life of it’s own. I was no longer in control of my thoughts because I had surrendered to the anger. My face became a flush of acne, my hair started falling out again, my tolerance of daily life was short and I was just plain crabby. Here I should have been at the most exciting moment of my adult life for I had become the new me, yet I was a bitter angry unhappy thin person.
Anger is a common emotion
I understand now that this phase of anger is common for the recovering morbidly obese person, and in fact, common to many people recovering from life-threatening debilitating illnesses. Most of our anger is about how obesity caused us to be self-loathing: about learning to hate ourselves – since childhood – because of our obesity. We are angry for blaming ourselves for lack of control that caused obesity, we are angry at others who blamed us.
We are angry at the people who have belittled us for being fat, then belittled us as “weak” for taking the easy way out – surgery – to lose weight. We are angry at doctors who’ve told us to lose weight, but didn’t tell us how. We are angry at the media that bombards us with pictures of rail thin skeleton models sending the message that unhealthy anorexic behavior is fashionable and obesity is loathsome. That is the same media that advertises thin people joyously eating heaping portions of unhealthy processed fat laden food. We are angry at employers who fail to promote the obese and who make us work twice as hard to prove that obese does not equal stupid.
We are angry at the diet industry that has taken billions of our dollars when we fell for their promise of “instant weight loss guaranteed”. We are angry at every person who said, “You have such a pretty face, if you could just lose the weight.” We are angry at a society that deems it politically incorrect to insult people for their race, religion or sexual preference, but leaves the field wide open to defame and humiliate the obese.
I am angry at my parents for raising me obese. But I am more angry that they are unwilling to take control of their own health and treat their obesity. I am angry because they are selfish and depriving themselves healthy and active relationships with their children and grandchildren. I am angry because I will have to watch them die slow tormented deaths from the co-morbidities associated with obesity.
The recovering obese are very angry. And finally, after years of stuffing angry feelings inside, the anger erupts when we lose weight and discover our new selves. And that makes us angry too! Why did we have to lose weight in order to allow ourselves to be angry?
We are entitled to be angry. As a class of people we are subject to the most tolerated form of socially accepted bigotry: it is in our home and social lives, in the workplace, in our leisure activities. We live in a society where half the people are obese – half of those morbidly obese – yet that same society condemns the obese as today’s untouchables. We are entitled to be angry.
But I learned that as I lay awake night after night becoming more angry, growing more pimples and losing more hair, that my anger was destroying me. My parents weren’t hurt by it, the media was not affected, my employer didn’t suffer, the comedians continued their fat jokes. I was suffering alone.
Anger leads us down a path of blaming – that’s a well-traveled path in today’s litigious society. We want to blame someone or something for our suffering. It’s true, not one single fat person has chosen to be fat. Cancer patients don’t chose to have cancer, victims of heart attack don’t chose that fate, people maimed in accidents don’t make that choice. Obesity is not a choice. We want to blame someone else because for most of our lives we have blamed ourselves: that’s what fat people learn to do – we hate ourselves for a choice we did not make.