I’m going a little OT with that headline, I know. Bear with me.
Recently my friend Sarah Madison wrote a very powerful essay about the power of self-acceptance and self-love, which focused heavily on her body image issues. To say I related to that whole piece very intimately is an understatement. Go and read it. You will be moved, as I was.
Then I saw Dr. Peter Attia’s TEDmed talk on obesity and diabities (also embedded below). That seemed to tip the scale of emotions for me: I broke down crying. What got to me was not what he was saying about the science of obesity, but his story about being a doctor who harshly judged one of his diabetes patients for being overweight. He starts crying at the end of the video as he apologizes to this nameless, unknown woman for his lack of empathy, his lack humanity, in addressing her as a patient.
All I could think of was my mother’s death-bed shame and horror at the fact that she was dying fat.
I cannot remember a time when my mother was not over-weight. Likewise, I cannot remember a time when my mother was not dieting or “cheating” on a diet. I suspect that she suffered bulima during her teenage years, but when I knew her, she manifested her eating disorder in the form of obsession. Combined with her bi-polar disorder, this was catastrophic for her health.
Her body image shame overshadowed our lives. She never wanted to be seen in public when she was fat, which was most of the time. She hid from friends and family because of her embarassment. She tracked her food and exercise with a manic zeal, for all the good it did her.
For all of that, I cannot think of a single person who did not believe that her health problems were all her own fault. She was fat, ergo she was the problem. Everyone judged her and felt justified in doing so: her doctors, her nurses, her family. Even I blamed her, which was confusing because I was there watching her do everything humanly possible to lose weight.
Most of it came by way of “concern trolling,” the kindly act of suggesting Weight Watchers or “maybe you should try getting out more?” as if she had never thought — or tried — such things repeatedly. This was a woman who maintained a weight of 290 pounds while walking 90 minutes a day in the Florida heat, and while eating 1500 calories a day consisting mostly of fruit and lean chicken and rice. Don’t EVER try to tell me she didn’t do everything humanly possible to lose weight. From Atkins to Slim Fast to doctor-monitored low-fat/high-fiber diets, she did it all. For 30 years.
She died trying, and she still died fat.
For me, the lesson here is a mish-mash. I don’t want to die fat either, but without a huge medical break-through it looks like I probably will.
More importantly, I’m questioning why that should matter. Am I not a good person no matter what my body looks like? I’m a published author and professional archivist, I have great friends, I love being a fangirl, I live in exciting times. Do the extra 60 pounds I carry mean that it is all for nothing?
My mother actually believed that. She died full of shame and self-loathing. I think perhaps that is even worse than dying fat.