What I’m Carrying

Chapel Hill News logoJuly 15, 2009

“That’s not the most becoming skirt,” my mother said the other day. “It looks a bit, well, snug.” Mother couldn’t at that moment come right out and say what was on her mind, but she did later.
“Is that your stomach?”

“No Mom, it’s somebody else’s. I’m babysitting it for her.”

In my family of origin, being thin has always been an imperative. Slim people know how to control themselves, to live right. Fat folks don’t; they’re lazy, undisciplined. Fat in my family is anathema.

I explained to my mother that the past few years have been a perfect storm for weight gain: menopause, a medication known for adding pounds, and a sedentary lifestyle. I sit in a chair all day, every day. Those dreaded pounds have finally caught up with me.

“And guess what Mom?” I said. “I’ve never been happier.”

Until recently I obsessed about my weight, even as a young kid. I remember feigning illness and staying home from school in the third grade on “Weigh In” day. As part of our fitness program, we all had to line up in our gym suits and march, once a year, up to the auditorium scale. The nurse weighed each child and barked the number to our teacher, Mrs. Smithy, who recorded our pounds on our report cards. Another grade, of sorts. No way was I going to be at school that day.

I was not fat, just muscular and big-boned-chunky. But according to some standard I weighed too much for my age, and I knew it. Back at school the next day I was hoping Mrs. Smithy would forget, but she sent me to the nurse to get weighed. Later she asked me, in front of the class, “Your weight, Carol?”

I was no dummy. I lied, dropped 10 pounds from the nurse’s number.

Actually, my weight concerns started in the first grade when our pediatrician put me on a diet to lose five pounds. While I gagged down cottage cheese and unsweetened grapefruit halves for breakfast, my older sisters, who were naturally long and lean, probably ate French toast with syrup and bacon.

All through school and as a modern dancer in my twenties I weighed myself compulsively, my mood darkening for the day if I were up a pound. Oh to be naturally skinny, I would think.

Be careful what you wish for. I became so thin at one point, when I suffered from a debilitating digestive disease in my thirties, that a doctor who was checking my heart and lungs told me: “You need to eat some McDonald’s. Your heart has no fat around it and won’t stay still. We can’t get a good look at it.”

My parents thought I looked great.

A doctor would not recommend McDonald’s for me now. In fact, my internist told me last week that shedding 10 or 20 pounds wouldn’t be a bad plan.

I know obesity is a serious problem but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about those five, seven, 15 pounds that I and other basically average but weight-obsessed people — have fretted over all our lives. For me dieting has always involved fear, deprivation, rebellion and self-loathing. I’m sorry, but now those emotions seem like a waste of precious life.

The other day I saw a magazine for girls, featuring articles about spider veins and dieting. Nine-year-olds read these magazines and stare at their bodies in disgust. They seethe and diet. And lose — if not pounds — definitely spunk and confidence and energy that should be focused on playing and learning and laughing. I know. I was one of those worried girls.

I’d rather not be carrying around 20 extra pounds now, and, trust me, my mother agrees, but I simply can’t drum up, anymore, all that angst and gnashing. Even during bathing suit season.

I suppose there’s a saner approach to all of this. I’ve just never encountered it.