Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Body that I Was Born With

My parents were both short. My father was always quite slim, probably due to a combination of genetics and being a Holocaust survivor who was parcimonious about everything he used or ate. He was a truly ascetic man--as was his brother, whom I came to know very well in his later years.

My mother, who came to Canada long before the Holocaust, was always on the "round" side, though she was pretty cute in her younger years. In her teenage and early adult years, she ice skated and rode her bike some seriously long distances. Unfortunately, by her forties, she was suffering from severe osteo-arthritis, which made any kind of exercise impossible. She could barely walk down the steps from the front door to the driveway, never mind go for a nice stroll. Throughout her life, she was interested in good nutrition and practised what she preached, eschewing processed foods and sugary treats. Although she "sat on her duff" (because it was so hard to move), she was not the stereotypical fat person who spent all day watching TV and eating Twinkies.

I was their only child.

As the years have gone by, it has become apparent that in all the ways that really count that I take after my mother: excellent fertility (she was 43 when I--her first and only child--was born and I had my children in my late 30s without "trying" for more than a month in both cases), a strong tendency to gain weight easily, early onset osteo-arthritis, thyroid problems. All I seem to have inherited from my father is my delicate skin that never tans and always burns (my mom apparently tanned really easily). I know I carry my dad's genes, of course, because I see them in my children, both physically and intellectually.

I have never, ever, been slim. And despite the fact that I have always stayed away eating a poor or excessively calorie-laden diet, I have always had trouble keeping my "over-weight" from going even further over. I have also never, ever been athletic. My only claim to fame, athletically speaking, is a vague recollection of having been able to do a handstand on my friend's feet when I was about five years old (she would lie on her back with her feet in the air and I held onto to her feet and did a handstand--pretty amazing if I do say so myself!). My athletic abilities were all downhill after that.

I was a chubby child and ever since I was a teenager, I have fought the battle of the bulge. I have had some periods of relative success, though again, even at my "slimmest", I was by no means slim. This weekend at my cousin's house, I saw a picture of myself from when I was about 30. I did look really quite yummy, though my face was still rather chubby, but what was most interesting was what my cousin told me about that picture. She remembered that at the time I was on an extremely strict diet, with many limitations on what and how much I ate. Those were the days. Not!

Some twenty-odd years later, age, gender, heredity, childbirth and no doubt other factors have left me with the body I have today. Yes, I am overweight by dreaded the BMI standards, but that's the body I was given. I cannot just lose weight and go back to a body that I never had in the first place. I am quite sure of one thing though: all my late mother's "nattering" about healthy foods did pay off. I'm quite sure that if I'd been raised in a fast-food loving family, my weight would be significantly higher today than it actually is, as high as it may seem to some.


  1. I've never been thin either. I have gained and lost at times (not yoyoing really, but 20 here and 20 there) and were it not for the fact that I have never really eaten a lot of premade processed foods or desserts etc I would be a much bigger girl than I am. Better a little overweight than a lot and I really do think that a lifetime of eating good food is why I'm not considerably bigger. Yes there are those who have issues that have contibuted significantly to their weight; I'm not one of them and I am most grateful that I have not face their challenges. I do think that lifetime dietary habits are a major contributor though and I'm grateful I was raised eating sensibly.


  2. Thank you for sharing your story. "Thin" is something that is unattainable for many, if not most but at the end of the day it is irrelevant because thin does not equal healthy. It may look that way, but it is neither truth nor fact.

  3. Thanks for sharing these personal memories and histories here! At the risk of minimizing and mischaracterizing your personal experiences, I see many significant differences in what you are describing ("chubby", "overweight", and reduced mobility related to disability issues such as osteoarthritis) compared to what I have seen in myself and many former patients.

    In your case (and please forgive if I am simply working from false assumptions or am totally missing your point), there seems to be more of a history of feeling an intense dislike--alternating with ambivalence--towards your body's size and shape, rather than a history of health problems directly associated with being obese or a history of severe disordered eating that contributed to worsening health problems.

    Of course, challenges such as arthritis make it difficult or impossible to be as active as you would prefer--which would make most people, me for example, feel resentful/crabby/bitter/resigned/angry/determined (pick a day)...and i speak from personal experience.

    You might be amazed, though, how similar your description is of yourself compared to many of the women I have known who actually are on the slim or so-called "normal" range in weight. Or women I have never viewed as having to struggle with their weight although their BMI probably puts them in that category.

    So we are (in our lovely cybergroup) talking about different kinds of issues and problems. But sometimes we tend to lump them together, perhaps in solidary against the cruel social norms all of us have been subjected to at some point(s) in our lives.

    There is a tyranny of the mind (internalized oppression), a tyranny of society (externalized oppression and discrimination), and a tyranny imposed by the body's physical limitations and ailments, some of which can be helped with various therapeutic interventions (such as surgery for OA).

    I would like to see the conversation become more evolved so that we as survivors of oppression can become empowered and can share power with each other without becoming enablers of more tyranny. In a sense, I hope we can share power with each other in this FA community, to sort out what are some things we can do as individuals to help empower ourselves, what are actions we can take as a group to help others (sharing knowledge, for instance, and becoming politically active), and what are issues that are crucial to face and accept--such as these truths: in nature we all come in different shapes and sizes, we are all beautiful, and we are all loveable and capable of love.

    There is a big difference beween tyranny (such as internalized and external oppression) and caring (such as trying various self-care practices and providing caring modalities for others, such as massage, encouragement, and health interventions).

    I see these issues getting all tangled up together in some of the FA discussions, with complex challenges clumped into either/or categories...which often does little to advance our mutual goals toward more emancipatory living.

    I enjoy your blog because I can see you working through many of these messy threads, and trying to tease out the important subtleties. Also, your posts help me to advance my own thinking processes about these important challenges.


  4. You are beautiful, Wendy.