Fat shaming

There’s been a lot recently about how people who are overweight are tired of being picked on. They want to be left alone. I get that. I used to be obese. I wasn’t hot on the fact that I couldn’t easily find clothing that fit me. My first clue that I was larger than the average was when I realized I couldn’t buy underwear at Target. I didn’t think I was that big at a size 22. I thought I was fine.

There is a stigma to being overweight, certainly. There is such a stigma that we use euphemisms. Someone is heavy. Or portly. Or large. They aren’t ever fat or obese or even morbidly obese. We use euphemisms about everything we don’t want to deal with. Someone didn’t die. They passed on. They transitioned. They have left us.

Fat is the new normal. We Americans are so overweight that we don’t even recognize when we are fat. We think obese is 500 pounds. Yet there is still a stigma. There is still social pressure against fat people.

Don’t take it personally. People pick on anyone who is seen as different. Any deviation from the arbitrarily determined norm is seen as weak, and weakness is picked on. If you drink too much or smoke at all you’ll be picked on. If you don’t watch TV you’ll be picked on. If you vote the wrong way, dress the wrong way, talk the wrong way you’ll be picked on.

It isn’t personal. In fact, it is as impersonal as possible.

Society picks on people it deems as different because they see them as weak. It is the same as in the animal world. Baby birds that are seen as less than perfect are kicked out of the nest. Male lions eat their young for the same reason. It is to thin the herd to make it stronger. Weakness isn’t tolerated.

We’d like to think we aren’t animals, but we are. We are animals first and humans second. What makes us human is when we embrace differences and are welcoming to strangers. What makes us human is when we act with kindness and compassion. What makes us human is when we overcome our animal nature and work with each other instead of against each other.

Obesity is attacked because it is seen as a sign of weakness, specifically a lack of self control. It is seen as a sign of gluttony. At its heart it is seen as an addiction, even though few people would be aware enough to name it as such.

While it would be lovely if we could all be what we want to be and nobody got bullied for any reason, there is some good to fat shaming. If it encourages a person to get healthy, then it is great. If their response is to learn healthy coping methods, then it is awesome.

Sadly, this isn’t usually the case. Sadly, most people who use food to deal with their problems don’t suddenly learn new ways to be healthy in mind or spirit. Our society doesn’t teach that. It doesn’t teach self-care.

It teaches blame everybody else and don’t take responsibility for your actions. It teaches people to be a victim. It teaches instant everything. Don’t wait, don’t work for it. It teaches people to get lucky from playing the lottery rather than hard work.

People don’t need to lose weight for losing weight’s sake. They need to get healthy. People need to move more, eat better, and develop healthy ways of dealing with stress and anger. I’ve done it. It can be done. It isn’t easy. Anything worth having isn’t easy. Health is worth having. Learning to deal with problems other than stuffing them down is a valuable thing to know.

I remember where I was in my head four years ago before I started to get well. I remember thinking “how dare they tell me I’m fat” when I’d have to go to the “large” section of the store to buy clothes. I remember. And then I remember I went to the hospital with a racing heart, feeling sick. I remember always feeling out of sorts and out of shape. I remember just not feeling like I liked my body very much because it didn’t fit me very well.

I started moving. I found exercises I liked to do. I started eating better. I started loving myself enough to take care of myself.

I’m glad that society didn’t tell me that everything was fine for being so overweight. I’m glad, because if I’d kept going that way I’d be immobilized. My knees were giving out. My heart was weakening. I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of even walking up and down my street. Crime wasn’t keeping me from leaving my house; fear of my body giving out was. Being fat was crippling me. Eating instead of facing my problems was crippling me too.

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Poem – losing our hearts

Defense of the heart
may be the only way to
be whole.

Remember the time
when you
opened yourself up
so wide
that your heart
fell out?

Even though the
reason you did it
seemed good at the time,
even though the
person you did it for
seemed good at the time
you still got hurt.
You still lost your heart.

Anybody who is anybody knows
that being heartless
is worse than being
gutless.

Maybe
both are bad.
Maybe part of being
human is losing our hearts
and finding them again.

Poem – our tree lives

Life events are like rings
on a tree.
Death of your parents.
Graduation from college.
First house.
First car.

They are how we mark time.
They are how we know
we’ve arrived
or survived
or both.

They are how we define ourselves.

We say that this happened
after our grandmother died,
but before we moved
to our new home.

Each ring, each event
adds to us,
strengthens us,
makes us bigger,
and maybe stronger.

Each ring of a tree
is a year,
is a season.

Each ring of a tree
is enough to make it
thicker
more resistant
to the injustices
of insects
and fires.

Each ring is also that much
more armor
protecting its
tender heart.

Our rings define us
and limit us.
They say who we are
based on what has happened to us
or what we have done.

Passive and active,
we are shaped
and grown.

This soft spot is a place
that hasn’t healed.
Yet.
It may become a hole
a space
a void.

This branch is where we made a choice
to separate
to go our own way.

This burl is where we have grown around
and away from
a wound that never healed.

Burls make beautiful bowls
in the hands
of a woodsmith.

Holes make welcome homes for birds.

Branches are great for climbing
and for tree houses.

Our tree lives are ever growing and changing
And ever reaching upwards
While eternally rooting down
Into the past.

Twenty years gone.

It has been twenty years since my parents have died and I almost forgot. The thing that reminded me was a notice from AAA telling me it is time to renew my membership. I’d gotten it after my parents died because I realized I didn’t have anybody to call if I was stuck somewhere with a broken down car.

They died six weeks apart. Mom died first of lung cancer and then Dad died of a heart attack. Mom’s was an expected death, Dad’s wasn’t. It wasn’t a total surprise – he’d never taken care of himself. But I hadn’t prepared for it like we’d had to do with Mom’s.

I remember the first few years after they had died. Every year when the date for Mom’s death would come up I would dread it. I didn’t have to write it on the calendar to remember it. It would rise up, unwelcome. The memories of my loss would come to visit and stay with me like a crazy relative who overstays her welcome. Then, because my Dad died six weeks later, I’d be in a holding pattern. I’d feel like my life had been put on pause for all that time. Six weeks of feeling my feelings, of holding them and examining them. Six weeks of waiting.

What was I waiting for? It was like I was holding my breath until the day that Dad died would roll around. Somehow that day was the day that the strange double-grieving period was over in my head. It was time to start life again then. I was released.

This pattern went on for years. Sometimes I would meet up with a friend of my Mom’s on her death date. We would console each other over a beer and a burger, or a trip to a craft show. Sometimes I would do something in honor of Mom and Dad. I’d listen to their favorite music, or try a hobby that they liked. They were ways of trying to bring them back to me, if just for a little while. It helped.

But this year I’ve forgotten. This year I’ve found myself in the middle of their death days. This year nearly two weeks have passed since my Mom’s death day and I missed it. I figured that this year would be extra different because it was twenty years.

Every year it has gotten easier. I’ve heard there is a sort of half-life to grief. However long you knew the person, take that time and divide it by two. That length of time is the length of time you will grieve for that person. I’d known them for twenty-five years – so twenty years grieving is way past that time. By that reckoning I should be over it.

You aren’t ever over the death of your parents, or of anyone who meant something to you, who impacted your life. Their loss will always mean something. There is a hole that can’t ever be filled.

The hole does get smaller. It can’t ever completely go away, but it can get less like a gaping wound and more like a scar. It will never be perfect. You’ll always know it is there, but it won’t cripple you like it did.

Maybe this is why I felt the need to make lemon delights this weekend. Maybe in the back of my mind I did remember. This was my favorite dessert that my Mom would make. I’d ask for them for my birthday instead of cake.

A few years ago my mother-in-law tried to make them for me when we were visiting around my birthday. She didn’t have baking powder and used baking soda instead. They weren’t the same, but she got bonus points for trying to console me anyway. Even if she had made them exactly according to the recipe, they wouldn’t have been the same because she isn’t my Mom. Nobody can ever fill that spot. But her trying to soothe me was kind.

But somehow, this week, I got the hankering to make them. I’ve never made them before. I haven’t really cooked before, so I haven’t had flour or eggs or baking powder in the house. I hadn’t thought about buying them because I thought it would be wasteful to have these things here just for this one recipe. But this year I’ve been cooking, and with that, baking.

I talked with my Mom while I made the lemon delights this weekend. People rarely tell you that the relationship continues after the person’s death. They don’t tell you how to do it, how to communicate with them and have a relationship. It turns out that they are still with you, in your heart. You can talk to them, and if you are quiet enough, you can hear them. It is beautiful and sad and special. You can work things out. And that is what we did.

I followed her recipe, that same recipe card that she used, in her funny squiggly handwriting. The card is smeared with stains from dozens of years of use. My husband had gone out on a bike ride so it was just me and the recipe. So I started to talk to my Mom. I told her how sad I was that she had not taught me to cook. I told her how hard it was to be without her, that I wish she could see how well I’m doing now. I wish she could meet Scott. I wish she could read my writing. I wish I wish I wish.

And I heard her. I heard her back, gently, lovingly, sadly. I heard her back in my heart as I mixed and blended and sifted. I heard her tell me that in everything I had ever done I had surprised her. I heard her tell me that she thought that because I was “gifted” that I didn’t need to learn these simple basic things like cooking and housework. I heard her tell me that she was sorry, that she didn’t know. She didn’t know that just because I can grasp things quickly doesn’t mean I don’t need them to be handed to me first. She didn’t know, because she couldn’t know.

And I forgave her. And I move on in my grief. I move on in my loss, the loss of my Mom at a young age. I move on in my loss of all the things I wasn’t taught and didn’t even know I needed to know. I move on, but at the same time I’m moving on I’m moving back, and in, and within. I’m moving around inside this hole that was left when my Mom died.

Maybe she was the one prompted me to make lemon delights this weekend. Maybe she knew that I’d come to in the middle of this time and be sad that I didn’t remember, didn’t memorialize it. Maybe she knew that I would need something to hold on to.

She has given me something in this. This isn’t a blanket or a talisman. This isn’t a token or a fetish. There isn’t something to point to or to work with like worry beads. What she has given me is the knowing, the sure knowing, that she is not gone. She has come back to me in my heart, and in that coming back she has restored a bit of myself to me. She is filling that empty hole that was left when she died. She is filling it with herself.