Thursday, August 12, 2010
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings!
I've always craved more freedom than I’ve had, and perhaps I craved more than usual the summer before I got my license. I was 15, and I was spending my 3rd summer in a row living and working on a 300-some acre ranch that was also a summer camp. I only made $40 a week under the table, but being away from the rules of my parents for 3 months was well worth the shitty pay – not that my parents’ rules were all that difficult for me to follow, but they were rules nonetheless, and I’ve never really liked following rules. Late that summer my parents came up to visit me for the day. I remember it being a fun day, but the only specific I can remember is something my father said that took me by surprise then and still does to this day. My father was concerned and wanted to have a serious discussion with me about my weight. He said that I had appeared to have gained a significant portion of weight since being at the ranch that summer, and if I didn’t work to get it off now my friends might notice when I went back to school. Not to mention, if I perpetually ignored weight gain, I wouldn’t get a boyfriend and no man would ever want to marry me, because every man knows that a woman is always her thinnest when she gets married. Every cell that comprised my 150-pound body went into shock, and this was the moment that I developed a new level shame and self-consciousness regarding my body. I went on to gain 15 more pounds before I graduated high school, and during that time I was ashamed. I learned to lie about my weight, deny it, and obsess over it all at the same time, and through it all I kept silent. After all, if a higher number was something to be ashamed of, why would I ever want to share it with someone – anyone?!
Sometimes the things that hold us back the most are the ones we’re taught to keep silent. Last week I organized a Biggest Loser-style competition between my friends and coworkers, with the idea being that I’ve gained 15 pounds since I retired from derby, and quite frankly I need the aspect of competition to motivate me to figure out how to live and move after derby, which is something I’ve been struggling with (“what do you mean I can’t eat 4,000 calories a day and still accidentally lose 5 lbs?! Oh, yeah, cause I’m not skating 12 hours a week…”). The competition will last 60 days, it’s a $10 buy-in, and the person at the end who loses the highest percentage of weight wins the pot. In my emails with the participants I’ve been persuading them to use these 60 days wisely and create good, healthy habits that will extend beyond the end of the competition (aka, don’t use these 60 days to starve yourself for $100). I’ve explained how weights will be collected weekly and percentage lost will be shared with everyone (not the actual numbers on the scale), and I even tried to make everyone feel more comfortable about sharing their weight with me, the person recording things, by sharing my weight with them, which at the time was 187 pounds. Still, I’ve received numerous emails from people who want to participate but who have expressed resistance and panic at sharing their weekly weight with just me – the most nonjudgmental 187-pound woman there is. The first such email I got was from a very close friend who doesn’t want me or anyone else to judge her, to which I replied “I judge you more for feeling that way than I do for however much you may weight.” Harsh? Maybe, but it angers and frustrates me that so many people are slaves to the number on the scale – hell, almost everyone I know is a slave to that number! The most disturbing thing is that this idea that weight is something to be ashamed of and never talked about spans all sorts of different people – big, small, short, and tall. One of my coworkers who put up the biggest fight is literally one of the tiniest people participating. This got me thinking – just how many things that restrict our freedom do we impose on ourselves?
There’s seriously too much other bullshit we’re surrounded with and inundated by daily that we only make ourselves more miserable by enslaving ourselves to a number. And in the case of weight, one of the main reasons I think people allow the number on the scale to have so much control over them is because we continually reinforce each other to keep it a secret, which breeds denial, guilt, and a host of other negative emotions that have an affect on a person’s ability to overcome their situation, so I say don’t keep it a secret! For the past few years I’ve been really open about my weight, which has not only allowed me to feel better about myself but it’s also helped those I’ve shared with realize they aren’t alone and, hey, maybe this number isn’t such a big deal.
If you feel guilty or ashamed of your weight, I’d encourage you to do two things. First, tell someone how much you weigh. Say it matter-of-factly, say it proudly, just don’t say it sadly, negatively, or ashamedly. By doing this you’re proving to everyone who hears you that there is another option – that they don’t always have to stress over that number themselves. Second, watch what you say regarding weight to other people – even directing negative comments toward yourself perpetuates the stereotypes that do nothing more than fuck with people’s heads and make it harder for them to be their best selves. Contribute toward the creation of healthy attitudes – attitudes that make living life more pleasant for all of us.
I’m certainly not perfect, and I will admit that I did panic for a fleeting moment or two when I got married this past April, as my father’s words got stuck in a loop in my head: “a woman is always her thinnest when she gets married”. Those words that were once uttered over 15 years ago in less than 2 minutes time have had a huge impact on my life – a huge NEGATIVE impact. That’s the thing: there are people in life, some of whom you love and trust and respect dearly, who will knowingly or unknowingly encourage you to enslave your mind under the guise of wanting the best for you, but in the end only you know what’s truly best for you. Luckily for me, I knew well enough 15 years ago that I would never marry a man who didn’t want to marry me because I was fat. In my book, being fat’s way more acceptable than being a conceited judgmental douche bag, and I’d sooner fuck a fatty myself than a traditionally handsome fellow who’s rotting from the inside out. And if you don’t feel the same way about me, then you can take a hike and the cage you’re trying to put me in with you, because I refuse to place myself there. You may think I’m caged by looking at my size 16 pants or XL workout tops, but you’d be wrong. I’m more free than most girls who could slink between the bars, and my wish is that everyone could be this free!