Last week, researchers at the University of Minnesota concluded that parents shouldn’t encourage their fat children to diet. Read the article and the comments (but beware Sanity Watchers points!). There are a lot of interesting issues raised (things that Fat Acceptance has been preaching for years) but what the article made me think about was my own childhood.
I come from a great family. My parents are stilled married after 40 years. My only sister and I are close. My grandparents have been an important part of my life, and my aunts and uncles and cousins (and the occasional great-aunt and second-cousin and whatnot) are nearby and beloved.
We’re a family of fat women, for the most part. Both my grandmothers were fat. My mother and all of her sisters were fat at various points of their lives. One of my father’s sisters is fat; the others are not. My sister is not fat. My female cousins are.
All these women have lived with their fat in different ways. Some haven’t dieted; most have. One had weight-loss surgery. One has tried all the crazy diets and drugs. One died recently, having not been to a doctor in years. My mother, who was very fat as a teenager, stopped eating refined sugar as a young adult, practiced a form of intuitive eating, and has been slim ever since.
I have been fat all my life. At least, I have felt fat all my life – I’ve been meaning to dig up some photos and see if it’s actually true. By the time I was in high school, I was definitely fat. Fat enough that it was next to impossible to find women’s clothes that fit me. I wore men’s jeans and a lot of this stuff. (But then again, I wonder: Even then, was I as fat as I think I was? My prom dress was a size 14 – a stretchy 14, and I was positively stuffed into it, but a 14 nonetheless).
At some point, in junior or senior high, my mother started helping me try to lose weight. She never pressured me. She never made me feel bad about myself. She told me that she had been fat as a teenager, that it had been horribly painful, and that she didn’t want me to suffer what she had suffered. One time, she promised to buy me a jean jacket I had been coveting (somewhat like this – yeah, I was a dork) if I lost a certain amount of weight. Often, we’d plan out a diet together – never very restrictive, just fresh and healthy. It seemed good. I never felt ashamed; I felt like she was helping me do something I knew I should do anyway.
But now I wonder. Fat genes obviously run rampant in my family. Fat neuroses, too. I don’t know if I got mine from my mother or from the rest of the women in my life or from the world at large. And I don’t want to acknowledge the questions – the wishful thinking – that are niggling around in the back of my head: What if my mother hadn’t wanted me to diet? Would I be smaller now?