The Blame Game

I receive some interesting messages in response to my blog posts. A lot of them come from the helpful haters who love to tell me that my low carb diet will kill me. Some are from strangers who just want to lecture me or sell me something. I ignore those. Some are from friends who genuinely care, and believe the bad things they’ve heard about low carb. I thank them for their concern, and then I ignore them too.

A surprising number of messages come from people who think I’m blaming my mother for my weight.

To be honest, this is something that has concerned me since I decided to write Goodbye to the Fat Girl. I have two younger brothers, who I rarely talk to, and haven’t seen for a couple years. One has no idea that I’m losing weight and writing a book. The other knows, but based on some things he recently said to a friend of mine, he doesn’t really believe it. In my mind’s ear, I can hear them both accusing me of blaming Mom, and taking no blame myself. I imagine the book being published and my brothers stepping forward to call me a liar and declare our mother a saint.

Why? Because all families have mythologies about who we are and our relationships with each other. Mine is no different. To be honest, Mom was a conundrum, a narcissist with a terrible self-image. She turned that internal conflict against herself and her family. We all lived on the edge, fearful of upsetting her, but never admitting it or giving voice to the problem. And here I am now, telling the truth about my mother in order to tell the truth about myself.

So do I blame my mother for my weight? Not at all. I take full responsibility for every piece of food that made me fat. What I do hold her accountable for is her behavior and the words that caused my brain to create my Inner Fat Girl. She didn’t mean well; she was taking out her personal frustrations and body image issues on me. The voice of my Inner Fat Girl is mine, but the words are Mom’s.

Because of the Inner Fat Girl, I made all sorts of less than optimal choices in my life. And every one of those choices was mine. Of course, I also made some excellent choices in spite of the constant negative chatter in my head. I had a great first career, largely due to talent and a determination to succeed in an industry where women are often told to “get out.” I’m well into a second, still evolving career, and am happy with that choice. I now realize I didn’t have to listen to the Inner Fat Girl all those years, but what’s done is done. Time to move on.

I’m not sure I could or would be losing weight and writing about it, if Mom was still alive. I suspect I wouldn’t. She kept the negative comments coming until the very end. I lived with Mom during most of the last year of her life, and for the last four months was on the Atkins diet. As I made our weekly grocery list, prior to starting the diet, she said quite seriously, “make sure to put some candy on the list for when you cheat on your diet.” It’s impossible to quiet the inner voice, when there’s a real person saying that you’ll fail. The Inner Fat Girl didn’t die when Mom did, but I do think the two are connected.

So I take responsibility for my fat. But there’s a bonus. I also take full credit for losing the fat. No doctor or medical condition scared me into doing it. No one lives in my house with me to encourage me and keep me on track. It’s all my doing, and I’m proud of myself for sticking it out this long, and until I reach my goal.

When we own our failures, it feels so sweet to also own our successes.

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Soon You’ll Be a Small Person

“Soon you’ll be a small person.” Someone said that to me recently. I knew what they meant; soon I’d have a smaller body. But that’s not exactly how I heard it. There’s a difference between having a smaller body, and being a small person. I don’t want to be a small person. I was small for so many years, taking whatever scraps of praise or affection that were offered. Scraps feed the Inner Fat Girl, who doesn’t think she deserves more.

I remember an interview Roseanne Barr gave many years ago when she first became really famous. She said that when she was young and thin, she felt invisible. Now that she was fat and loud, she was visible. She finally felt like she couldn’t be overlooked.

A few weeks ago, I got into an online argument with my friend C. I posted something on Facebook, she made some comments I didn’t like, so I said so, and she responded that she didn’t like my response to her. Probably not the finest hour for either of us, but I assumed we had each had our say, agreed to disagree, and it was over.

Then came the private message. C listed an extensive list of my personality faults, the dozens (or hundreds) of people who hate me, and pretty much tore out my heart and stomped it into oblivion. The nicest thing she said was that I’m bitter and jaded. Call me impatient with stupidity, and I’ll cop to it. Intolerant of lying and meanness? Yes. Bitter and jaded? Nope, not even close. I knew it wasn’t true, but I still cried for three days.

I kept reading the message, trying to decide if I was delusional and didn’t realize I was the most evil, hated person I know. Then I reread the rest of the message, in which C talked about herself and how she felt bullied and was no longer willing to let people bully her. I hadn’t bullied her; we had just disagreed and both said so. But I understood what she was saying; she had felt bullied. She was asserting herself as a large person. I respect that entirely. I just wish she hadn’t used a sledgehammer on me to make a point about herself.

The funny thing is, never once have I seen C as a small person, or suspected that she felt like a small person. She’s smart, funny, and outgoing, with a laugh that can be heard for miles. She’s also made huge life changes in recent years. Those changes have to have been difficult, but she stuck to her plan, and her life is better and more exciting because of it. And now she’s also stopped seeing herself as a small person.

I’m not a small person anymore either. Sometimes when we make big changes in our lives, we don’t know how to assert our new self. Friends and family want the old us back, and it can be difficult to make them see and accept the new us. Some won’t ever accept it. They’ll keep telling the old myths about who you are. They may not be part of your life anymore, by your choice or theirs. Go easy on them; put down the sledgehammer. But be who you are.

Be a large person.

It’s All About Perception

It’s been a very long time since I posted to this blog. Every day, I’ve thought, “Do it today,” and then I didn’t feel like it. It’s a lot like losing weight. For most of 54 years, I thought, “I should lose weight,” but didn’t do it. And then, one day, I decided to do it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perception; how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how others see themselves.

Several months ago, a male friend announced that he was going on a diet. Good for him. I’m all in favor of people making changes if they want to. He was quick to note that he wasn’t overweight or fat, but just weighed more than he wanted to. Okay. Except that his belly hung over his belt, obscuring the buckle. A comparably sized woman would have been called fat. My friend lost the weight and looks great, but he’s still a big guy. If he was a woman, he’d still be called fat. But his perception is that he never was fat to begin with. Interesting. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Conversely, I have a female friend who is certain that fat is the worst thing that can happen. Over the past few years, she’s gone from a lovely, fit, regular-looking thin person, to a gaunt-faced, extra-thin woman, obsessed with having men tell her how hot she is. She claims she hasn’t really lost weight, just toned a bit. Her perception of herself is that she could stand to “tone” a bit more. I fear that if it was possible, she’d tone herself down to nothing.

Then I have the multiple “helpful” friends who are full of advice and criticism. According to them, I’m doing everything wrong. Not just the diet, but everything.

Friend: Low carb diets are bad for you. You’ll ruin your kidneys. Eating fat will make you fatter.

Me: My blood tests are all in the excellent category. My doctor and I are thrilled. I’ve lost over 100 lbs in just over a year.

Friend: Why are you writing a book? Do you really think anyone will buy it?

Me: I think I have something to say about giving up the pain we inflict on ourselves as the result of emotional abuse. If no one buys it, I will have done it for myself.

Friend: You’ll never get to your goal weight. You should stop when you get under 180.

Me: Uh-huh.

Friend: I exercise all the time. You should too.

Me: Most days, the most exercise my body can take is showering and dressing.

Note – As some of you, including my friend, know, for the last 14 months, I’ve been dealing with an hereditary blood condition. The treatment has left me anemic, exhausted, and prone to fainting. Exercise isn’t even slightly an option.

Friend: You have a negative attitude and you’re a whiner.

Me: Not true. You should stop listening to gossip.

Friend: You’re not really a writer. You’re more of a typist.

Me: I didn’t actually respond to this, because I couldn’t think of a way that didn’t involve screaming, very bad words, and pointing out that my friend’s use of language sometimes makes her look like an idiot. I didn’t take it to heart though.

My friends’ perception is that I’m doing everything wrong. My perception is that when faced with multiple difficulties, I’ve handled them well. For most of my life, my perception of myself was determined by what others said about me. No more.

My life is all about my perception.

What’s So Perfect About Perfection?

Several years ago, I met a man. A perfect man. A gorgeous, tall, smart, funny, world class kisser of a man. He’s perfect. Except for a big hole in his heart that keeps him from falling in love. And for me, that’s a deal breaker. Perfection isn’t as perfect as it looks.

Last night, a single male friend posted on Facebook, asking how he should respond to (reject) women who aren’t his preferred body type, who approach him on a dating website. The majority of responses from his friends, including me, suggested he just say, “I don’t think we’re a match.” Fair enough; they’ll get the message without him calling them fat. I also suggested that if a woman has other qualities he likes, maybe he should give her a chance and perhaps expand his idea of the perfect woman.

I said that because when I met Mr. Perfect, I wasn’t his preferred body type either. I had told him that before we met, and a level of disappointment registered on his face when he saw me. But because he really is kind of perfect, he gave me a chance. Eight hours later, he said, “I think I’ve changed my mind about what matters most about a woman.” See? Perfect.

As a society, we revere physical beauty above almost everything else. A woman can be mean as a honey badger, but if she’s thin, busty, and pretty, her bad attitude doesn’t matter. A handsome man is more likely to be promoted in business, and will have women swooning over him. So what if he’s stupid or abusive. Look at his handsome face.

A sometime friend took a shot at me, and said, “So you think you’ll be perfect once you lose weight?” Uh, no. That never crossed my mind. I’m not perfect, except for that pesky fat ass, now, so why would I think losing weight will make me perfect? I’ll still be snarky, intolerant of stupidity, and in danger of taking myself more seriously than I should. I’ll just be doing it in a smaller body. People will still call me a bitch. I’ll also still have my good qualities, and the people who genuinely love me now will still love the new, smaller me.

We all have likes and dislikes. There’s no shame in that. But so-called physical perfection is fleeting, and the idea that only the physically perfect are worthy of our attention is foolish. That person who is perfect in every other way may be your perfect match if given a chance. We all have faults; we’re human. We can’t be perfect, but we can be the best person we can be today. That’s good enough for me.

Cognitive Dissonance

cog-ni-tive dis-so-nance

noun:  The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitude,  esp. as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

This morning, after getting dressed, I happened to glance in the dresser mirror. For a moment, I was confused by what I saw. I looked like a different person. The shape of my body was considerably different from what my brain expected to see. My first thought was, “how did I never notice that the mirror doesn’t reflect accurately?” Almost immediately, I knew that was wrong. The mirror is fine; it reflects exactly what is before it. It’s not some funhouse mirror that alters the image.

My next thought was, “oh crap, my inner fat girl is back.” But I knew that wasn’t true either. The inner fat girl really is gone. Perhaps for the very first time, I was really seeing who I am, and seeing that I’m a new person. Karen 2.0, as a friend calls me.

I know I’ve lost weight; a lot of weight since I started losing in mid-July. I can see it on the scale at the doctor’s office, and the graph she keeps in her computer that shows my weight dropping at an amazingly steep angle. I can see my face is thinner. My cheekbones and jaw line are back. And my clothes are falling off. Literally. The skirts I wore all summer no longer fit at the waist. They drop down to my hips and then fall to the ground. My hips are smaller than my waist was in July. That’s pretty cool. I need to drag out the sewing machine, and take everything in.

Change is a funny thing. I can either resist, or go with it. Since I chose this change, I’m cheerfully going with it. Some of the people I know aren’t as cheerful about my changes. Almost everyone has a comment or criticism. “You’re losing weight too fast.” “I heard that’s a bad diet.” “You’ll never hit your target weight range.” “You can’t write this book and get it published.” They’re suffering from cognitive dissonance too. The Karen they knew is gone and the new Karen doesn’t tolerate personal criticism, yelling, or belittling. I’ll give them time to adjust to the new me, and go with it. I don’t think anyone really believed I was going to follow through with losing weight for the last time in my life, and writing a book about it.

Karen 2.0 is not an idea or theory. It is, I am, reality.

Harsh Words

A couple days ago, I was chatting online with a friend about the arrest of a seventeen year old for the kidnap and murder of Jessica Ridgeway. I said that the whole situation made me nostalgic for my own childhood in a suburb of Chicago. It was a wonderful place to grow up. We walked to school, rode our bikes to the park, to the swimming pool, to Girl Scout meetings at a local church. And all without any sense of danger. Sure, we’d been taught about Mr. Stranger Danger, the man who might offer us candy to lure us into his car. Fortunately, my friends and I never encountered that potential danger. In fact, I’m lucky to be able to say that no one has ever put a hand on me in an aggressive or violent manner.

I told my friend that I had grown up without fears. His response was, “Hmmm, a childhood with no fears, and you’re a writer?????”

Okay, he had a point. I said that I meant I grew up with no fear of physical danger, but that my mother had some emotional issues when we were kids. To be honest, she had more than a few issues, and they lasted longer than our childhood. She never hit, but the things she said to my brothers and I were, and still are, beyond my comprehension. Kids take harsh words to heart, and the fallout can last a lifetime.

The problem in our conversation arose when I used the terms physical danger/harm and personal harm interchangeably. My friend, a very smart man and writer, quite reasonably called me on my language. Dammit, he was right again.

While I felt no fear of physical violence from my mother or anyone else, my mother’s words did cause personal harm. Most of the time, she was reasonable and acted like any other mother. I trusted her and believed what she said. So when she turned on me, calling me fat, calling me ugly, I believed that too. She was my mom, she was the person who was supposed to love me and tell me the truth. So from an early age, I was morally certain that I was horribly, disgustingly fat. Mom said so. It came as quite a shock when, in recent years, I saw photos of myself as a child and teen. I wasn’t fat. I wasn’t thin, but not fat either. I was just an average size child. It wasn’t until my later teen years that I gained weight. It wasn’t a conscious choice, but my inner fat girl was such a real part of my psyche that I never noticed that I was allowing my physical self to match my inner self.

The words of those we trust, family and friends, can do more personal harm than they or we realize. Surround yourself with those who treat you well, and be kind to others.

Welcome to Goodbye to the Fat Girl

Goodbye to the Fat Girl is a forthcoming book; a series of essays about the author’s quest to lose both her physical and emotional fat girls. Written in a humorous, lighthearted way, the book deals with the serious subjects of emotional abuse and how it can make an average size young girl think she is fat.

Publication will be Summer of 2013.

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