My Body, My Self

Food issues and a bad self-image led our columnist to undergo weight-loss surgery. She's still a mess, but a better-looking one.

I was hooked.

No one was fat in my family but me. The chubbiness was due to an errant gene and some horrible eating habits. My folks never made me lunch to take to school in the morning, so it was up to me. However, I never felt like doing it because I was lazy, and, like, 8 years old. So the school day would be spent with no food until 3 p.m., at which time I would be starving and would come home to an empty house and eat, eat, eat. Then my folks would come home and we'd have dinner. My metabolism was being set up to grab onto every calorie for dear life.

My body, which consisted of thighs that rubbed together and a pudge, disgusted my mother and father, which really pisses me off to this day. "Suck in your gut" was their mantra. My dad even had this quaint little nickname for me in first grade: "68 pounds of swingin' meat."

My body had become my enemy. I hated it.

At one point, in sixth grade, I shot up in height and my weight stayed about the same, and I suddenly looked slim and more womanly.

High school was spent teetering on the edge of chubbiness at size 14. I felt gi-fucking-gantic. My eating habits had stayed the same from grade school. No breakfast, no lunch, and now, in my teenage "maturity," rarely much for dinner. I was a functioning anorexic, despite not being skinny. At the end of my senior year I really kicked out the jams and starved myself into certifiable svelteness. I managed to get on the radar of a ridiculously cute semipro skateboarder, the kind of guy who could have any 18-year-old idiot he wanted. Flummoxed at the attention and full of anxiety, I bought a pint of ice cream and ate the lot. Then, as usual, I felt a horrible wave of guilt and fear from "being bad." I had heard about this whole purging thing and thought I might give it a go. I went into the bathroom and forced myself to throw up. It was violent and gross, and when it was done a cool calmness came over me that felt like the after-effects of a really good cry. It was the perfect thing to do for someone who hated herself; the ultimate form of self-flagellation. Plus, I could now eat "bad" foods willy-nilly to deal with my feelings and then just hack them up again. Problem solved.

I needed help.

Once I finally did get ready to talk to a therapist, I got a doozy. Her name was Grace. At our first meeting, when I was 20, she made the astute judgment that I was depressed. "We have to get your self-esteem up," she told me. "You need to lose weight." I was five foot nine and 175 pounds, a size 14.

Finally, I thought, someone who gets it. Yes, I just needed to lose weight. I loved her instantly, and over three years became dangerously attached to Grace and her approval. She weighed me at the beginning of every session. For a self-loathing bulimic, this was fetishistic. It only reinforced my disdain for myself and my body. It affirmed the idea that, really, all I was was my body.

Then I met another boyfriend, a great guy who was really nice (I didn't trust him of course — he was too nice), and, strangely, he liked "fleshy" women. This didn't compute; no one liked fat chicks except closet cases and retards. Despite all my attempts at anorexia I had never gotten beyond being curvy, or, in my mind, fat. Still, I remember gaining a little weight in the beginning of our love, as people often do, and looking at myself in the mirror and saying, "You know what, Katy? So what?"

This was monumental.

Well, it was monumental for a nano-second. Then I knew that I would lose control. And I did. The weight started to pile on. It seemed as if aliens were abducting me every night and filling me with gravy and ice cream, and I'd awake in my bed 10 pounds heavier the next day. For someone who thought that life would end if I gained 10 pounds, this was devastating. I stopped taking care of myself, stopped going out, stopped seeing friends. My clothes consisted of the same frumpy housecoat, day in and day out, the better to completely dissociate from the neck down. Mirrors were verboten and removed from the house. I was really, really depressed.

Eventually a new therapist entered my life, a great one who knew what she was doing, and my course changed. We focused on me and not my body and normalized my feelings of failure and immorality around being fat.

I wasn't a bad person because I was fat. Wow! Slowly my body image began to separate from who I was as a whole, and what I had to offer the world. I started to stand up for myself. I began to feel as if I had a right to take up space, a right to ask for a bigger chair if need be. It was hard work, because no matter how much progress was made, I would always be thrown back out into a world that saw me as a fat chick. Again, my therapist was an amazing normalizer. I would say something like, "I can't go to that awards ceremony because I'm overweight." And she would say, "You are over whose idea of a proper weight? Over what standard?" as if to say, These are constructs, norms. Not truths.

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