August 17, 2009
I wasn’t a fat kid; I was a not-skinny kid. The start of puberty was not kind to me (was it kind to anyone?), and my 8th grade yearbook picture crosses the line into chunky territory, but generally others perceived me as “normal.” However, I was often the heaviest girl around, especially because I was involved in all sorts of activities that encourage extreme thinness, like dance, gymnastics, and figure skating. Once, a skating coach said to me, “I think it’s good that you’re healthy, not so skinny like all these other girls.” And that was in the late 80s, when standards for thin were much less emaciated than today.
Still, most girls were skinny, and I was not skinny. So in my mind, I’ve always been a fat girl. I couldn’t trade clothes with other girls. I was self-conscious about wearing shorts. I consumed SlimFast — not as meal replacement shakes, but as raw powder out of the can (just like I ate Nestle Quik, Ovaltine, hot chocolate mix…).
The very first time I ever thought that I might not be a fat girl after all, I was in my mid-20s. My best friend from grad school (who, I must note, is a size 0) was talking about a woman who was a couple years ahead of me in our program. That woman is pear-shaped to the extreme: top half average, bottom half obese. My friend was explaining how the woman’s weight had grown over the past few years and said, “When she started grad school, she was normal. Like me or you.”
What?!? My size 0 friend and I (size 12-ish, consisting mostly of breasts, plus some extra tummy) were not comparable. I was closer to our pear-shaped classmate, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I?
Reading Moose has confirmed that I am closer in spirit to my size 0 friend (who maintained the 0 through Weight Watchers, having been a “heavy” size 4 before) than to the pear-shaped classmates and Mooses of the world. Many of the emotions Klein describes resonate with my adolescent self, but the desperation she describes for food is totally foreign to me. Anyone could be normal-sized with my take-it-or-leave-it desire for food, just like no one would have a drinking problem if they were as nonchalant about alcohol’s effects as I am. But, faced with what she describes as a true addiction to food, overeating and obesity seem almost like destiny.
Aside from the weight issues, I most enjoyed Moose for three things:
- The seamless way she integrates the main narrative with older and newer memories.
- The description of early adolescent sexuality, solo and partnered. Even if her desire for sex, like her desire for food, was more extreme than my own, it’s the truest depiction of young girls’ unspoken fascination with sex that I’ve ever seen.
- The disingenuity of adolescent emotional expressions, particularly when she starts a big fight with Adam then admits that it was all a show. I’ve seen it so many times, mostly in others but occasionally in myself: acting out a script of the way people supposedly act, as depicted in teen movies, sitcoms, books… One of my sisters-in-law, whom I have previously described as a sociopath, has done this throughout her adolescence. She punches DH on the arm because that’s what little sisters do to big brothers. When she’s away, she talks about how much she misses her friends several times a day, because that’s what people with friends are supposed to do. She temporarily breaks up with boys over minor issues because that’s what teenage relationships are right, or so she’s seen on TV. I never know when she’s feeling real emotion and when she’s acting out a scene from an after school special.
In the first chapter, Klein talks about her reluctance to gain weight during her twin pregnancy as a result of her childhood obesity. How have body image issues affected you during infertility? Pregnancy? Post-pregnancy?
During infertility treatments, FSH injections made my tummy, which has always been out of proportion with the rest of my body, bigger. The scale didn’t reflect it, but my pants were tighter and there was clearly more padding in my lower abdomen. Because I started out not-skinny, no one ever said anything and I don’t know if anyone even noticed, but I didn’t appreciate the side effect — especially when no babies were resulting from the treatments.
But, when I would pass myself in a mirror or the reflection on a window, I’d often pause and imagine my midsection much bigger from pregnancy. Finally I would have an excuse to have a big tummy! I was ready to embrace having an enormous belly, if it came with a baby inside.
Since being pregnant with twins, I’ve actually struggled to gain more weight — not a problem I ever fathomed having. Heartily convinced by the twin books that weight gain is key to preventing premature birth, I have been eating the most fattening foods I can, every couple of hours, for months — and I can barely keep up. Between being a vegetarian and having strong food aversions in the first four months to anything that might help me gain weight (particularly sweets and fatty foods), it has required enormous effort to keep up with the babies’ nutritional needs and put on the amount of weight recommended for a healthy twin pregnancy.
I haven’t stopped catching my reflection in mirrors and windows — in fact, I do it constantly now. It’s vain, really. I am so enamored with my growing belly, stretch marks and all, just as I am enamored with all that’s going on inside. Part of my joy comes from the years of infertility and finally achieving what eluded me for so long. But really, part of it is that I’ve never looked better. Later, I’ll go back to having a big blah tummy, but for now I have a big beautiful tummy!
Stephanie describes how she would picture herself slim, and how that image did not look like her at all. Did you/do you picture yourself slim and if so who do you model yourself on? Are you realistic when you imagine the slim you or do you picture someone you could never be like?
The imaginary slim Me isn’t that different from the normal version of Me wearing the right clothes, such as tailored suits. I don’t think I’ve ever, since puberty, been as slim as the imaginary Me (nor as slim as the BMI charts say I should… but BMI is bogus anyway), but ultimately I don’t know if that imaginary Me is something I even want. There was a point in my early 20s when I thought seriously about how I should approach my weight. I could work out more and watch what I ate, or I could do what I wanted and be satisfied with myself. I have chose and have stuck to the latter, in large part as a conscious feminist decision not to accept poor self-esteem as a way of life.
Stephanie Klein writes “Years later I’d feel slightly superior because I’d once been fat. That’s the thing…when asked if I’d change my past if I could, I think for a moment and always answer no. There’s something…that just makes it mildly worth it. Because a sensitivity is tattooed on a part of you no one else can see but can somehow guess is there. It’s always with you.” How do you relate to this with regards to infertility?
I do feel secretly superior for having gone through this long journey, as if I will truly love my children more than those who conceived easily. I can’t judge whether that’s really accurate (and I know that lots of fertile women — but not all — love their children plenty). I do know that infertility has made me more sensitive to all sorts of difficulties that others encounter, in family-building and in other aspects of life. I can’t say whether I’m a better person than anyone else, but I’m a better person than I was before.
Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: It Sucked, And Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce).