COCKROACH IN SCALES
The other morning
There was a cockroach,
A big black shiny one,
trapped in the face of
As it waved its feelers back
at my looming face
trying to see if I was
(but never just right),
I thought it made a lot
For I’m a lousy housewife:
dusting, sweeping, what a waste of
And I’m a hopeless dieter,
fat and thin by turns.
So the cockroach in my scales
reflected both failures
What a way to start the day!
Over the years my weight has fluctuated wildly from slim to fat, so much so that I’ve felt like a human accordion at times, going in and out at the speed of light. I can’t say I’ve been conscious of whether I’ve been slim or fat because, regardless of my size, I was never aware of gaining or losing weight (apart from buying different dress sizes!).
I know many of my weight issues have been emotional, but also I’ve done a lot of reading about diets, weight, BMI, etc., because when I was young the hysteria around obesity and low-fat diets just didn’t exist. I do know that my weight has exercised the minds of far more people than it has mine. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard people say: “But you don’t eat a lot” and realised they’ve been scrutinising what I eat which gets right up my nose. It’s no-one’s business but mine what I eat, keep your nose out of my plate! As I said in my previous post, I’m also aware that when I walk into a doctor’s surgery their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and then look somewhat taken aback by results well in the healthy range.
I was also, decades ago, stupid enough to agree to go to a fat farm to lose weight when it was suggested by the organisation I worked for,and I really regret it. I lost 14 lbs in one week, with a mainly fruit juice diet, but of course, when I got back to the real world, the weight boomeranged back and then some. And it started me on a bit of a habit of fasting, then eating, and so on, which really has stuffed my body’s metabolism. I should have had the guts to tell them to poke their fat farm where the sun don’t shine, and that’s precisely what I would do today.
The day after I started working on this post – about weight and my mother’s death – I woke with excruciating sciatic pain in my hip and leg. It took until the next evening to realise that this was my physical response to approaching these subjects – matters of life and death which obviously have a great emotional and physical impact on me.
As soon as I twigged why the pain had exploded in my hip, it abated considerably. But I have been doing all sorts of odd jobs since then to avoid getting on with this post. So I have finally glued myself to my seat and here goes!
I weighed myself the night before I had the cast removed when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996 and then when I got home – 6lbs disappeared overnight, yeay! In the six weeks I’d been immobile, unbelievably I’d lost 14lbs, much to my surprise. It was as if the shock of the fall galvanised my body into detoxing all of its own accord.
From these comments and the intro you’ll probably guess that I have had some challenges with weight. And I’d probably be a weird woman if I hadn’t, given the obsession with thinness and fatness in today’s Western society.
In my childhood I was what you then called “chubby” but no-one banged on about weight and obesity as they do nowadays. In those days it was accepted that kids could be chubby but they’d lose this puppy fat once they hit puberty and started growing into adulthood.
The first time I became aware of perhaps being a bit weighty was when I stayed with my German penfriend in 1965. She was absolutely gorgeous and had a terrific, slim figure. Beside her I felt large and clumsy and I remember we each weighed ourselves but, as it was in kilograms, I had no idea what it meant. I do know that she and her mother exclaimed at my weight. When my cousin and his male friend visited us while they were in holiday in Germany, they only had eyes for my pen-friend and I felt fat, awkward and lonely. For the first time I became self-conscious about my figure.
I do know now that I ate because it was comfort food in a family where I felt on the outer. I closely associated food with being loved by my parents, particularly if my mum and I shared special food which Dad didn’t like, and we’d have this when he was doing overtime – mushrooms on toast (mushrooms were a luxury when I was a kid) and soft cod’s roe on toast (another luxury). I can also look back now and see that carrying extra weight was protective for me. My father was a bully, a control freak and he used to browbeat me if I voiced my own opinions. We’d go at it hammer and tongs until my mother would intervene to try to calm things down as she hated the discord.
At University I guess I remained somewhat podgy in my first year. I was in student accommodation and I used to drink a very hot cup of black coffee prior to meals in the refectory. The idea was to dampen my appetite but it wasn’t particularly successful, particularly if they dished up Queen of Puddings for dessert. It was my favourite and I’d eat my own portion as well as the portions of anyone who didn’t want their serving! I guess I really wasn’t overly bothered about my weight, just felt a sense of dissatisfaction which I never really pinned down.
The first time I really lost weight and became very slim was when I was working abroad during my third year at University. I was living in Stuttgart and started work at 7.30. We had a break around 8.30 and I’d get a roll with cold meat for breakfast. At lunchtime, we had a subsidised meal in the staff canteen but as very little of the food appealed to me, I had very small lunches. And in the evening, when I cooked for myself, I also didn’t eat much as it’s not much fun eating on your own.
I was, however, very happy at work as I made friends with a lovely Hungarian lady, Frau Kiss, a Hungarian refugee who’d settled in Stuttgart. She helped me in lots of little ways which made life more pleasant. Eventually I also met some really nice girls in the women’s hostel where I was living. When I first arrived in Stuttgart I lived in my own unit on the ground floor and it was quite lonely. Then I was moved to the basement area where I shared a room with a Finnish lass. She was a real raver and was always out in the evenings so I started leaving the light on in the small sink area in our room. She was quite taken aback at this as apparently the previous German girl had left the room pitch black and then complained when Marjia-Liisa made a noise trying to get ready for bed in the dark. But my little act of helpfulness broke the ice between us and from then on we got on like a house on fire.
Then a couple of English girls arrived from universities in the UK, they got stuck in the basement area like me, so we all got together. We were finally joined by Barbara, a German girl, who had a great sense of humour and adventure. And we certainly got up to all sorts of adventures between us, quite innocent now when I look back. But we were always laughing and having a good time together.
We went to the Christkindlmarkt in Stuttgart which was wonderful although bitterly cold. We visited the cinema at the American base nearby where we parked Barbara’s car and found it dwarfed by the huge American yank-tanks lined up in front of the cinema. We drove to Ulm to climb the steeple of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world with 768 steps. It’s often called Ulm Cathedral but is actually a Minster as it has never been the seat of a bishop. We climbed up to the top where we found beautiful views over Ulm and the surrounding countryside, climbed down okay but when we got outside, our legs were like jelly and we ended up flopping on the floor laughing our heads off. I stayed at Barbara’s parent’s house one weekend, her folks were incredibly hospitable, and we also visited Rothenburg-ob-der-Taube which is a wonderful, medieval town.
We girls had boozy sessions in our rooms, confident we’d hidden all signs of the mayhem until we’d get home and realise our rooms smelled like pub bars, an empty wine glass or two stood on the mantelpiece and the sour-faced women running the hostel would greet us with icy faces!
One night Barbara introduced us to Schnapps, I think it might have been Goldwasser, which we English girls imbibed with gusto. She told us to skol it down it which we did and all promptly got drunk as skunks as none of us drank much at all. We were staggering everywhere, and I remember waking up with an appalling hangover. Barbara thought it was hilarious as we British girls sat there, head in hands, moaning, until she frogmarched us one by one to the restroom and stuck us in a cold shower!
I didn’t realise that, in this new lifestyle in Germany, I’d lost so much weight until I returned home for the Christmas holidays. My parents both commented on how much slimmer I was, and so did my boyfriend, but I didn’t see it in myself at all. I do know that when I returned to university in the fourth year, after my third year abroad, many people commented on the remarkable change in my appearance although, once again, I hadn’t realised how much weight I’d lost, it just sort of happened.
Much the same sort of weight loss happened when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel in March 1972, prior to travelling to Australia. I did physical work on my feet all the time, and the weight dropped off. I do know that unless I’m really active, it’s hard for me to lose weight, even more so now I have mobility challenges.
I realised much later down the track that my time overseas in my third year at university was really the first time I was away from anyone’s influence. I was pretty much on my own, and I lost weight because I didn’t need it to protect myself from my father’s bullying ways and the fact that I extended that to being subconsciously fearful of any relationships I had with the opposite sex. I loved being independent both at university and in Germany and France where I also spent six months.
Because I have so many air signs, nine in astrology, I have always been in my head and thinking, thinking, thinking. My conversations start: “I think…..” or “I’ve been thinking…..” (and generally my husband looks nervous because he says this usually means hammers and nails somewhere in the house), or I say, if people do rash things: “Why don’t people THINK”. Occasionally I look down and remember I’ve got a body attached to my head and say in surprise: “Oh, hello, body, still hanging around are you, thanks very much, I appreciate it.”
I started getting some idea of why I used food as a substitute for love and weight as protection when I saw a psychologist after Mum died. The thinner my mother got as the cancer spread, the fatter I got as if in some way I could protect myself, I think, on two fronts: from the fear of death myself if I got fat and from the grief I was experiencing as Mum came closer and closer to death. Seeing the psychologist after mum died, to get help from the loneliness and grief I felt, also opened a can of worms – mum no longer stood between me and my father as the peace-maker, we had to face each other, and our relationship got rocky to say the least!
When David Cameron announced his cabinet reshuffle a short while ago and more women were appointed to Cabinet, the headlines talked about “girlpower” and, of course what the “girls” were wearing. No talk of “womanpower” because so often we women are described as “girls” as we are not supposed to become fully-grown, mature, strong WOMEN. (I might add I am wholly cynical about the promotion of women as I see it as a cynical attempt to garner women’s votes rather than a genuine dedication to women’s equality.)
If you have a look at the photos on the right, the top row is of girls, the bottom is of women. The images in the top row are a vision of us as girls, never growing into a womanly shape, shaving our pubic hair so we look like constant teenagers, torturing ourselves with ripping out that hair (and I can tell you, I had my pubic hair shaved once, when I had my tubes tied at 27, and the constant itching of it growing back made me swear NEVER to shave that hair again!) and keeping us confined in the straitjacket of thin as desirable and right.
In the bottom row, the images are of mature women but now, in the same vein of keeping us as eternal girls, it is not considered appropriate to talk about women as “luscious”, “juicy”, “reubenesque”, “curvy”, “succulent” – because they all imply – shock, horror” – women who aren’t thin and possibly look like (whisper) mature, adult, powerful women.
I decided to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with one about weight issues because, looking back from the time I got involved in women’s liberation in the early 1970s until now, I got to thinking that the focus on diets and thinness is an act of sabotage – it has been a misogynist weapon to dis-empower women and keep them focused on weight issues instead of on living up to their full potential. A woman focused only on her weight and shape if far less powerful than one who is at home and comfortable with herself and makes her way in society as a formidable, strong individual.
The cult of “thin is good” didn’t always exist. Because I grew up in the ’50s and 60s, I have a perspective which isn’t possible for younger people, and that is, I can remember when women were weightier than accepted cultural norms now. It was accepted that as you had children and headed to your senior years, that weight gain was a normal process of life on earth. So it seems to me that the focus on thinness (mainly for women but now affecting men too) started getting stronger around the time women’s liberation erupted and started questioning women’s status in society. But thin is “in”, so to speak, at least on the part of women’s magazines, the diet industry, the medical establishment, the fashion industry and so-called fashion mavens who we’re supposed to follow like headless chooks.
While we’re busy focused on diets, size, weight, fatness or thinness, we are diverted from standing strong in our own right – as juicy, strong, powerful women, at ease with ourselves regardless of our weight, getting to know our own bodies intimately so we know what weight is right for us, and leading full, adventurous lives . As this quote from Naomi Wolf puts it so succinctly:
Marilyn Monroe would now be considered obese – which sounds ridiculous given the sex goddess she was. Yet we are repeatedly lectured that what I see as normal women are obese/morbidly obese/likely to peg it overnight because if they’re overweight they must be harbouring god knows how many life-threatening health challenges, and so on and so on.
This of course is a godsend to the enrichment of the diet industry, Big Pharma and medicos who see what is considered a fat woman now (but wasn’t when I was young) and like Pavlov’s dogs immediately start talking about diets, losing weight, yada, yada, yada. I know when I’ve walked into so many doctor’s room, their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes and cholesterol levels and heave out the good ol’ blood pressure apparatus. Sadly for them, and they look quite taken aback, all my health signs are, well, healthy!
And as we’re on the subject of medicos, I have to say that I personally find the term “obese” quite offensive. It’s as if doctors conjure up a word which is designed to make normal/not so fat/ and fat people seem as sub-human as possible and to cow us into submissive slaves of thin worship. I sometimes wonder if the medical industry creates such words as “obese” or “geriatric” to elevate the power of medicos and reduce us patients to obedient, malleable, cowed, uncertain, unquestioning clients. I also despise doctors who lazily judge the health of overweight women by their size rather than their uniqueness and medical history.
I can remember having a meal out with some other women, all good-looking, fairly slim, about my age when I was in my late ‘thirties and the whole damned dinner talk was about weight, thinness and diets. I mean – what a ruddy great waste of women’s lives to spend it worrying about weight and what diet you’re on and whether you’ve gained or lost a couple of pounds from one week to the next. Being frightened of food, obsessing about calories, fat levels, carbs and all the other catchphrases of the thin mafia is absolutely ridiculous.
All the research which gets pumped out about what makes you live longer,what causes cancer, how to avoid heart attacks, etc., simply doesn’t take into account that people are individual, have their own genetic heritage and shape, and need to consider what their heart and soul tells them about what is good for them, not scientists and health gurus who change their minds a few years down the track or even from year to year and, dare I say it, month to month, week to week.
And having gone through some literature on this subject, I have found out – and this will no doubt amaze you – that if you carry more weight than that which is supposed to be healthy these days and you are fit, you are far more likely to live longer than a socially acceptable thin, unfit woman. Also, wasting your life on a yo-yo of dieting, losing weight, then gaining weight again and often extra weight than before you dieted, is putting your health far more at risk than a woman who looks at herself, smiles, smacks her booty gleefully and tells herself she’s a yummy individual with far more to do with her life than waste it on worrying about what is a current societal obsession about thinness.
Plus we need to get a perspective on the health hysteria which prevails at the moment – new food fads, super-foods, how to live longer, anti-ageing tucker – and so on. You can be the healthiest, fittest person around and then drop dead of a heart attack or get a life-threatening illness for no apparent reason. And everyone says it’s unfair because someone who doesn’t exercise or is fat doesn’t die at an early age. But it’s LIFE, outrageous, unpredictable, unfair, fair, dropping surprise health bombs into our lives – our time of death is unpredictable so get the most out of each day and you’ll have a wonderful life – exciting, adventurous, questing, humorous, fun, loving, fully adult, powerful and, above all, SATISFYING.
I can pretty much guarantee that when the truth comes out about – as it will – that the current BMI holy bible is a heap of old cobblers with no scientific foundation, and thinness is recognised as a trumped-up cultural creation to control and disempower women – the pendulum will swing towards an acceptance of women as they are meant to be – short, tall, medium, thin, fat, stocky, lean, weighty, or whatever is their natural, womanly shape. And if they’re pink with purple spots, or orange with red stripes, or green with turquoise hair – so be it!
FAT HATRED, THIN WORSHIP
This week I saw that the National Health Service in the UK is to offer gastric bypass surgery to obese patients. I also saw a headline in one newspaper which read: “Drop the staple gun, Doc, and Tell Fatty to grow some willpower”. The article contained such comments as:”I have also found fat people funny”; “it is something they have imposed on themselves through a combination of gannetry, indolence and stupidity”; and “sometimes I even go to places where I know there will be lots of fat people and sit on a bench watching them clumping around, sweating and gasping, and snigger to myself.”
As you can see, it’s okay to be bigoted about weighty people because somehow, being not thin, we have ceased to be human beings and can be ridiculed, insulted, discriminated against and then be told to have surgery which can be life-threatening and possibly lead to our deaths. Doubtless if weighty people died during gastric bypass surgery the fat haters would be gleeful to have less fat people to pollute their perfect lives.
The reason why I feel infuriated by the headlines is because I have been reading a couple of books and other material which actually show that “obesity” and the much-vaunted BMI are a recent creation and a nice little money earner for the medicos and diet industry based on shonky health research. At the same time, the low-fat, high carbohydrate diet extolled to Western nations like the UK, US and Australia over the past few decades also has feet of clay, a big con trick by the food industry to protect their profits despite research showing that people following what they believe are healthy diets are actually endangering their own health.
BLAME THE VICTIM
But hey, let’s blame the victim, then you don’t have to look at the food giants, the pharmaceutical industry and the diet industry who have all colluded to squash research showing the health dangers of a high carbohydrate, high-sugar diet to protect their god-almighty profits.
And let’s not mention that people also eat for emotional reasons such as stress, long working hours, job insecurity, low wages, unemployment, social interaction, homelessness and so on, because then you have to look at the social reasons for over-eating and lack of exercise because people are knackered by the end of the day trying to cope with the pressures of life in Western society today.
This has tied in with the fact I wanted to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with some material about diets and thinness stifling women’s creativity and power, and also how eating can be emotional, as I witnessed when I got as fat as butter when my Mum was dying of lung cancer.
So what I’m intending in my next few posts are:
1) Feminism, women and weight;
2) My own weight battle;
3) Dealing with my mother’s death from lung cancer & my own (fat) emotional response;
4) The giant con trick perpetrated on Western society by the dietary, medical, pharmaceutical and food industries to protect their profits regardless of the ill-health of people following what they believe are health diets.
I have no doubt that questioning the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet and the all-powerful BMI is tackling sacred cows, but I really hate being conned and both of these are con tricks, not exposed by the industries involved, but brought out into the light of day by individuals doing independent research and publishing their findings.