Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Measure of Self Worth

Today I read something in the news that really shocked me.
Marsha Coupe was travelling home from London when she was attacked. She heard herself called a "fat pig" and then she was kicked in the stomach and punched in the face. Her crime was to take up two seats on the train. Her attacker was a middle-aged woman.
Punched and kicked for not being an acceptable weight?

And we call ourselves evolved?

It really struck me because, just last week, a friend was telling me about her memories of being a chubby child - the constant nagging and comments about her weight or needing to lose weight. My childhood memories are the complete opposite. I was a skinny sickly kid who got nagged to put on weight!

You see, my mom was picked on at school, only in her case it was for being too thin. Mom was born in the era when children with dimpled cheeks and girls with curves were considered beautiful and healthy, not wispy waifs like my mom was.

So when I came along, as scrawny as she'd been, she was determined I wouldn't get bullied for being skinny. She made sure I ate three full meals a day with lots of cake and biscuits for snacks and school break. It never worked - I stayed skinny. Did anyone pick on me for being thin? I did get teased now and then, but only mild joking stuff, like 'being invisible' if I stood sideways. If I did have any issues with my body it was me getting angry at it for not allowing me the freedom other kids had - for being sick with allergies and fevers so often. But mostly I enjoyed being a kid and having fun.

Then somewhere between nine and eleven everything changed. We moved to the coast and my health improved... and I started to put on weight. I never noticed anything at first except that I actually felt healthy. Then one day at school the teacher asked everyone to pick partners for a game. I was always last to be picked for games. As the sickly kid I never played sport and I have zero co-ordination skills. I was used to being last to be chosen, but this time was far worse than the usual stress and humiliation of no-one wanting me on their team. When the teacher tried to pair me with another last left-over girl she threw a fit and yelled, "I don't want to be with fatso!"


I was shocked at the comment, but even more shocked at the anger and hate behind it. I felt like I'd been punched. How could anyone hate me that much? What had happened to me to make me so disgusting and loathsome? I went home and looked in the mirror and saw an entirely new person. I looked and saw the new fat ugly me.

Looking back I now can see that I was actually a fairly average girl going through puberty, but to my mind I was a walrus. I dieted constantly; I never ate chocolate from the age of 13 to 19. I had always enjoyed being outdoors and swimming as a child, but not anymore. Being on a beach meant being in a swim suit and that was something I was NOT going to do!

I hated going shopping for clothes too, because they only reminded me how I wasn't good enough. From age 16 to 36 I was pretty much a constant size and shape - short and curvy. Being short and curvy is not a shape the fashion world caters for. I've never found a pair of jeans that fit - they are always too big around the waistline. It's obviously my natural genetic shape, because no matter if I put on weight, or lost weight, I always return to roughly the same size... except recently.

Since I've had more health problems I've steadily plodded up the dress size scale year by year. I've talked to the doctors. Dr #1 thinks my weight gain is a symptom, Dr #2 thinks it's a side-effect of my medication and Dr #3 thinks it's me being depressed by my health and not taking enough care of my body. They're probably all right. The nurse who handles my medication says that it causes constant weight gain, but this stops when the treatment stops... except I'm not going to stop. I'm most likely going to stay on this stuff for another decade.

What size will I be by then? My mind boggles! (or wobbles, like a giant jelly or blob of blubber!)

After years of fretting about feeling fat I'm finally being forced to face the reality of actually BEING fat. It's a strange experience, because now I realise how perfectly normal I was in my teens when I thought I wasn't. Now I can see how much I missed out on by feeling self-conscious. How many young people are inactive not because they're lazy, but because they're too scared of being called 'Fatso' or being laughed at?

...and if being called 'Fatso' feels like a punch in the stomach, then what does being genuinely punched, because you're overweight, do to your sense of self-esteem? Yesterday I only feared the tubby me in the mirror... must I learn to now fear the stranger on the bus who now thinks he/she has the right to hit me because I'm not as thin as I used to be?

You don't cease to be yourself because your body changes. You do not lose the right to respect because you have a different shape, less limbs, more wrinkles, less height or you skin is a different colour... or your weight is different to the norm. Even if you aren't perfect, why should that mean you can't have fun and enjoy life? I'm not happy to be ill or have physical problems, but I am happy that I'm here and able to keep on enjoying life and all there is to experience. If that has to happen in a more "well rounded" form than I once had... I can live with that! And I can live with my family, friends and neighbours being perfectly average and imprefect too.


  1. our cultural attitudes towards weight are astonishing to me: and dramatically shown by comparing the way we react to those who appear to eat too much, to those who eat too little (or make themselves throw it up.) Those who are larger than the unhealthily thin models are considered lacking in self discipline, morally flawed - despite frequent medical statements that obesity is more often a medical problem than a self control issue.

    Those who eat too little are coddled and loved and encouraged to eat more - there is an emotional outpouring of support.

    Even if it WAS a self discipline issue, the response is devastatingly flawed.

    I recall being shocked when hiking in the Ayung Valley with a guide in Bali. I was huffing and puffing from the unaccustomed exercise... the narrow trail moved through rice paddies, each at a higher level than the last, and in many places no more than the thin mud wall of the rice paddy itself. We passed a lithe woman about my age, carrying a heavy basket on her head and moving easily through rice paddies and up the hill. She and my guide exchanged a few words and laughed, and then she passed on. He turned to me and repeated "She said you are very happy." Not understanding how charged his words were, he did his best to translate further: "That means Fat."

    He was utterly without guile as he smiled and nodded - clearly neither of them meant any offense. And that's obvious from the word used - "Happy." To them, probably fat shows prosperity, as it used to here.

  2. This is so incredibly sad...I cannot believe the cruely that some people muster out of themselves. While I have never had a weight issue in my life until this last year, this is an issue that has always bothered me. Over weight people do get treated badly...especially women. Health issues will keep on the weight. When I started putting on weight due to a medication it drove me nuts. Then when I started gaining (due to what I later found out was my thyroid) weight, I took in 800-1000 calories and was working out 1-2 hours a day and still I kept the time I went to a doctor I had gained 40 pounds(in just a couple of months)and thats when I found out it was my thyroid and my adrenals had shut down. Even though I am on medicine now I am struggling to take off the weight and to keep from gaining more. I think what is so hard is that it beats the shit out of my self esteem...I don't know how to stop it. i cannot afford to keep buying larger my heart goes out to anyone that is over weight and struggling with feelings of low worth.

    I am so sorry for your struggles. You have such a beautiful heart that I cannot imagine anyone being mean to you...I flinch at the thought of it. Please take care of yourself. XX

  3. I just want to reach across and hug you now :) I'm grateful for your beauty.

    I blame my gran for making me clean my plate because the kids in China were starving. Funny how, here in the west, it's the kids in Africa that are starving. We had the kids in China. I wonder who China had.

    Me? I have two memorable 'fat' events. One was where a smelly hobo told me to "Move up, fatty" in the bus. That was here. The other one was, after an accident, I was being x-rayed. The nursing staff, on hearing I was a foreigner, complained loudly and clearly about my size when they had to help me onto the x-ray table, not knowing I understood every word. It was humiliating and degrading.

    I was reading an article by a young girl just the other day that came as a lesson to me:

  4. Hayden
    Wow, very powerful and true what you pointred out about how we treat those who don't eat vs those who eat too much. Especially tragic when you take into account that many who overeat do so to fill emotional voids... and then they get punished and treated badly for it. :-(

    Makes me feel quite tearful thinking about it.

    Your story of Bali - still like that in parts of Africa as well. You know, they found in studies that big (fat) African women had no related health issues yet the same women moving into Western countries started having health issues. They did (BBC years back) extensive studies and the only difference between the two was... guilt. The fat women back in traditional Africa felt beautiul and admired and were perfectly healthy. The fat women in the Western world felt stressed, bad, guilty... and all had health issues. Makes you think!

    I know how much your health and resulting weight have given you stress recently. (((HUG))) You are so right - it beats the life out of your self-esteem! And yet.... why? I mean, Hayden's reply is so right - we coddle and care for those who refuse to eat and we laugh or punish those who eat to much. It made me think... how would both sides react if they were treated (emotionally) the way the others were? If anorexics were laughed at and jokes made about them and obesepeople treated as needing emotional/psychological support more than diets?

    What's more amazing is how we can judge ourselves on something as unimportant as body size/shape. We're taught not to be nasty to disabled people, You don't laugh at the blind, and yet we still laugh at certain "accepted" physical issues. It's really sick when you start thinking about it.

    And talking of sick... read my reply to Hayden about women in Africa. It was a real eye-opener for me!

    Yep, I'm one of those who just can't keep buying bigger clothes. I have a wardrobe stuffed full of things barely a few years old that no longer fit. At this stage I'm alternating about four outfits over... and over, but since my hernia and endo issues cause me pain I tend to wear a caftan at home, which makes me feel even more like a slob blob! Another self-esteem problem women face - not feeling good if we're not dressed nice. :-(

    Love to you too, Lori. xx

    Hi Tint
    BIG (((HUG))) back!

    Ah dear... yeah I know the eat all your food thing too. In a weird way the waste of food in the West does still shock me though - I find it very hard to throw out food and feel guilty about it. People starving and I'm wasting food is a big guilt thing, but I'm learning that stuffing me to stop throwing out food is not exactly something to be more proud of. LOL

    I laughed about the kids in Africa/China! :-D

    As for your own experiences... oh hell - that must have been AWFUL. :-( I know how bad I felt with that one "Fatso" moment in school. There were other times like that in high school too. A school nurse who went on a long lecture about 'flabby' me in front of the class when we were having health inspections. Do you remember those? Lined up like cattle to have your eyes or whatever checked? I HATED those.

    On to better things - thank you for the link.The article was excellent. Funny thing is I got your email update on it, but hadn't gone to read yet. How funny that we were on a similar thought this week. :-)

  5. @Hayden: I come from Indo and you're right about what you think when it comes to what the woman said to you ('coz the gap between the poor and rich in Indo is still VERY VERY wide), though these days the young people are really into sports and there's this hype about young women/mums about taking aerobics or Zumba or yoga classes. There were never such a hype in my Mom's age for example.

    @M: LOVE the post, esp. the last part about enjoying life and family etc. etc.

    Reading Hayden's note also made me think: about the support for those who overeat versus those who eat too little. That's indeed sad and depressing...I hope that whoever reads this kind of posts/articles will think first before saying anything to anyone, because we're all the same inside: we need acceptance and love no matter how we look like, how much we weigh, our hobbies, our bad sides, even despite our weaknesses.

  6. Oh that story is so awful and sad. And attacked by another woman? Awful.

    We have much in common. I was made fun of in school throughout high school because I was so thin. I was called a "stick" and other not-so-flattering things. At this juncture of my life, I am no longer a "stick" but I only weigh 115 pounds BUT I have to now work at maintaining that weight because of the issues you raised. Medications. Age. And now my thyroid has gone crazy which messes with your metabolism. More medication. YUK.

    So I'm on a carrot stick diet.
    Well, not really, but close.
    Some things we have no control over in our lives...but we do have control over what comes OUT of our mouths.

    The constant bashing of each other in this world has to stop. Just the other day I heard a young man yell "Faggot! You are gay! You faggot!" at an adolescent. It is 2011 and we have progressed nada it seems. The same teasing that went on when we were in school, continues now, but I believe it is worse. (Oh, I'm so cheery today)

    Sorry you had to endure teasing.
    It shapes you in ways we don't always know until we're grown but it also makes you so much wiser and more compassionate.
    I consider you to be one of the most beautiful people on planet earth.

  7. Amel

    Yes, Hayden's point about the differences between how we treat people who refuse to eat really struck me. I hadn't realised it, but even I feel more sympathy towards anorexics than to over-eaters. It really shocked me that I'm biased too. :-(


    Thank you. XX

    Hard to think of the Queen being teased, but then... look at Cinderella! Princesses get to be Queens through the school of hard knocks in Fairy Tales. ;-)

    I think schools are the worst for a kind of "mob mentality". I really did not enjoy most of school, one way or another. I've also noticed that it's not enough to "preach" at kids - they pick up what they see in their peers and their families.

    You have my sympathy on the weight- health thing. My natural weight seems to lie between 120 and 125. I've see-sawed between those two from the age of 13 to 30.

    Lately it's been ever onwards and upwards... or out sideways to be more exact! I don't feel like "me" anymore.

  8. @Amel - thank you for confirming my thoughts abt. my experience in Indonesia. As you can imagine - I was devastated when it happened, but kept remembering their faces and attitudes - it was so obvious that their intent wasn't cruel and they seemed positive, almost admiring - It took me a long while to puzzle it out and understand.

    Of course, it didn't help that I was in menopause and having massive hot flashes while there. Nothing like a trip to the equator when you're having hot flashes. I don't recommend it.

    Michelle, I used to feel more sympathetic towards anorexics too. But the fatter I get, the less sympathy I feel. Number one, the disparity in treatment saddens me - and number two, bulimia is too tempting. So many of us really aren't over-eating by most calorie standards. It's as if calories become glue, they don't pass through! So - do your best to eat the right things, and health will be optimal.

    Startled - (not shocked, though) to hear abt. the difference in Africa womens' health when they moved.



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