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I’m hoping that once I explain where I’m coming from on this, you won't hate me for what
I’m about to say. In a bid for your empathy let me first tell you that I was bullied and
teased all during my youth.
By the time I was in first grade I was so depressed and
filled with self-loathing that I thought life would be better if I wasn’t in it. My self-esteem
and confidence were so broken by the name-calling and tormenting that my life— as
it is now—is a direct reflection of this early self-esteem unravelling or perhaps, never
forming. I was a fat kid, and the world made sure I felt horrible about it.
My mom took me shopping in the "husky" department. I wasn’t allowed to try on my best
friend’s clothes because I might rip them (I broke her bed when jumping on it once). The
kids at school and my brother and his friends tormented me—and, when they weren’t around, I
I was in no way unhealthily overweight or anywhere near obese, in
fact I was probably at the very top of the safe weight chart. Just the
kind of kid who looks like she's perpetually stuck in the chubby cheeks zone. My mom
was too obsessed with her own dieting to take notice of my eating habits, which
coincidentally revolved around shoving food in my mouth whenever I could.
Six is too young to make the correlation between food and body size, and I soon found
true love and maybe even a mom, in a box of Hostess. School lunch was chocolate
milk and fluff-n-nutter and peanut butter on Wonder Bread. After-school snacks were a
Twinkie and a Ding Dong. Food soothed the icky feelings and the self-hatred, but it
didn’t get me the good roles in the plays.
I look at Aria’s lean, long legs and fat-free body and think, "She will be happy."
I blamed my body size for being cast as “A Shadow” or “A Tree Branch” in my theater company productions. It was the terminal sadness and otherness feeling that compelled me to want to be an actress. To be seen, if not as myself, then as someone else. To mean something in the world that had nothing to do with the “fat me” who I was miserable being. Getting the part as “The Ugly Duckling” in a camp show only fueled my fire to overcome this body of mine somehow.
We can fast-forward to the corollary anorexic/bulimic years that defined my teens, the
drugs and numbing out of my college life, and the string of ill-conceived life choices that
dictated my early 20s. My life was a quest to feel better from the outside in, the inside
out or from any direction I could find it. Even when I was thin, my body never felt like
home. I felt like a squatter, ready to be kicked out at any moment. It’s no wonder my life
has been a string of questionable relationship choices. I never had a decent one with
myself when it really counted, as a little girl.
Imagine my glee when I gave birth to a genetically thin string bean of a daughter. When the
pediatrician said, “She will always be thin,” it was like taking a bite into the best ice cream sundae ever. I look at Aria’s lean, long legs and fat-free body and
think, "She will be happy." I also know that this absurd equation is not even 1 percent
true. I know this. I have been thin, fat and thin again. I am no happier when I am thin. I
am no more free. I am the same person on the inside.
I have to go way undercover with my feelings of relief about Aria’s not having
inherited my body type; about her being naturally thin, being able to eat whatever she
wants, about not using food to soothe. I am well aware these feelings are dark
and speak to my own disease, to my mother's and probably hers as well. How can I use this
story to prevent this legacy of self-loathing? I want to instill within Aria the confidence
and self-esteem of a bull fighter, the kind of fortress that comes from building a solid
sense of self from the inside out.
Talk of bodies, weight and beauty are strictly off-limits in my home. I cringe when the word
pretty comes out of my mouth. In my quest to nurture a healthy relationship with food, I have
experimented with different approaches to sweets and sugar. I don’t want them to be
taboo, or a reward, or something to yearn for or hide. At the same time, Aria loves her deserts
like any other 7-year-old, so I am doing my best to explain why we have to ration them
in a way that focuses on health.
I am doing my best. I have never said
the word diet. I have no glaring disordered food rituals (OK, I can polish off a pint of ice
cream), and I feel bad when I skip breakfast or don’t model healthy meals. I have
always wondered about the body I was given and wished it could have been different.
Maybe Aria is a way to get it right; an opportunity to nurture a healthy sense of self from
the start, the right way, from the inside. But I can’t lie: Not seeing her run home in tears
for being called “fat” like I was at her age, is a huge relief.