August 19, 2012

A woman of a certain size

does Mommy Dearest's dysfunction look
too big
in this dress?
Does my weight matter? I am a woman of a certain size. Average height, average weight range, statistically, for an American woman which means I am what the charts would deem "overweight."

I share this because it matters to something that we rarely talk about in the ED world, but often THINK about: the weight of the mother of the patient. I have been aware that people scrutinize this ever since I saw my weight status written on my daughter's assessment. I remember feeling odd during mealtimes when I went to ED events, wondering if people were watching what and how I ate. I have in turns worried that I may appear too heavy and people would think "Oh, the eating disorder was about not wanting to be like mom" but on the other end I have thought "I'm glad I'm not thin enough to make people nod and smirk, either."

Countless mothers, on learning the diagnosis of their son or daughter, point to their own (over or under) weight as a factor in some way, and often have to be talked off the ledge of guilt this makes them feel.

I can laugh now, but it's embarrassing to confess: I once ate two lunches one after the other because I was hungry before a lunch event and went ahead and ate early but then felt totally inappropriate to say "I'm full" in front of all these people who were surely watching me for odd behaviors expected of "the mother of the patient" so I said yes and did the most DISordered thing by eating again.

I wonder how it might be different to do this work if I was shaped differently? What if I was markedly smaller, or bigger? What if I had celiac disease or allergies or diabetic and had to turn food down in public? What if I had an eating disorder in my own past history? What if I had a distinctly ethnic appearance, or was in a wheelchair, or was a man? When I had surgery last year I lost some weight and remember thinking that this could be a problem in the ED world and realized just how nuts it is in our society to be worried about appearing to be dieting!

It is impossible to be body-less and without an appearance, and yet whatever body you DO have will affect how people hear your message. Luckily, I have no desire or plan to change my genetically and mentally happy state either way! It is taboo, of course, to talk about appearance in the ED world or to judge body size, which I love, but I have no illusions that people aren't ever THINKING about it.

Have you, as a parent or activist, felt YOUR body and eating habits were being analyzed? Do you do any analyzing yourself, of others?


6 comments:

  1. I am above average height and average weight for my height (JUST below the "overweight" category). I have always had more of a "presence" because I am so tall but I lack visualisation skills that seem to be second nature to other women of my generation. I fail to notice when people have put on or lost weight unless it is a massive amount (like at least 30lbs!). I also fail to notice when people have had their hair cut, are wearing a new dress or have redecorated their house - perhaps I have too much testosterone?

    Do I have disordered eating? I don't think so NOW. I used to think that I did before ed came into our lives. I used to think I ate too much and I used to beat myself up when comparing what I ate to what everyone else ate at those ghastly "ladies lunches". The utter relief of "giving them up" when helping my daughter out was immeasurable.

    So perhaps I am one of those few people who really don't think about it, don't have that prejudice against parents' physical appearance, just don't notice. If I am helping a family I have to make a conscious effort to really look at the parents' physique to give me a clue as to how a patient might naturally look.

    As to whether people analyse and judge me? Oh heck, yes, but I suspect more because I am tall, loud, mouthy and very quick to shoot down discomforting conversations about diets these days.

    Perhaps that's why I don't get invited to ladies lunches anymore?

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  2. Have I felt my body and eating habits were being analysed? Absolutely! Even when they are most probably NOT being, or not nearly as much as I think. I worry that my "caregiving" behaviours are being analysed too. It was absolutely excruciating wondering whether to wash up after a meal with professionals. Would they think I was negligent and rude if I didn't. Would they think I was over involved if I did. Rationally I knew that none of them would even notice - if I did it there would soon be dirty coffee cups to replace those just cleaned, if I didn't they would chunter and blame their colleagues and get on with it. I'm really not that important!

    Likewise my body image and dieting issues really didn't cause my daughter's eating disorder. I used to think they did. In the dark hours when reason leaves me I still do but actually the fact that I am short and stout, like the fact that my husband is disabled and my cat is black really haven't had as much impact as some would think.

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  3. As a very overweight anorexigenic (!) mum, I KNOW people are looking at me & thinking 'hmmm' when apprised of our history. I don't really care. However, when trying to combat the constant, omnipresent, ubiquitous flipping diet talk at work, I do feel very conscious of my weight. 'If I think like her, I'll end up looking like her' is the kind of thing I suspect passes through their minds. I suppose I should summon the guts & the coherence to explain that I'm the product of childhood diets & fat-shaming but I am still too ashamed, after all these years.

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  4. Your comment, Laura, on yourself as overweight gave me pause. I think our judgement of weight and size in both ourselves and others is often flawed and highly affected by how the person being observed carries themselves and moves through space. To a certain extent height is also this way. "Beauty" or "plainness" certainly is. We women can live in fear of being seen and judged, even when others are often so preoccupied with themselves they can barely perceive us! We probably look best when we care the least and laugh the most.

    Had anyone asked me about your appearance I would have said, "she is slender and of average height." So imagine my surprise to hear you describe yourself as technically overweight. Perception is complex, I guess, involving the observer as well as the observed.

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  5. Another example of appearances can be deceiving and meaningless. My BMI used to be considered "normal" before they changed the classifications and in fact my metabolic health is excellent. It's the classifications that are the problem!

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  6. Oh, very interesting project to check out: The BMI Project is a wonderful visual representation of stupid BMI categories. Looking at these pictures it is easy to see the marvelous variety of bodies and how silly the categories are: http://www.flickr.com/photos/77367764@N00/sets/72157602199008819/

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