Carla never liked me. She resented that she had to work, and the fact that she answered to a seventeen year old girl as her manager at a mall retail job exacerbated her bitterness.
She compared me to her own kids, while making tiny jabs that picked apart the relics of my teen angst, the black nail polish, the buzz cut, the quasi-goth clothing. "I would never let my Gabby go out of the house in that."
Nightly, at closing time I would remind Carla to straighten her area. "You don't have to remind me," she'd snap But if I didn't remind her, it wouldn't get done, and I would have to stay to finish the clean up.
One weekend, Carla was ten minutes late coming back from lunch.
"I was at the new burger place. The line was out the door. You have to try them!"
"I would but I'm a vegetarian," I answer.
"Oh, I thought vegetarians were thin," Carla said, eyeballing me for a moment before strolling back to her register.
I felt my cheeks redden. How does an awkward overweight high school senior, with no date to her prom, respond to that question?
She wasn't telling me anything I didn't know. I was aware that I "wasn't thin." I had been aware of this from my earliest memories. Because people reminded me constantly.
The grandmothers who told me I had such a "pretty face."
The mother who offered me my first Diet Coke (well, it was TAB back then) when I was six years old so I could "save on calories."
Sure, some kids were mean to me about my weight, but certain children view it as their job to be mean. Remember, this is way before the days of anti-bullying or political correctness. But the adults made their comments under the premise of being helpful, of wanting what was best for me. Not to be mean.
Not only was Carla's comment mean, it also hit upon the thing I hated about myself. This was the thing that made me hate myself. And it was the thing I couldn't control. On a good day or good week or good year, it was under control. I would diet down to a normal weight, if not a below normal weight, and as added motivation to stay thin, my mom would give me money to buy a new pair of Guess jeans. And then, on the off day or off week or off year, I would wind up gaining it all back. I knew how to eat healthy. I knew about calories and carbs and proteins and fats. But knowledge avails nothing when you have an addiction.
For decades, my weight continued to go up and then down, up, down, up, down, but even during the "down" years, when I was wearing skinny jeans and cute tank tops. maintaining my weight was a struggle.
By my thirties, my weight began to stabilize, and it did so without that struggle of wanting to go to the fridge and having to sit on my hands to stop myself. Noting much else had changed. I was running, but I had run through the "fat" years too. I was still a vegetarian. So what made the difference?
I was happy.
I had embraced the doctrine that happiness is not dependent upon our external circumstances, and it was through this doctrine that I became less reactive to life and more responsive. When I made this shift, I no longer felt the need to eat to soothe my stress, my anger, my wounded ego. I became able to stay in the moment longer, even when the moment felt uncomfortable – without feeling the need to hide behind a bag of tortilla chips or a few extra scoops of peanut butter – at least most of the time.
It wasn't all as smooth and easy as I make it out to be in the paragraph above. This was a long process that took years, inward focus, and honest soul searching. This was a slow and gradual life shift.
Sure, I sometimes still have "fat days," but they have nothing to do with the number on the scale and everything to do with what is going on in my head. Fat is a metaphor. When I'm feeling "fat," I am not believing in myself. I am not having faith in life. The weight is just a symptom. It always was.
I'm not suggesting that everyone who has a few pounds to lose suffers from compulsive overeating. We have kids. Our bodies change. We juggle families and work and put ourselves last. Maybe we need more exercise. There are many reasons why we put on a few pounds that have nothing to do with our ability to handle our emotions. But if you're a lifelong yo-yo dieter, maybe it's time to ask yourself some "tough questions."
Also, if you are a lifelong dieter, please do not delude yourself into thinking you will be happy once you reach "that number" on the scale. That's not how it works. I have seen a size zero and have been miserable there.
If you are going to get to your goal weight and stay at your goal weight, you have to learn to be happy now. Exactly at the weight you are. And you need to accept yourself, exactly the way you are, whatever weight or size that may be. If you don't accept yourself the way you are at this moment, I can assure you that you still won't accept yourself once you reach that "perfect" weight.
Every now and then, I still come across a Carla, and although the Carlas don't accuse me of being fat anymore, they find something else to pick apart. Mean people always do. Sometimes it gets to me and sometimes it doesn't. It depends on the day. It depends on where my confidence is at. Because "mean" can only hurt you when you think there is truth in it.
Just remember, if you don't like your "truth," you have the option to change it any time you want.
©2012 Ilene Evans
This post was inspired by the following writing prompt from mamakatslosinit.com
"Share something mean someone said to you once, why has it stuck with you after all these years?"