Monday, March 3, 2008

The Thin Line of Fat: A New Series

Those of us who have been fat our whole lives recognize the discrimination and prejudices associated with being larger than "normal." In fact, many of us have even used the terminology ("overweight," "obese," "thick," "big-boned," "large," "Ruben-esque," "full-figured," etc.) ourselves to conform to the outside world. It's a vicious cycle that often starts when we are young and usually never ends--a cycle of self-hate, bad habits, bad choices and lack of confidence that is more enveloping than a black hole.

When you have a chronic illness, there's even more to add to the fold.

For years I struggled with what I knew in my heart to be weight that I didn't earn. And by that I mean in no way to suggest that anyone earns the weight they have (though I'm sure some do), but only that my body was doing things that I knew I couldn't control. It was only years after I was diagnosed with PCOS and someone taught me about Insulin Resistance that I was vindicated.

In those intervening years, however, instead of questioning my body, myself and my sanity I decided to embrace who I was. This was in large part due to meeting one woman in particular who taught me to start loving who I was, regardless of how much I weighed. (Unfortunately and sadly for the younger versions of Me in this world, Heather MacAllister passed after a bout of cervical cancer.) Ever since then I have been on a path of self-discovery and self-appreciation. I am no longer fat-phobic (and yes, you can be fat-phobic even if you're fat) and I appreciate and patronize the online fat-o-sphere daily. (See sites like Big Fat Blog, Big Fat Deal, Angry Fat Girlz, Fatshionista, the Rotund, Babble, and more like those listed here courtesy of Big Fat Blog.)

Then I was confronted with the confirmation that my fat had a cause that could (and probably should) be worked on. I am insulin resistant. That has caused my body to improperly turn sugar into fat and store it indefinitely. Thus, there is a way to start to control it.

For a year I went on a low carb diet, worked out regularly and lost 60+ pounds. By the world's standards I was still big, but for my standards I was svelte.

Then IC hit (or at least what I believe to be IC, PFD and vulvodynia now after further investigation). I was put on medicine that derailed my progress indefinitely by forcing me to gain weight. For the first time in over eighteen months I craved sugar and carbs. And being that it came at the time where my emotional wellbeing was at the eye of the perfect storm (getting engaged, deaths of family and friends including both grandmothers, preparing for and taking the bar exam) I was lost.

Now I struggle again. Not because I don't know what needs to be done...that part has been figured out. But it's more because I'm torn about what it means to love myself. I've agreed for a long time that it doesn't mean I have to be thin, but somehow have I convinced myself that it means that I have to be fat? And is that right? It wasn't until I lost any weight (for the first time in my life successfully) that I recognized it as a burden when I put it back on. I never felt overweight until the past year and a half. I've been fat, big, rotund, large, etc. but never overweight.

I'm at a crossroads where I've begun to get some of my intervening chronic illnesses on some sort of path to recover. Do I get back on the train that derailed a year and a half ago? Or does that train have some drawbacks of its own?

My dilemma continues to be that while I think I'll never be thin, I'm afraid of losing my identity as a fat chick. It sounds bizarre, but true. And at the same time, it's easier for me to rest where I am because, let me tell you, the first month of a healthier lifestyle is a hard road to follow. I know that it'll help the PFD and will definitely help the PCOS and IR, but is that some sort of conformity to the "man" that I don't want to associate with? And I know I felt better 60 pounds ago, so what am I thinking about?

When one has a chronic illness, these are the identity traps we fall into. This is even more true when we are given meds for problems that cause us to gain more weight than the "extra" weight we've been carrying all along. I want to confront my health, but I've spent so long advocating the fact that being fat isn't a health problem. If I lose weight, do I lose credibility now too? But if I gain it, or stay where I'm at, don't I somehow mask the underlying problem?

So the next few months are going to be dedicated, personally, to that issue. I need to get healthier, but I also need to learn to confront my demons about fat and thin and about health and illness...about mental pain and physical pain and how to balance the two.

Maybe it comes down to the fact that I need to have some sort of agreement with myself that it's okay to lose or gain weight on my own, but if its the effect of an illness or its cure, it's not me and it's okay to work against that. Maybe I need to stop identifying myself entirely. Or maybe I need to realize that everyone has that perfect spot and though I'll never be a size 8, a size 20 would be nice.

I'm a big girl. I am beautiful. And I'm beleaguered with chronic illness. Where is my balance?

Only time will tell...


Anne M. said...

This so rings bells for me. I've been a "fat chick" my whole life and after 45 years of knowing it, it's extremely hard to wrap my head around the idea that I can be something else. It's who I am.

But you and I are more than the size of our bodies and how they fit in the world. Fighting these demons is incredibly important in our ability to keep weight off and, more importantly, be comfortable in our skin whatever our size.