Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weight Loss > Superheroics

This is a short memory, but one I've been meaning to share for a while. Sparked by Katja's post today about a new series of kids' books:

"Every family has it's secrets. It's just that Henrietta Sharp's family is in the business of saving the world. And now she is too. But when your ten-year-old body packs on some extra pounds, not even an uncommonly large vocabulary or the ability to travel between dimensional slices of the universe can make your hips look smaller."


What do you even say to that? The commenters at Family Feeding Dynamics are doing a pretty good job ripping that description to shreds - my 'favorite' part is how apparently interdimensional space travel isn't anywhere near as important as looking thin. Not even being healthy, either, just having small hips.

Something that I've been wondering about and concerned about is the way that the Childhood Obesity Epidemic and the general public at large treats the idea of puberty weight gain. It seems like such a common-sense, natural, totally normal, inconceivable-to-object-to idea that in the years between being a Child and an Adult, one must gain quite a bit of weight. For one thing, you're going from your ten-year-old height to your adult one. For another, in girls-becoming-women especially, the whole shape of the body is changing. You get breasts, which can add a good deal of weight to some women. You get hips - poor Henrietta is being taught that her hips widening out to adult woman proportions just mean that she's "packing on the pounds", not that she's growing up. Both new men and new women are adjusting to new hormones and everything else that comes with transitioning into adulthood.

My understanding is that when teenage boys start to develop big appetites to fuel their growth and change, it's treated as a given. Of course they need more to eat, they're growing boys. When teenage girls show the same instinct, they're letting themselves get fat.

It's sort of a lazy segue but it brings me to my memory. My doctor started worrying about my weight when I was around ten or eleven. I remember the way I used to be so proud of myself for checking out my dieting books with their recipes. I specifically remember a little chicken salad in a pita bread. I'd never had pita bread before, hell, I never made my own food before. I would make my little sandwich and my lunch so I could be all prepped out for the next day at lunch.

I remember getting disheartened when I was still gaining weight.

I remember the day I reached 100 pounds. I can't remember anymore whether this was before or after the doctor actually put me on a diet, I don't remember how old I was. But I remember that 100 had sounded like such a big number. That was going to be the number I didn't want to go over. If I reached 100 pounds, that meant I was fat. And at that point I would have to diet myself back down. I remember how huge I felt looking at the scale that day.

(I later decided that 200 pounds was the weight I didn't want to be at - THAT would be Food Ogre weight, THAT would be the point where I had to diet. Right now I'm hovering between 185 and 200 depending on how much exercise and food i'm getting and I'm trying really hard to say 'fuck it, i'm big'.)

At some point, when I was 15 or 16, I stopped gaining. And what I remember most of all was how well-praised I was by the doctor when I finally got to "maintaining" rather than "gaining". By this point, I had long since given up actually trying to diet. I was having binge eating episodes. I tried to explain that I wasn't doing anything different than I always had been - well, maybe I'm choosing to eat turkey over fatty meats more often. Maybe. If you insist that there must be something. I was kind of proud of myself, too. It was a big weight that I was at, but I stopped gaining. Something must have happened.

A few years later, I looked back and thought, "DUH! I finished growing!"

It never seemed to occur to my pediatrician that the rate at which I was gaining weight during puberty wouldn't be the rate I would gain at for the rest of my life. That I would naturally level off when my body stopped growing and widening and turning itself into a woman's body. No, I was gaining weight so absurdly fast and much that if I didn't diet at age 12, I was going to be a million pounds! As long as I was eating the way I ate as a kid, I would never ever stop gaining. Let alone lose.

It sounds so absurd to me now that I can't even talk about it without being sarcastic. But it was so real to me then. It seemed so obvious that as long as I was eating the same way, I'd keep gaining the same amount. Forever. Until I was 200 pounds, 300, 500, half-ton - who knew where it would stop? I was scared, but it wasn't enough to keep me sticking to a diet. It was just enough to make me half-lie to the doctor when she asked what I was doing differently. I couldn't really admit that I hadn't changed. It didn't make any sense to me why I had stopped gaining.

I read about stuff like poor Henrietta and I feel bad. I truly feel awful - for the fictional girl, and for however many real-life girls are going to read her story, and start to worry when their hips widen and the number on the scale goes up. For the girls who are going to assume that 100 is such a nice big round number, it must be a good maximum weight cap - and who no one is going to tell any differently, because they're being told to lose weight. For the girls who will grow up afraid of eating as much as they're hungry for, because their parents, doctors and teachers have given them the impression that their natural weight gain is too much, and the result of sloth and overeating.

But also...I have to laugh. Maybe it's just so I don't really cry. But I truly wish I lived in a world where I really could just laugh at someone who thought to write a book where interdimensional superheroics are less important than gaining a little weight. I wish that everyone in the world could see how completely absurd that idea is.


  1. Great post.

    I have a memory of being weighed in front of my entire sixth grade class and being MORTIFIED that the number the nurse called out (yes, called out) to her assistant to write down was 127. Nearly 30 years later, and I can still hear her voice. I was nearly my adult height in the sixth grade (I'm 5'9" now. I was at least 5'6" then.) I think only one other girl weighed over 100 pounds, and she was like 102 or something. Something has to change--it's just so not okay for children to be made to feel like their entire self-worth relies on them not being the heaviest kid in class.

  2. I am so sorry that happened to you :( Every story I hear, I feel luckier and luckier that a) I'm old enough not to have had to deal with anti-obesity measures in school, and b) I never got specifically bullied for my weight. I can't even clueless do people have to be around kids? It's such a touchy topic for ADULTS (never ask a lady what she weighs and all that) that you'd think it'd just be common courtesy not to be so cruel to little kids.

  3. I remember thinking, in fourth grade, that I was fat because I weighed seventy pounds.

    I was the smallest girl in the class and my mother worried I was underweight.