I spent a good deal of my life overweight. It started in childhood and didn’t really end until I had bariatric surgery. Reading the recent article in the paper about childhood and teenage obesity brought tears to my eyes. I had spent those years feeling as though I was a failure – a fat failure. Everyone and everything around me made it clear I simply had no self-control, I overate, I didn’t get enough exercise and I wasn’t really trying. By the time I got to college, I wouldn’t go to dances because I was so sure that the minute I walked in the room, every young man there would automatically think, “I hope that fat girl doesn’t come sit next to me.”
I watched friends eat as much as I did and not gain weight. I played out all day and it didn’t help. My mother, who was a little obsessed about my weight, brought me to a doctor who prescribed uppers and downers to help me lose the weight. I was about 10 or 11 years old.
The only thing those uppers and downers did for me was give me one helluva reading habit. I quickly figured out that if I didn’t take the nighttime pill, I could stay up and read all night without getting sleepy. Gotta love those uppers. But it also became very evident that, while I did lose some weight on them, the minute I stopped I ballooned up even more.
I don’t know if words can express what it’s like to have a childhood in which you are viewed as too weak to control your own weight which meant you had no one to blame but yourself.
So, if it was my fault and I simply had no self-control, I made it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I snuck food. A lot of food. We lived over my dad’s grocery store so there was always food available. If my mother caught me with the snack cake, ice cream or extra dish of fruit, she would angrily remove them and ask what was the matter with me. And I would look at her and in my head be saying, “If you think I have no self-control now, wait until you see what I buy at the candy store with my allowance this week.”
It was an escalating battle in which there were no winners but my relationship with my mother was definitely the loser.
So, you can see why the article, which clearly states that childhood obesity is a real medical condition creating real medical problems and not just a result of a weak character, made me cry.
As I read the problems that result from childhood obesity, I saw every medical problem I currently face from diabetes to high blood pressure and all the problems in between. I would not wish this on anyone.
When you grow up being called fat, when your doctor and your mother make it clear that if you just had self-control, you would not be obese, it stays with you. It stays with you your entire life. The feeling of worthlessness that results is so hard to overcome that it almost isn’t worth the effort. If giving young people medical or surgical interventions would prevent these complications, then I am all for it.
Whatever is causing the obesity epidemic in America, if we can at least stem the tide by providing treatment as early as possible, we save ourselves hundreds of millions of health care dollars in the future that would otherwise be spent on all the medical problems chronic obesity can cause. And it if makes those kids feel even a little better about themselves, well, that’s the real bonus.
The world of my childhood has definitely changed. There is no long a clothing store called Chubettes for the porky kids in your life. And you don’t have to go to Lane Bryant’s to find clothes above a size 14. The entertainment industry even celebrates obesity. Unfortunately, those overweight celebrities tend to die before they are 50.
So, for the sake of our children’s health and well-being – both mental and physical – I pray that medical and/or surgical treatment gives them a healthier and happier future.
2 thoughts on “Obesity and me”
Thanks for sharing such hard memories.
Katie Gecewich says:
Thank you Elise. So very sorry for your childhood of feeling badly about yourself. We are near the same age, I being oh so many years younger…maybe 2 or 3 at most! I can sort of relate to your story. I was the chubby kid too, but fortunately my mom was kinder about it and I did NOT live above a store! I was fortunate that I “outgrew” that stage somehow…but it took a long time and I guess I still obsess about it in the back of my mind… My uncle nicknamed me “Butterball” I hope you are able to be kind to yourself at this stage in your life. Ah the awful things we say to kids!! My only caveat to it is “that people do try to do the best they can with the knowledge they have at the time.” HUGS to you!! I always love reading your essays. They are so honest.
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