I found out I was fat in fourth grade when my neighbor’s uncle told me I had legs like a man. That was also the year everyone was wearing leotard sets-tight fitting shorts, pants and tops that came in horizontal stripes or solids. They were comfortable and good for climbing trees, playing kickball and riding bikes. Just the previous year those were my favorite things to do. I’d throw on my clothes, not giving a thought to how I looked, and went off to play.
Fourth grade shouldn’t have been any different except we moved to a new neighborhood and around the corner were two girls the same ages as my sister and me. Heidi and Jan. They wore leotard sets too. But they always had the horizontal striped sets while my mom always bought me the solids. I didn’t know why at the time, but in retrospect it was because the stripes would make me look wider, fatter….ooooh….such transgression could not stand!
Heidi and Jan were skinny. I was not. I started to feel that I was ALL wrong and they were clearly ALL right. They were really sweet girls. They tried to soothe me and tell me it was just baby fat and I’d grow out of it. But the clincher was they ate massive amounts of Downyflake™ frozen French toast dripping with butter and syrup.
They ate double Carvel™ ice cream cones dipped in chocolate. They had junk food in their house with no limits on when or how much they could or should eat. It was a virtual gold mine of Yodels™ and Ring Dings™ and Dunkin Donuts™.
And they did eat.
And eat and eat
And eat. And they were still skinny.
Although I was only nine years old, and had not yet studied genetics I was getting my first lesson that I was a loser in
the gene game.
It was also the beginning of decades of obsession with comparing my body to every other female I would see.
My compulsive eating behaviors didn’t begin until much later. In fourth grade I ate less than Heidi and Jan and exercised as much as they did and was still carting around my “baby fat.” By seventh grade I was sneak eating because I was hungry and then threw my “ante” into the Dieting Game pot, a game I could never win. My yo yo dieting made me fatter and more desperate. I joined Overeater’s Anonymous and all of the meetings where I stood up and declared, “I am Deah Schwartz and I am a compulsive eater,” I always felt as if someone else should have been standing up next to me saying, “I am the thin culture and I made Deah Schwartz a Compulsive Eater.”
Over the years I have done an enormous amount of work on my disordered eating and body dissatisfaction. I have identified the emotional reasons for using food, I have given myself permission to enjoy food, and I have taken on a more mindful and less unconscious approach to eating. And as the years passed although I was making progress with the FOOD addiction I realized that the other addiction was still winning the game. The THIN addiction.
Despite looking at other big beautiful women as gorgeous and sexy the standard I held for myself seemed to be different. It would be years before I could find peace with and come to accept and love my body type. It took hard work to opt out of the self destructive dieting game and arrive at the place where I didn’t look at my legs and see
tree trunks or man’s legs.
Self-loathing? You betcha. I believe that had I been given more positive messages about my body early on by my family, or television, or magazines, I would have been spared years of suffering.
It’s too bad I can’t call a “DO OVER!”
Hopefully the work that I am doing now with clients struggling with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction will convince some people to get out of the cyclical pattern of dieting and start from a place of self acceptance and health. It’s NOT too late to call a DO OVER! And if those Danskin™ leotard sets ever come back into style…buy the stripes if you want to! Last time I checked, there is no law against it!! They were much cooler looking anyway!