On Women, Betrayal, and Overeating

This one is a tough one, and might trigger some bad memories for some, but I have to share it. Yesterday I met a young woman who was abused sexually when she was four. The abuser was her stepfather. After months of this, the little girl was at her grandmother’s and luckily, grandma figured out something was amiss. Her stepfather was convicted, and went to jail. Where the story takes an even more tragic and dark turn is that the little girl’s mother never believed her about the abuse. The mother remained in contact with her husband, even going as far as to visit him regularly in prison. And when he was released, the first person he phoned was his wife. The little girl, a teenager by the time he was released, was the one who picked up her mother’s cell phone and answered his call. That was when she learned that not only had her mother rejected her experience with him, but she preferred her husband over her daughter.

The little girl is now in her mid-twenties. She told me that there is “still resentment on her mother’s part.” (Yeah — can you believe it?) Though this young woman who was so horribly betrayed has managed to live a productive life, it’s clear that she has some serious struggles — with her weight, with her self-esteem, with her family relationships. She was made to feel ashamed of something over which she had no control, and to this day, this abuse of not only her body, but of her very spirit, has never been acknowledged.

I bring this up for several reasons: When we come across someone who is very overweight, we are seeing the physical evidence of a deep and dark internal struggle. We can’t see alcoholism or drug abuse until it’s in its most devastating stages. But when people self-medicate with food, it’s visible. When we post photos of people online to shame them, we become their abusers as much as those who caused them to overeat in the first place. People are plump because they’re enjoying life and maybe not exercising enough. But obesity is an indication of something much more tragic in a person’s life. Never, never, never mock those people. It’s not funny to do so, it’s sadistic.

On the other hand, neither should we praise it. The latest trend in advertising and self-delusion is calling obesity “beautiful.” It is not. It is an illness, whether physically-based (such as an under-active thyroid) or mentally-based. Obese people are subject to many, many devastating diseases. It’s not body love when someone is over 100 pounds overweight — it’s self-abuse. This condition needs support, understanding, compassion, kindness and intervention. It does not need mockery or praise. And I know I’m going to hear crap for that last comment, but so did the little boy who said the emperor was naked. The new “self-love” campaigns have gone way too far in the opposite direction in terms of what’s “acceptable” in women’ body sizes. Our bodies were not designed to tolerate weight extremes, whether on one end of the scale or the other. I live for the day I don’t see anorexic women modelling clothing. (Did you know many of those women are too thin to menstruate? Their bodies can’t handle the blood loss, so in an effort at self-preservation, it shuts down that function) But now I’m living through another ingenious way of controlling women, of stifling their power — the praise of the overweight girl who, at age sixty, when she could be at her most socially powerful and dynamic, will instead be just struggling to stay alive, in and out of hospitals, always in between doctor’s visits, on medications for diabetes, heart disease, and more.

Ann Wertz Garvin, one of my favorite authors, writes in her health ebook , “A healthy body is the best thing you’ll ever get for free.”
Achieving a healthy body is aided by having a healthy mind. And visa versa. If you can keep, or try to keep, healthy habits — exercise, eating properly, etc — you will also help your mind heal. And if your mind (and soul) begins to heal, so does your body.

An obese person (and we are talking obesity here, not pleasing plumpness) is struggling with something we don’t know about.Yesterday, when I learned, in a casual, unexpected conversation, what one obese person was struggling with, cracked my heart to pieces.

And on another note, equally important: I think we’ve all, to a greater or lesser degree, have been let down by someone who was supposed to be on our side; a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a coach, a religious leader. The shock of if when it happens, is indescribable. It’s like holding the hand of someone who, when you least expect it, stops walking with you, lets go of your hand and then dumps scalding hot water over you. And when you run for help to another person you trust, and you show that person your wet clothing and your burns, and that second person says, “That didn’t happen. You’re a terrible person for lying,” that second shock is even worse than the first. I’ve been there, I’ve had that happen, I’ve heard about it happening to others I love, to some of my former pupils, too, and trust me — it takes remarkable strength to recover from something like that. In fact, it’s a life-long process, never fully achieved. Because, somehow, it’s much, much easier for our brains and hearts to believe that WE are the ones at fault for that sort of betrayal, then to believe that the person we adore could betray us for no reason other than because they’re too afraid of what will happen to their lifestyle, or to their comfort level, or their place in society if they believe us.

So when we see someone who is drinking too much, or eating too much, or maybe has some other physical manifestation of self-hatred, let us all please remember that, but for chance luck, we could have been that person. (And maybe some of you reading were or are, am I right?)

P.S. This post is written with love and all good intentions. Not meant at all to make anyone angry or feel bad. I’ve been thinking about that lovely young woman since we talked yesterday, and I hurt for her, and others I know like her.

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