I think I am going to have to go utterly, boilingly, barking-and-mewing mad. It’ll be tiresome and noisy, I know. I’d be sorry about that if I wasn’t mostly preoccupied with not flinging my beloved lap-top across the room and tearing all my hair out. (Perhaps I should do my hair first. There’s a lot of it, and it’ll take a while, and I may have calmed down enough by the end of it to spare the lap-top).
This is a rage, a confused, miserable, frightened and utterly, utterly bitter rage, has been a long time growing in me (a whole lifetime, no doubt).
You see, I am a fat woman. I have been fat for about ten years now. I was also a fat child. Or, to be absolutely accurate, I was a tall well-grown child who started developing breasts at nine, and many people told me I was fat, with particular reference to the Alarmingly Precocious Boobies, so I assumed I simply was. I look back at photos of me at the time and I am so very not fat. A little chubby between nine and thirteen, say, as my hormones tried to work out where the hell to put all this oestrogen-related adipose tissue, but not fat. Adolescence was a royal fucker, and my self-image went to hell in a hand-cart, and a single-sex boarding-school full of neurotic young women with Daddy issues and abandonment issues and body issues of their own is no place for tall, shy, awkward girls with large breasts.
So I stopped eating. And I was very ill as an adolescent (nothing to do with not eating – I had glandular fever (infectious mononucleosis) and I had a gigantic ovarian teratoma, which hurt me for YEARS (no I am not fucking kidding), YEARS before it was diagnosed, and twisted and ruptured my ovary before it could finally be removed). So, I was finally deliciously slender and lithe (with splendid tits), and I was permanently, persistantly, in pain, throwing up, unable to eat, refusing to eat, exhausted, failing at school, and fainting (yes, out cold), up to once or twice a week.
So I spent my twenties getting fat again. And learning not to eat like a deranged person. And learning that being fat is acceptable, attractive even, or at least not the reason why a person is or is not attractive. I dealt with the fact that I comfort eat (my parents had terribly issues around food, love and control, so, funnily enough, so did I, which is why I was a chubby teenager, alone and bullied at school in a different country from most of my family. Give me the damn sweeties already). I got to a point where I could eat a piece of cake or a bowl of ice-cream to soothe myself, and it was no big deal, and I’d have a ‘healthy’ meal later rather than punishing myself by not eating and not eating until I cracked and binged on something else. Admittedly, I was eating enough to get fat, even if a lot of what I was eating was ‘healthy’, as in salady and broccoli-y and lean-chickeny and wholewheaty. But fuck it. Really, fuck it. My blood-pressure was OK, I could go on seven-hour hill-walks, I could touch my toes with my legs straight and stand on one leg long enough to wash my foot in the bathroom sink. My husband thought I was hot. My husband loves booty. I had anovulatory PCOS (well, I used to), but, please understand this, I hadn’t ovulated a-fucking-tall when I weighed 120 lbs either.
Of course, various doctors told me I needed to lose weight – often, offensively, when I’d actually gone to see them about a persistant cough or a sprained knee. At first, this would usually fling me back into a pattern of weird and disordered eating – starving and binging, thinking the Soup Diet was a good idea, cutting out wheat, cutting out breakfast (I still have issues with breakfast. I DO NOT want to eat before nine am. I have to leave for work at 8:30 am. Arseage). In the end, I learnt to ignore them.
Then we wanted to have a baby, and I was anovulatory, and being anovulatory gave me polyps and made me bleed non-stop for five months. I was told then that my weight was contributing to the anovulatory thing and the bleeding, and this time (OK it hurt) I realised there were sound scientific reasons why my fat was Not Good. I lost a little weight, I started ovulating even without Clomid, yada yada yada.
I was told my weight was stopping me ovulating. I was told I was too fat for IVF, as the combination of the hormonal mess of my weight plus the extreme artificial hormonal induction was risky. I got the impression, somehow, that if I was ovulating fairly regularly, my hormones were more-or-less behaving. No one seemed bothered by my short luteal phase (and yes, I mentioned it at pretty much every bloody visit to the fertility clinic).
I lost several pregnancies. I put on a fair ol’ wad of comfort weight. Didn’t stop me ovulating, not a problem. We had tests, all tests were inconclusive, and mostly focused on thrombophilias and karyotyping, and everyone kept telling me to go away and keep trying.
And finally we coughed up big shiny bucks and went to see the world-renowned Professor in recurrent miscarriage, who found that I did actually have a treatable thrombophilia. But that the fat, the fat I had learned to accept, the me that I had finally learned to live with, and not punish and starve and drug with carbohydrates, the me that was, actually, not that fucking fat, and not that fucking unhealthy, who didn’t deserve to be shamed, who didn’t deserve to feel ugly and unworthy, was wrong, bad, damaged and sick after all. Apparently, the fact that my luteal phase is short is an issue. When I ovulate, my hormones are so unbalanced that the corpus luteum doesn’t last long enough, which is a sign that the egg produced may have been damaged, and unable to grow into a normal embryo. Fat women have more miscarriages, The Professor told me. Women with PCOS have more miscarriages. Fat women with PCOS have more miscarriages.
Bitterly ashamed, I chose the least unhealthy and misery-inducing diet I could think of and made myself lose a stone (14 lbs). I had another miscarriage. Despite comfort-eating for weeks over Christmas, I only put on a few pounds, and I’ve lost most of them again. But this time, now, I am doing it by eating like a deranged person. I can’t eat the healthy, low-carb, mucho-salad diet that worked so well over the summer. I can’t stop myself eating a whole bar of chocolate in one go to comfort myself. I make up for it by skipping lunch. I drink too much coffee in the pre-ovulatory phase, and none at all in the luteal phase, just in case. I tell myself over and over again to go and get salad for lunch, and find myself walking past the salad bar to go to the coffee-shop for something, anything involving bread and caffeine. I keep forgetting to take healthy snacks to work with me, and end up eating biscuits a colleague brought in (I hate biscuits. I really do really hate most biscuits. So this really is disordered eating) and more coffee.
And a complicated braid of things are going on inside me:
For one thing, there’s the raging, raging guilt and shame that my weight is killing my babies.
There’s the appalling waste of all the work I did to learn to accept and love myself as I was, to treat myself with kindness and respect and to make my health paramount rather than my appearance or the judgements of others. All that work. All those years. All gone. I think I hate myself and my fat as intensely now as I did at sixteen, when I lived on toast, black coffee, and fingernails and cut myself to deal with the poisonous feeling of just being plain wrong and bad.
(I am not self-harming now. Do not panic. I couldn’t do that now anyway, it upsets H so, and not doing it for his sake is quite a powerful motivator).
There’s the unfairness of it. There are many, many women out there, as fat as I am, much fatter than I am, who get pregnant and carry to term. In the grand scheme of things, my weight and size are neither extreme nor dangerous. I can buy pretty clothes in most shops. People do not point at me in the street. I fit into the seats on public transport, I fit through turnstiles, I fit in public toilets whose cubicle doors actually brush the toilet-bowl on opening. When I’m not just getting over my period, I can trot up three, four, five, six flights of stairs without breaking a sweat or having to stop to catch my breath. But my fat, mine is excessive and baby-killing. This is so unfair that I do, sometimes, wonder if The Professor is lying to me about my weight. (But then I read the statistics and yes, fatter women are more likely to miscarry. But not certain to miscarry. Which is why most fat women have perfectly healthy pregnancies. They don’t all have my hormonal issues. And it’s still, burningly, evilly, unfair).
There’s the fact that I associate being thin, for me, with being in pain and ill and VERY HORRIBLY DEPRESSED. Losing weight is exhilarating and terrifying. I’m being good! I’m thinner! Everything hurts! Like the Little Mermaid, who in exchange for acceptable, desirable legs, lost her lovely tail, her beautiful voice, and every step she took on her new legs was like treading on broken glass. I am scared of being thin.
I am also scared of being thin because of the amount of attention it got me. I was hot, but this meant that instead of just the love and desire of one good person, like H, I also had to put up with/deal with/fend off the attention of nasty people. The men who whistled and cat-called. The women who hated me because their boyfriends had noticed me. The boyfriend who wouldn’t take no for an answer. The step-father who dealt with his discomfort at my ‘improved’ appearance by constantly mocking and insulting me. The fact that my family’s disapproval switched seamlessly from my weight to my untidy jew-fro, my Doc Martens, my failing to get into Oxbridge, my refusal to do Law. Being skinny won me nothing but competition, envy, and coercion. Being fat was safer, more comfortable.
(And there’s the fact that sex, when skinny and when carrying a large and painful ovarian teratoma about, is often unpleasantly painful even when you do want to do it).
Then there’s the desperate need for comfort, sedation even. I come from a family of addicts. Growing up, food was equated with love, and love was very much conditional. Wasting food, leaving it on your plate, was utterly forbidden. Getting fat was shameful. Eat everything, eat more than you want to eat. Do not get fat. If you are good, you will get sweets. If you are given sweets as a gift (Easter, Christmas, birthdays), your parents will take them off you and force you to share them with everyone else, and if you protest, eat them all themselves, as greedy little girls don’t deserve them. If you lose weight, you will be pressed to eat more. If you gain weight, you will be reviled and shamed. If you are naughty, you will be sent away from the table without eating. If you refuse to eat something, you will be forced to eat it. To this day, if I feel bad and guilty about something, I feel I need to eat something I don’t really want or like, and if I feel sad and lonely, I need to eat sugar, and if I feel happy, I need to cook something elaborate and delicious (if you come to my house and I have made you lasagne, that means I LOVE YOU).
Feeling as I do now, bad, angry, miserable, out of control, ashamed and, oh God, how I miss my babies, how I want even just one of them to have lived, I can’t eat ‘normally’. I can’t do the healthy-if-strict diet that works, I can’t starve myself, I can’t eat what the hell I want and to hell with it. I hate cooking at the moment (poor H), I really hate it. And I’m good at cooking. All that talent and love and attention, contaminated with guilt and rage. I can’t make nice things for H and me. I try to, but for months now, H has been doing most of the cooking, whereas I used to do most of it, and enjoyed it. I eat what I’m given at home, and spend lunch-times at work fighting hard with myself to chose something good and tasty and low-carb, while my head wants me to, literally, eat shit and die.
Five years ago I was doing so well. I was doing so well.