What Fat Women Want

Wanting to be thin is only part of the story

The Perfect Dress

Deserving versus earning

I’ve been listening to virtual conference, Psychology of Eating, presented by Marc David for eth*neos.  So far, I’ve collected some amusing anecdotes and experienced a few shock waves of recognition and regret.

This project is one of a number of other things going on in my life and I don’t think it's a conincidence.  I’m working on a book proposal about living a year of the rosary, for instance, and much of what David and other experts have to say about food is that it is nourishment for the soul as much as for the fuel needs of our bodies. Despite the profundity of such connections, however, it is one silly thing that the masses of interviews have so far produced that have knocked a lust and an item on my to-do list to dust.

This weekend, my friend, Nan, offered to knit me a lacy, Jane Austen-inspired shawl. Before we her wool catalogues, I surveyed my closet for what I would need such a shawl for. Despite owning some lovely clothes, there wasn’t much.

I decided I needed a treat, a dress for the shawl, and so went shopping online for a couple of heart-pounding hours. I downloaded photos of dresses I thought would look well with Nan’s gift and sent them to her for her invaluable advice. And in the meantime, I fell in love with a black and white toile dress.

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I’ve smothered my love of clothes for two years of depression and anxiety, shaky weights, paying of deb, and long hours of walking dogs, but I fanned the ashes when I bought a couple of things for the wedding I went to this summer. And if there’s anything that unglues me, it’s toile.

What is it about this throwback to the 18th century that I find so compelling? The romance, I suppose. The idea of wearing or sleeping on or carrying these scenes of pastoral aristocracy speaks to some part of my soul – for what else is it in us that connects to art and love? – that I don’t converse with very often. For so many reasons I don’t want to think about them, I’ve given up on finding romantic love. My living situation is circumscribed by being in New York, having a tiny apartment, too committed to dog walking schedules and my anxiety of new places that putting on a flouncy hat for a tour of the mansions of the Hudson feels as practical as a trip to Mars (and with just as much oxygen).

The only other pattern I fall for so helplessly is plaid but it’s easier to get and eight years of Catholic school pretty much explain that.

I spend so much time in the kind of clothes that I can wipe my hands and dogs can jump on that this idea of a dress makes me dreamy-eyed and inspired to go out.

Nan approved a couple of dresses I emailed her but I didn’t need a shawl for the toile dress. I put it in my shopping cart before going over to her house to talk wool. And there it stayed, almost purchased in cyberspace and in the back of my mind for a couple of days.

How many things do we say, “That’s too much work” or “I don’t deserve that” to what is of very little consequence?

Lately I’ve been slowing down to say to myself, “Do what you don’t deserve,” and thereby adding a half-teaspoon of ground cinnamon to my grounds. I’ve been trying to wear earrings more often, even with my grubby clothes. At night, when the ravenous beast of food addiction is on me and I am most vulnerable, I say, out loud to myself, “You deserve to be abstinent, Frances. You’ve the healthy food you’ve eaten and could eat now.” I’m looking for those simple, basic “desserts” of the days I spend doing my work and putting effort into a change of lifestyle.

And yet the dress languished for 48 hours as I was busy with other matters and uncertain I wanted to spend the money.

I might have forgotten about it except for the fact that the Internet is now so damned smart it keeps bringing up shopping websites I’ve spend time in. Every time I Googled “dogma” or “Nicene Creed,” up popped a link to the toile dress.

But part of my work has been listening to the Eating Psychogy videos. I’ve been listening to the call for self-compassion, for kicking food issues to the curb in order to get to the deeper stuff we are really hungry for. After a couple of hours of this, today I clicked on the link to buy the dress.

They were sold out in my size and had one left in the next size down.

I hesitated. I might fit that size. Or I might fit that size soon. I might hang it up as a reward for losing that dress size. Don’t I deserve this bit of loveliness?

Of course I do. I deserve it now, not in a month or two. I especially don’t deserve to be tortured by it in the interim that could so easily fall apart if my focus on health drifts.

I though of two things I had heard in the lecture. One was a comment made by the host, Marc David: “Our eating issues actually have little to do with food and have everything to do with who we are as human beings, our life journey.”

The other was a comment made by Pam Peeke about the breaking science of epigenetics: “With every thought I have, with every mouthful I take, with every step I take, I literally write my own life destiny. A huge number of genes in your body are absolutely waiting for you to write that script. That’s all done by lifestyle, choices, our choices and behavior.”

I’ve lost and gained the same thirty pounds many times in the last ten years. Before that I lost 188 pounds. I’ve been down this road before and I have been accustomed to thinking that that I earned weight loss and control of my addiction, that they came from the doing.  These days I'm beginning to think they are my due, that I earned them from years of suffering.

I’m actively stating that I deserve my right to eat well, walk, lose weight and enjoy the small satisfactions that come with less body mass.  I've given up thinking whether I'll earn a size 8 body again.  Weight loss experts are touting big dreams for our thinner bodies as being more motivating.  Having had the Big Loss once, dreaming doesn't work for me.  I dream of a healthy, content, productive day today.  The rest is too overwhelming.

Part of my history of overeating, addiction and binging is self-punishment. Another part is ennui, waiting for my self to show up or for something to speed my day along. If overeating comes from several such reasons, then I have to confront them along with the Ho-Hos. I don’t deserve to feel bored, listless and pointless any more than I deserve to beat myself up for not doing or being enough. I’m making an effort to blog more, focus on the next book I want to write, do research, get to the grocery store for the healthy food I need. I feel less existential angst as a consequence and it’s as much of my recovery process from obesity as what I eat and how much I move my body.

A dress that doesn’t fit is an incarnation of existential angst.

A dress that doesn’t fit is a reason to “diet” – to obsess about my weight, beat myself up for not-so-good days or cheer myself for days of deprivation. It is a trophy I’ll have to earn on the race rather than a treat I deserve.

A dress that doesn’t fit is not what I am.

Even more importantly, as I eat differently, think differently, move more, I can’t be sure it will what I am in the time it takes to lose even one dress size. A week ago I didn’t think I had it in me to write a couple of blogs and to come up with ten pages of a book proposal. I wasn’t sure, after time away, I could get back to healthier food, let alone cauliflower. In the uncertainty of people’s residence in the city in August, I couldn’t guess how much money I’d make before my rent was due.

I posted on my Facebook this morning that today feels very same old, same old.

I managed to take action to make sure it isn’t. There will be a dress I’ll love out there when I lose a dress size. And I will deserve it rather than have to earn it. Bite by bite, step by step, issue by issue, thought by thought.

Frances Kuffel is the author of Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self.

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