I Wasted Decades Feeling Fat and Ugly

I was a fat kid, a fat teen, a fat adult, and have been “fat shamed” ever since I can remember. When I was a kid they just called it “teasing.” But there is one moment that stands out as the most humiliating of my life. I was getting on a scale at the doctor’s office when I was 10. He looked at me with disapproval bordering on contempt, then, turning to my mother, said, “She’s fat. And unhealthy. Put her on a diet,” and handed my mother a list of the usual 1,000-calorie-a-day bland mini-meals she was supposed to feed me. He didn’t say exactly what kind of health problem my weight was causing. Considering that I was very athletic, a great swimmer, ice skater and tree climber, it was unlikely that my weight was affecting me at all health-wise, at least at that time, but this was the beginning of a lifetime of dire warnings about the dread fate I was doomed to suffer because of my weight. At the top of the list was dying young. Ironically, at that time, I wasn’t even fat. I’ve seen pictures of myself at that age and at most I could be called pleasantly plump.

My mother, however, did not consider plumpness pleasant. This was the 1950s when her generation of Jews was desperately trying to fit into the American ideal of slimness. I’d inherited the short, big-hipped and thunder-thighed Eastern European body that she despised. Since she spent her life on diets, she assumed I should do the same. Dinners at home were strictly supervised by Mom, controlled for carb content. I could see her add the calories up in her head as I served myself. Meat and veggies were OK, but second helpings of potatoes were not allowed. Dessert was not on the menu. I longed for street pretzels and ice cream cones like the other kids got, but Mom nixed anything but low-calorie treats. French fries were off-limits. And despite all these restrictions, I shopped in the “chubby” department at the store. My childhood taught me that my body was the enemy, an enemy to be subdued at all costs. I went on diet after diet, but they all led to an equal but opposite binge. At 16 I got really skinny with the help of amphetamines, but luckily I hated the way they made me feel so I didn’t get addicted.

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