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My Body, My Self 

Food issues and a bad self-image led our columnist to undergo weight-loss surgery. She's still a mess, but a better-looking one.

Wednesday, Jan 2 2008
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My body, which consisted of thighs that rubbed together and a pudge, disgusted my mother and father, which really pisses me off to this day. "Suck in your gut" was their mantra. My dad even had this quaint little nickname for me in first grade: "68 pounds of swingin' meat."

My body had become my enemy. I hated it.

At one point, in sixth grade, I shot up in height and my weight stayed about the same, and I suddenly looked slim and more womanly.

High school was spent teetering on the edge of chubbiness at size 14. I felt gi-fucking-gantic. My eating habits had stayed the same from grade school. No breakfast, no lunch, and now, in my teenage "maturity," rarely much for dinner. I was a functioning anorexic, despite not being skinny. At the end of my senior year I really kicked out the jams and starved myself into certifiable svelteness. I managed to get on the radar of a ridiculously cute semipro skateboarder, the kind of guy who could have any 18-year-old idiot he wanted. Flummoxed at the attention and full of anxiety, I bought a pint of ice cream and ate the lot. Then, as usual, I felt a horrible wave of guilt and fear from "being bad." I had heard about this whole purging thing and thought I might give it a go. I went into the bathroom and forced myself to throw up. It was violent and gross, and when it was done a cool calmness came over me that felt like the after-effects of a really good cry. It was the perfect thing to do for someone who hated herself; the ultimate form of self-flagellation. Plus, I could now eat "bad" foods willy-nilly to deal with my feelings and then just hack them up again. Problem solved.

I needed help.

Once I finally did get ready to talk to a therapist, I got a doozy. Her name was Grace. At our first meeting, when I was 20, she made the astute judgment that I was depressed. "We have to get your self-esteem up," she told me. "You need to lose weight." I was five foot nine and 175 pounds, a size 14.

Finally, I thought, someone who gets it. Yes, I just needed to lose weight. I loved her instantly, and over three years became dangerously attached to Grace and her approval. She weighed me at the beginning of every session. For a self-loathing bulimic, this was fetishistic. It only reinforced my disdain for myself and my body. It affirmed the idea that, really, all I was was my body.

Then I met another boyfriend, a great guy who was really nice (I didn't trust him of course — he was too nice), and, strangely, he liked "fleshy" women. This didn't compute; no one liked fat chicks except closet cases and retards. Despite all my attempts at anorexia I had never gotten beyond being curvy, or, in my mind, fat. Still, I remember gaining a little weight in the beginning of our love, as people often do, and looking at myself in the mirror and saying, "You know what, Katy? So what?"

This was monumental.

Well, it was monumental for a nano-second. Then I knew that I would lose control. And I did. The weight started to pile on. It seemed as if aliens were abducting me every night and filling me with gravy and ice cream, and I'd awake in my bed 10 pounds heavier the next day. For someone who thought that life would end if I gained 10 pounds, this was devastating. I stopped taking care of myself, stopped going out, stopped seeing friends. My clothes consisted of the same frumpy housecoat, day in and day out, the better to completely dissociate from the neck down. Mirrors were verboten and removed from the house. I was really, really depressed.

Eventually a new therapist entered my life, a great one who knew what she was doing, and my course changed. We focused on me and not my body and normalized my feelings of failure and immorality around being fat.

I wasn't a bad person because I was fat. Wow! Slowly my body image began to separate from who I was as a whole, and what I had to offer the world. I started to stand up for myself. I began to feel as if I had a right to take up space, a right to ask for a bigger chair if need be. It was hard work, because no matter how much progress was made, I would always be thrown back out into a world that saw me as a fat chick. Again, my therapist was an amazing normalizer. I would say something like, "I can't go to that awards ceremony because I'm overweight." And she would say, "You are over whose idea of a proper weight? Over what standard?" as if to say, These are constructs, norms. Not truths.

I kept getting bigger and bigger, but in some ways, I was eating whatever I wanted as a big "fuck you" to the old me who was so restrictive. I was liberating myself from all that crap. I threw away my scale, becoming a fat activist of sorts, embracing my body and feeling sexy for the first time in my life. I had more sex at 300 pounds than I ever had at 160.

As my self-esteem grew — really grew — it was a sort of high to feel like a confident, big woman. I had always possessed a "big" personality; now I had a body to go with it, and it was intimidating to some people. The attention my beauty used to bring me now came from my presence. I read all the fat manifestos from great people like Marilyn Wann, whose book Fat! So? was instrumental in my attitude shift. I "came out" as fat to my family, who lived out of state and only saw me thin one year and fat as hell the next. They said nothing, of course, but I'm sure they talked plenty behind my back. By embracing my size I was also rejecting all the guilt they had laid on me as a child about my "gut." I suppose, in a way, I was saying, "You made me this way! Now fucking deal with it!"

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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