Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two conversations with the parents

I was in Minnesota to visit my family over Thanksgiving and I had two extremely frustrating conversations with my parents. I know, somewhere in the back of my head, that they are only to be expected given the all the hype, but I still wanted to pull my hair out.

The first: My mother was talking about some recent knee pain that she's been experiencing. To put this in context, my mother is 67 and is obese. She hasn't always been obese. She was once terribly underweight. She's never been comfortable with the weight she gained and she's been a yo-yo dieter since her 40s.

My mother commented that she was certain that her weight did not help her knee and if she could just lose 80 pounds (yes, she stated 80 pounds), it would be better. I was aghast - not that she wanted to lose weight or that she correlated weightloss with less knee pain, but that she expected at her age and relative dis-ability due to her knee pain to lose and probably maintain that loss.

So I asked her, do you really think that's going to happen? It's good to test reality.

Well, no, she said, but it would help.

I pointed out that since this wasn't likely to happen that maybe other avenues of relieving the pain would be physical therapy or something. It was apalling that she thought of weightloss as the primary means of alleviating her pain.

The second: I pointed to my mother's cat, Max who is as big as a house, and said to my father that I thought that he was a good argument that not everyone is the same size or can maintain at the same size. Max is a supersize cat. He started out as a regular size kitten and in a year grew huge.

Now we've had other cats. These cats have had the same access to the same amount of food as Max and, while they might have been slightly bigger than they would have been on the street, they weren't huge. In fact, the variety in cat form in our household has been amazingly diverse.

My father's response to this was that he thought I was wrong. Everyone can lose weight and maintain a weightloss, was his argument, if only they are obsessed enough.

My father is also 67 and obese. He's tall and large and has been tall and large since leaving the army in his 20s. He's bigger than he ever was, yes, but he's never been "normal weight" for his height.

My father went on to explain that dieting was so problematic because you had to keep eating. If he could only figure out a way to stop eating, then even if he did slip from being obsessed, he'd be okay. He would have eliminated food.

So, I responded, you should become an anorexic.

Yes, he replied without irony, that would probably work.

I think that pretty much speaks for itself. On a positive note, I'm pretty sure that my father will not stop eating and become anorexic.


Rachel said...

This is exactly what sets the fat rights movement apart from other forms of social activism. Have you ever heard a black person say that they feel there ought to be federally-sanction segregation? Have you ever heard a gay person say that gay people shouldn't be allowed to adopt or enjoy the same benefits married couples enjoy?

Fat people are so deluded by a culture that continuously tells them that they too can be thin and beautiful if only they had willpower. The fat rights movement is hindered not only from outside forces, but from forces within.

indigomermaid said...

i had a similar experience with my dad, only that it was bout my weight issues( all in all when i'm about seven kgs overweight). my dad kept on telling me to eat less, to exercise more, despite knowing that i had nearly turned anorexic a year ago. in frustration i yelled at my dad "do you want me to turn anorexic again?" and without irony he replied "if that would make you lose weight, yes!". since i live in a household of doctors who see psychology as a "fluffy, insubstantial" science, i didnt expect a serious attitude to anorexia. but then again, the comment rattled me. im over it now, though :)

Anonymous said...

My dad felt the same way too. I think it's a part of the male "fix-it" mentality. That if there's a problem, there has to be a way to fix it, even if that way is drastic. It's like, they can't accept problems that can't be fixed.

Gennette said...

Random comment: Unrelated to weight, I sure wish I didn't have to eat. It takes so much time out of my day that I wish I could spend doing other things! Maybe someday we'll all have compact IV systems that we insert into our bodies each day that will deliver nutrients and calories throughout the day as we need them. Then we could all be so much more productive, because we wouldn't have to take the time to eat! (Not to mention saving time on cooking and cleaning the kitchen; imagine no more fights about who does the dishes!)

People could still eat sometimes if they wanted to, as a novel recreation. I'd probably eat twice a month as a fun activity with friends.

I think if this were the common practice, it would become apparent that different people have different body equilibrium states. There would still be people of varied body types, even with completely medically controlled nutrition. Then everyone would HAVE to acknowledge that it's not about "willpower" or something. It's just about what your body wants to do and what is best for each individual.

Susan Noel said...

Hey Spins. I've just been reading through your posts for the first time, and am sitting here weeping. Me, I've always struggled with anorexia, which is truly based on self-hatred and the terrible feeling that you're never safe, and don't deserve to be. It's all about denying life and pleasure.

I'm 55 now, and gaining weight, and am bigger than I've ever been. I'm paying attention to the way I fall into feeling that this makes me lose my "identity." I mean -- to be a basically smart, socially radical, intellectually engaged woman, and to still find myself deeply undermined by a warped brain chemistry (and ideology) that tells me it's shameful to be hungry, shameful not to be a size 8 -- ??

And then to read about your parents torturing themselves by believing that they could and SHOULD lose huge amounts of weight, and that they fact that they just aren't "strong" or "disciplined" enough to do it -- that they actually wish they could voluntarily become anorexic (which, believe me, is an illness, and hellish, a form of slow suicide I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy) -- well, it made me weep.

We all have these bodies. They're big and small, sick and well, disabled and temporarily abled (I'm disabled). And these bodies are really just our launching pads, our raw material, our homes, our "apartments," which we sometimes take great care of and decorate in lovely ways, and sometimes neglect and just close the door and hope nobody comes over without calling first.

It's so painful. I too worry all the time these days that I'm no longer "attractive." But I know, and I hope you know, that being attractive is all about the mind. I've met people, now and then, with weird, highly restrictive "rules" about the only body types that they can possibly imagine having sex with.

But that's rare. The whole deal is that chemistry is mysterious -- we never know whose going to get us hot, and it's always a gift.

I love human shapes: large, small, bent, twisted, straight, round, short, tall.

What scares me is the way we take ideology into our hearts, into our most personal, human hearts, and allow it to torture us. So thanks for your generosity in sharing your fears, your wisdom, and your varied and valuable experience.

It's all in progress.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of Gary Taubes' new book Why We Get Fat and What to do About it. Not a diet book but it has changed my thinking about dieting (and truly pissed me off as no other book has in years). I never knew, for instance, that animals that hibernate fatten EVEN IF THEIR DIET IS RESTRICTED when it's their "time" to prepare for hibernation. This reminds me very much of your description of the fat cat!