This post on dooce.com felt like being punched in the solar plexus, all the air forced out of my lungs with a WHOOF and I need to curl up in a ball. Heather wrote about being in therapy now, as an adult, to cope with pain from her parents’ divorce 25 years ago:
This is about the discovery that at my core is a ten-year-old girl who thought that she was responsible for keeping her entire family intact. If I was perfect, if I excelled at everything, if I didn’t show weakness my family would stay together.
But then that family fell apart anyway. All that work, and it fell apart anyway.
Because, boy howdy, does that sound familiar to me. I’ve had regular sessions with a therapist for more than four years now and I still haven’t really dealt with the responsibility I feel for my family’s disintegration — not due to divorce, but due to my mom’s death from cancer when I was 10, and my dad’s corresponding emotional checking-out. I am still only barely chipping away at the emotional demons that say, You killed your mother by not being good enough. And you weren’t perfect enough for your father to love you.
Ironically, fat acceptance is addressing this in a way that nothing else has before. Because I’m learning to accept my body, I can look back at my childhood and say, Of course I was good enough; that was never the issue. There’s a ten-year-old magical-thinking mentality I still have to overcome about my mom dying, but when it comes to my relationship with my dad, it’s healing now in large part because I can finally see that my imperfections weren’t what was making him distant.* I can see how much effort I put into being thin in order to gain his approval — and how much more energy I put into being perfect in every other way possible, to compensate for not being thin enough — and I can grieve for the childhood that was lost, the warmth and security and acceptedness that I didn’t feel; but I’m beginning to stop blaming myself for not attaining physical perfection, then or now.
(*My dad’s had a lot of therapy, too, and being able to talk openly about things that went wrong when I was a kid has helped me make a ton of progress. So I don’t want to downplay how his growth is impacting my own.)
Accepting my fat self means that not only do I get to let go of the shame I felt about my body, but I also can let go of the other things I was doing to compensate for my shame. I can begin to take off the other behaviors I’d adopted to make myself acceptable in spite of my fat — the always having to appear to be the smartest person in the room, the funniest, the most self-reliant; the never admitting that I needed help, the never admitting when I was wrong, the snarky criticisms of others, the inability to accept a compliment instead of deflecting it.
And conversely, four years of therapy have gotten me to the point where I’m healthy enough for fat acceptance. If I hadn’t spent the past four years deconstructing the false self I wear to present an appearance of perfection, I wouldn’t be ready to make peace with a body that doesn’t meet society’s standards. I’ve spent four years slowly taking off the things I wanted people to see, grieving for them, and letting them go; taking off an expectation of future thinness is an appropriate next step, and one that helps all of the earlier pieces to fall into place.
I’m finding that making peace with my body means making peace with all of myself.