I Am Weighing In On The Weight Issue

I Am Weighing In On The Weight Issue

It’s the most wonderful time of year. Or is it?

Are you dreading the holiday season? Seeing family or friends who you would rather not see? Having to attend or host dinner parties you would rather not be part off? Trying to accommodate your spouses’ family while your own family have their expectations of you?

Maybe you already know that financially this is going to be a tight Christmas, and you can’t say that out loud without feeling like Scrooge? Or maybe you have gained a few pounds this year and the thought of going home for Christmas when you know that aunty “I must comment on your weight” will be visiting; is petrifying you.

And that is where I will start off this series of blog posts as together we wind down this year. For today I want to share some thoughts and ideas about how to deal with unsolicited comments about physical appearance. Over the next few weeks we will get to the other stuff like depression, isolation, and how to look after yourself when your life doesn’t look like the Hallmark Christmas Movies.
But for now let’s just weigh this important issue.

Firstly, why oh why is this even a topic of conversation? I’ve never understood why I’ve had to hear comments like “Oh my word, you are so fat” or “That dress is lovely but sleeveless is not right for you. Your arms are too big.” Or the other way “My word, you’ve lost so much weight. Is everything okay?” Or “I was telling ______________ that you look so much better now that you lost weight. You were looking terrible last Christmas.”

I entered Mrs South Africa after loosing some weight but I was still not exactly a “small” lady.

Why would anyone ever begin a conversation like this? Or for that matter even bring this up in conversation. Its mind-boggling that these interactions are still part of our social contexts when we are living in an age when both men and women have emotional issues that stem from having a poor body image of themselves.

We are taught from a young age to make excuses for family and friends who taunt with their crude comments. We tell ourselves that it is only cultural or that is just the way they are. I will also include here that even negative comments about skin colour, choice of clothing or hair style, comments about how a persons’ body has changed due to pregnancy or after medical issues or actually anything to do with physical appearance of any sort; are simply not topics of conversation at any time of the year, let alone during the holiday season.

Of course genuine, positive comments like ”You look lovely” or “I’m so glad to see you and I love your dress” or simply “It’s so good to see you” are perfectly fine and it makes spending time with our family and friends so much sweeter. When comments are unflattering, one cannot imagine the unnecessary hurt that it causes.

I’ve been in this situation a few times, and one incident is still so clear in my mind. I was collecting Talisa from school when I noticed an old family friend. He was an older gentleman, who I hadn’t seen in years. I was entering the school gate with many other parents when I saw him and I greeted him. He boomed out, “Oh Desirae it’s you. Oh my word. I didn’t even recognize you. You’ve put on so much weight.”

I was stunned to say the least. I had no idea how to respond to this in front of the other parents and particularly as I was feeling really depressed during this time. Savannah was recovering from an operation to her back and there were complications that we were coming to terms with. We were living in an upstairs unit in a townhouse complex. Eli was just over a year old and could not walk up or down the flight of stairs by himself. Everyday sometimes three times a day, I was carrying both Savannah and Eli up and down those stairs.

Savannah and I dancing at her 21st birthday party.

In the afternoons if I had five minutes to myself, I would dish up a large bowl of vanilla ice cream, squeeze a mountain of maple syrup onto it; down it and then continue with taking care of my three children. Hands up mums and dads if you have scoffed an entire box of chocolates or polished a bag of chips while your children needed your care! You know well enough what those days are like.

That time in our lives was so emotionally confusing as we delighted in Eli’s milestone of walking and were equally shattered as we realised that Savannah was losing her fight to keep walking. So yes, I ate the ice-cream and the cake and anything else that offered any sort of comfort. It didn’t matter that everything tasted like ash to me anyway. It was just the way I was coping.

That old mans’ comment felt so cruel and so shocking to my very soul. I felt like a failure: unable to stop the regression that was claiming Savannah’s walking, and unable to keep my weight down. Those words just made me hate myself for not being able to be thin and for not being able to keep Savannah walking. I am generally a practical and logical person but this brief meeting shattered me. And it gives you an idea of how a seemingly innocent quip, can be havoc for another person.

How did I free myself from allowing these shallow comments to hold me hostage in my misery?

 *Do you know that you are a child of God and that it’s wrong to disrespect Gods creation?
First, I asked myself are these “weight commentators” that important ? Would they cope with a small percent of the challenges I have lived through? Even if they had their own challenges to survive, clearly if they are making hurtful comments, then their life challenges did not change them for the better. No. You can’t take anyone seriously when they have no depth of character. For myself when I meet people, I see more than a physical form. I see them as a child of God.

*Do you love yourself?
Then I asked myself what did I want? Really, did I want to be supermodel thin and have my body poked and peeled and worked at while Savannahs’ disability changed her body in a drastic painful way? No I didn’t want to look like a supermodel. I wanted to help Savannah to love herself even as her body started to work against her. For my own well-being and for my children, I learnt to love myself irrespective of what size dress I fit into.

*Do you know what a “good looking” body means for yourself?
I also asked myself to define what a good-looking body meant for me? My answer was that I wanted to wear clothing that flattered what I liked about my body without feeling ashamed. Fat arms and all. I also wanted to be able to run down the soccer field with Eli, wear high heels to impress Talisa and still lift Savannah when she needed it. I wanted to feel pretty good with myself whether I was a size fourteen or a size ten as long as I could do those things with my children. Now that would be a body to cherish.

This was the day Eli was selected to play football for the local district.

*Do you have a plan of how you will protect yourself from “weight commentators” this holiday season? 
Lastly I asked myself how am I going to deal with shallow, misplaced comments about my physical appearance? The answer was I won’t. If a person is so base as to have the gall to say anything derogatory with the intent to cause shame, then they are not worth my time, my words, my respect or my love. It takes a mammoth task to encourage oneself when caring for a child with a disability. So I will not ever again allow anyone to set my soul off-balance into self-loathing. I do too much in a day to waste time picking myself up off the floor.

If you don’t have a plan to protect yourself, then grab a pen and page, and take some time to answer the *questions above and you will start working out your own plan on how to guard your personal space. That is what your body is. Your personal space. And no one may physically, verbally or emotionally violate your body. Got that?

Once you learn to respond to hurtful comments without feeling ashamed and angry, you will realise that your response will simply be a matter of stating facts. I taught my children how to do this after I worked out how to do it for myself. They know that if anyone dares to cross that line with them by making inappropriate comments about their physical appearance, then they have my permission to shut them down with statements like:
“Wow, that’s not nice to say.”
“You think like that? I’m glad you aren’t my mum or dad”.
“I like myself the way I am. If you don’t like me that’s your problem.”
“You be you and I’ll be me”, or Talisa’s own line said with a huge smile
“I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. I’m okay”.

Oh my friends, this Christmas the best gift you can give is to find your strength, keep your balance and maintain your peace.

Now, I’m off to indulge in a vegetarian hot dog on a buttered white roll with homemade potato chips and caramelised onions. And later while I watch today’s episode of Masterchef Australia, I will devour my Carb Clever Chocolate Bar.

Yum. Yum.

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