Monday, November 24, 2008

Chapter II: Teen Angst and Weight

I got through with grade school, knowing I was too fat, too slow, too klutzy, too smart, and too nerdy to ever be one of the cool kids, part of the "in" crowd. I moved on to junior high, but I didn't go to the public school as I had in grade school. If I went to the public junior high my dad would be one of my teachers. That is generally a no win situation because if he gave me good grades (and being a smart nerd I would probably make good grades) he would be accused of playing favorites, but if he were to set higher standards for me he might put our relationship at risk. Therefore, I went to the only alternative in our small town, a Lutheran school. We weren’t Lutheran, a rarity in the small town in which we lived, nor were we of German descent, another rarity there. This Lutheran school had never had a non-member request to attend prior to my family so they had no tuition set up as they charged none to their members being supported solely through church giving and the occasional fundraiser. So Mom and Dad decided we better attend the Lutheran church and put something in the offering plate on Sundays so that we would be paying our fair share. How does any of this impact my weight? All of it made me feel more and more like an outsider. My teacher used me as an example several times in religion class (and when I look back I am appalled at his behavior and realize I should have told my parents which I never did) like when he pointed out that because I had not been baptized as a baby if I were to die I would be going to Hell unlike the others who had all been baptized as infants and were guaranteed to go to heaven. Hmmm, yeah. I was definitely an outsider, a misfit, just lucky anybody paid me any attention at all. I tried to fit in. I tried really, really hard. I joined the girls' softball team, but rarely got to play due to my lack of athletic ability. I joined the pompom squad, and almost forgot to be embarrassed by my really fat legs under the short, short skirt. I was one of only two girls in the class who had matured early and started our period, and wouldn’t you know it, the other girl was also an outcast. We were the class oddballs. I believe the only thing that kept me from becoming obese at that point was my bicycle. Once I had learned to ride a bike, I loved to ride. In the summer, I would ride for hours and hours, up and down every street in our little town. I can’t even imagine the number of miles I rode on a daily basis. Even during the school year, after school and on weekends I would ride and ride and ride. But anytime I was at home, I was on the prowl for something to eat, always looking to sneak a snack behind Mom’s back, always figuring how big a piece of cake I could take without it being noticed, always seeking out the comfort of my best friend, food.

The summer before eighth grade, Dad got a new job in a new town. I believed that this was my chance to start fresh, to finally be accepted, to be part of the group. (This was the first of a pattern on this line of thinking. I arrived for the first day of school in a quite short mini-dress (it was the mid-70s after all) feeling confident and eager to meet my classmates. Imagine my horror when I learned upon arriving that the “uniform” for my class was jeans, t-shirt, and oversized plaid flannel shirt on top. Everyone, boys and girls, were dressed this way except me. How dare I almost forget that I was a nerd, an outcast? How could I have thought things would be different here? I didn’t even own a pair of jeans, much less a plaid flannel shirt. After school, I went home and ate. I begged my mom for new clothes, clothes that would help me fit in but to no avail. The clothes I had were fine, they fit, and were in good shape. She wasn’t about to waste money on new ones. About halfway through the year I was able to talk her into one pair of Levis although the shopping experience was dreadful as the size she picked for me at first was hideously too small, the next size up still too tight, and finally when the third pair would only zip if I sucked in really, really hard I was in tears. Mom went on and on about how she had no idea I would need such a large size, on and on and on. This shopping trip occurred while we were visiting my Grandma (Dad’s mom) and when we returned to Grandma’s house I headed straight for the kitchen and my best friend, food.

In eighth grade I also learned to find comfort in something other than food, boys. I learned that boys would pay a lot of attention to you if you would let them kiss you and touch you in places that felt pretty good to be touched. Thus began a long line of relationships and encounters that brought me comfort, but apparently (I found out much later) also brought me quite a reputation, and not a good one at that. I pretty much felt that I was a good girl because even though I would do a lot, there was one thing that I never ever did (at least not until much later). Others didn't see me that way. They either saw me as a huge tease, or based on exaggerated stories by some boys, a huge slut.

Somehow, I survived eighth grade. Next year would be different, I thought. I’ll be in high school, a large school with an abundance of diversity. Surely I would fit somewhere there. Or not. I was too smart for the popular crowd, too offbeat for the nerdy crowd, too straight for the stoner crowd. I couldn't find my niche no matter how hard I tried, and I tried and tried and tried. I got involved in every club, every organization from yearbook to drama. I was incredibly busy during my high school years, juggling many extracurricular activities, boyfriends, and academics. As a freshman in high school I was diagnosed with an ulcer and put on a bland diet by my doctor. In spite of having to give up some favorite foods like pizza, French fries, and chocolate, I enjoyed the fact that I was now required to eat snacks at certain times of the day, a fact I loved bringing to my mom's attention. She just knew that this was going to cause me to gain weight. I believe it did, but not a significant amount. In my high school years, I probably went from 125 to 135 - 140 and most of that after the ulcer healed, and I returned to my junk food ways.

I was actually probably happier in high school than at any other time in my life even though I knew I was still too smart, too fat, too klutzy, too much of an outsider. I was happy because I was busy and because I had the respect of many of my teachers even if not of other students. I was not happy with my weight. I knew I was fat. I was 5' 6" and never weighed more than 140 lbs in my high school career, but I knew I was fat. How? Because I wore a size 11 instead of a 9 like my mom, because I had always been fat, because Mom and Dad both often made derogatory comments about my weight, and truth be told when I look in the mirror I don't see much difference between me now and me then. When I looked in the mirror then I saw fat, same as I see now, in spite of the fact that I weigh more than twice as much now as then. Clearly, I have very, very distorted vision when it comes to myself.

To be continued. . .

Next Installment: The Freedom of College


Cocotte said...

Hi True,
Just wanted to let you know I'm reading, but haven't commented because I just don't know what to say. It's sad to me that you remember all of this in such detail. Hope that in writing this down, you will have some healing.

Val said...

Ditto on the "dunno what to say" comment, babe, but if bearing witness is any help, here I am...

Trueself said...

Cocotte - Thanks for commenting. I was starting to think that somehow this series of posts was offending people or something from the lack of comments. Believe it or not I take comfort in knowing that is not the case.
I remember the details because they are seared into my mind, indelible marks that fade little with the passage of time. I, too, hope to find some healing from sharing my story.

Val - Bearing witness is helpful, yes. Thank you.