Myself to Myself, Age 16 (and “Fat")

Friday, March 27 [1981]

Dear Toni [i.e. Dear Diary--but I wrote to "Toni"],

Rachel: Ask me what I did today.
Tony [sic]: I'll bite.  What did you do today, Rachel?
R: I failed--again.
T: How?
R: I binged on peanut butter, cheese and raisins.
T: How badly?
R: I'm not sure; 3 boxes of raisins (1 serv. boxes), about 15 slices of American cheese, 3 or 4 huge globs of PB.
T: Why?  Do you want to be fat forever?
R: No, of course not.  It's a nervous habit, like smoking.  If I'm not bingeing on food, I'm chewing--and twirling--gum and guzzling diet cokes and decaffeinated coffee.  I had a huge B.M. today, but my stomach is as pouched [sic] out as it ever was, and I weigh 132 [pounds] as of this morning.
T: You've got to stop.  It can't go on another day--another second.  There's only one way to quit.
R: How?  I've tried everything--fasting, diet pills, prayer, diuretics, gum, diet drinks, Weight Watchers, swimming, tears, oaths.
T: No, you haven't tried everything.
R: What's left?  Hypnosis?  Fat farms?
T: No.
R: What then?
T: You.
R: Me?  Are you crazy?  I can't do anything.  After all I'm fat, ugly, mean, disgusting, lazy, and everything else that's gross.
T: You left something out.
R: What?
T: Stupid [snort; ahem].  Rachel, you are created in God's image, and He has given you tons of gifts that daily you chose to sweep under the rug because you're so damned worried about how fat you are.
R: Tons is right--of fat.
T:  See? Listen, I'll tell you them, if you're too blind to see yourself (or too stubborn to look).  First, you truly have a wonderful mind.  I know, I know.  "No, I don't, Toni; after all, I bombed that essay on the Grapes of Wrath today."  You don't know that.  Even if you did bomb it, give yourself a chance!  You can't be perfect 100% of the time, you just can't.  But one essay muffed, ten essays muffed, does not mean you're stupid.  Give yourself a break academically--please!
R: Ok, so I'm smart.  But I'm still fat.
T: I'm not finished.  What about that cute B[irth]day card you made for Robert [my brother] today?  With Cricket, Ladybug and everybuggy else?  He really liked that.  And those kids who saw your drawings in Latin--R. said they were good, so did one of the girls.  Your "Iris" won 1st place [at the Junior Classical League convention]--that's not "nothing."
R: Yeah, but I never practice.
T: Practice then.  Take some more classes--you really liked those, remember?
R: Yes of course.  Well, you've only named two.
T: Can't you see your gifts, Rachel?  Your family, who loves you very much; Mom who can't bear to see you hurt yourself; L. [my best friend at the time], your house, car, own bedroom, books (and ability to read and enjoy it), toys, clothes, your health--
R: Wait!  Health?  Hah!  Look at how fat I am!
T: Yes, health.  D. [one of my classmates] had cancer; do you?
R: Well, no.
T: E. [an adult friend of the family] is dying; are you?
R: no
T: "Children in India are starving and dying of malnutrition."  Rachel, you have a little bitty problem that is easily solved.  They don't.  You have your sight, your hearing, your arms and legs.  Rachel, look again at where you stand.  If you don't appreciate your gifts, well, I wouldn't blame God a bit if He took them from you and gave them to someone who would.  Listen--you're going to Europe in exactly ten weeks.  At two measly pounds a week in that amount of time, you'll weigh 112.  DAMN IT--DON'T FAIL AGAIN!
R: But how can I succeed?
T: Haven't you been listening?  Has all your fat gone to your head?  I think so.  Ok, since you're so set on being fat, go ahead.  I don't care.  Eat yourself into oblivion.  But...if you do care, do this: have faith in yourself.  I do, God does, Mom does.  You are not a failure, not at all.  You have a very bad habit of chewing constantly.  One might call it "hand-in-mouth" disease.  Cure thyself!  Never, never again do I want to hear, "Toni, I failed again."  Never.  Is that clear?
R: Yes.
T: Repeat after me: "I can lose weight."
R: I can lose weight.
T: "I will lose weight."
R: I will lose weight.
T: "I will not fail."
R: I will not fail.
T: I love Rachel Fulton, and I want her to be happy.
R: Oh, Toni!
T: Goodnight, my love.
R: Goodnight, and thank you.
T: My pleasure.

Love,
Rachel

T: Another gift: not everyone has the insight that you do into yourself.  This conversation is proof positive.  Please follow my--your--advice.  Please.

[Myself to myself, age 46 (weighing who-knows-what but definitely not fat although probably heavier than I was then): I'm not quite sure what to do with this conversation, which I found while hunting for the other entry I remember seeing the last time I glanced at my diaries (and put them away more or less immediately; it was too painful at the time).  On the one hand, I seem much more compassionate with myself than I remember being (not to mention theologically sound!).  On the other, if only I had had the wisdom to recognize that, made in God's image as I was (and am), I was not, in fact, fat at 132 pounds, nor would it have been at all good for me to try, at 5'5" and swimming 2500 yards a day, to weigh 110.  Or, again, on the one hand, I (in the guise of my sixteen-year-old self) am so positive about myself and my abilities, but on the other, I still think that I need to lose weight and I use every method I can to try to wheedle and cajole myself into sticking to my proposed diet.  I even threaten myself with something that would never happen--God's becoming a bully, taking His gifts from me simply because I couldn't appreciate them at the time.  Thank goodness God is not a sixteen-year-old girl!

Alas, as per my diary, the next day I binged again--more raisins, plus bread, ice cream, Milk Duds, a Twix bar, crackers, peanut butter chips, peanut butter.  But I also spent the day at a church camp, and from what I record, it wasn't very fun: I felt shunned by one "cute and slender" girl and hated by another from our own youth group.  Perhaps I was taking care of myself the only way that I knew how.  And then, two days later, President Reagan was shot (about which I was quite upset, go figure).  A month and a half later, on the last pages of the notebook, I am recording yet another binge (goodness, I was brutal with myself!) and yet still promising myself that tomorrow would be better, tomorrow I would change.  And so it went, day after day, year after year, well into my twenties, when the urge to binge gradually receded, perhaps because I started to smoke.

What I do know, and have other entries to prove, is that the need for perfection (my very word, nearly a mantra at times) was just as strong for those of us growing up in the early 1980s as it is now, according to Courtney E. Martin, for the generation(s) of girls born since.  Then, I heard it as no less than a command from God, spoken so beautifully (and in a perfect English accent, mind you) by Robert Powell in Franco Zeferelli's Jesus of Nazareth (1977): "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Matthew 5:48].  "Be purrfect" (or so I heard it).  Like God.  I even underlined the passage in my Bible, one of the very few that I marked in this way.  I think about perfection rather differently now, but it's still there, lurking, in its older, teen-age form.  Perhaps this means that I am a third wave feminist, too, like Martin, but I'm not so sure.  The women she describes seem not-quite-me even as I seem not-quite-her-mother, not a hippy old enough to have children in 1980, but neither the sort of young women who now are clamoring to be heard.

Meanwhile, as I was typing out this diary entry, my son, age 15, came to sit with me and started reading over my shoulder.  I wanted to explain to him how I knew that weighing 110 pounds would have been a very bad idea, even when I was sixteen.  "Do you remember," I asked him, "when we first started fencing and I lost so much weight?  I got down to 128 pounds and thought I was going through early menopause because my periods stopped."  "No," he shook his head, commendably unsqueamed by the details.  "I remember you talking about being thin, but I don't remember you being any different than you are now."  I boggled.  "Really?  I've always looked the same as far as you know?"  "Yes," he nodded.  "The same."  I weigh, well, who knows, but at least twenty, maybe thirty pounds more than I did then.  And he can't tell the difference.  I think we know what the real lesson is here.  Thank God.]

Comments

  1. I love the part about your looking the same to your son no matter what. One of my most treasured memories is coming out of the bathroom in my bathing suit to go swimming with my older son (a few years ago, he was about 8 at the time), and he said, "There you are, looking beautiful as always." That cracked me up, because it seemed such an "old" (and slightly cheesy, but delightful from an 8 year old boy) thing to say, but here's the thing--he said that about me in a bathing suit when I weighed a whole lot more than I weigh now. A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out a closet and piling up some clothes to donate, and he asked me why I was getting rid of them. I explained that they didn't fit because I had lost quite a bit of weight. And he said, "Oh. That's weird. I can't tell. You look pretty, but you always look pretty." You're right--a great lesson!

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  2. What great sons we have! Why do we listen to anybody else?! They're the ones who can see clearly--clearly!

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