When I was at my heaviest, almost nothing could annoy me more quickly than the suggestion that I was hiding behind my fat.
People I considered a little addicted to psycho babble (that was me trading one armchair psychologist’s diagnosis for another) liked to assume that somehow I was preferring my fat, hiding behind it, using it as an excuse to avoid doing things, participating, competing in the world. Others thought I was afraid of being attractive, afraid of the attention that brings.
This idea of choosing to be fat, preferring to be fat, hiding behind fat seemed to me, for the most part, to come from thin people who appeared to think getting fat is a simple matter of a person gorging on food. And getting thin again is a simple matter of not gorging any more.
These are people who appeared to have no clue whatsoever about how metabolically, hormonally fractured many of us are, how stressed, busy, how some people just store fat more easily than others and lose it more slowly. Because they see the cause and solution in such black-and-white terms, and they can see the fat person isn’t stupid, they run searching for motives to explain why the people they know are fat.
I was quick to reject their ideas, and them, for their ignorance.
But lately I’ve begun to wonder. Clearly I do believe there are lots and lots of behaviors we develop that drive overeating and under-moving. Habits. Wiring. A great deal of the work of losing and maintaining a significant amount of weight is identifying those behaviors and working to change them. That’s the work we do with this column every day. Rewiring your instincts is hard, and it takes years.
But behavior is not the same as motive. Today I’m wondering about motive. We have been learning that boys and girls who grow up in unstable environments, too many foster homes or abusive homes, who are war refugees or who live in encampments of various kinds, often grow up to be more overweight than others in their lineage. Girls who undergo very early puberty and development often become overweight adults.
I’m saying there are people out there who “cover up” with fat, whether knowingly or not, for these or many other reasons. I don’t know if I was one of them. Maybe. Maybe not.
I will say that being fat can be easier in a lot of situations. Having a shapeless shape does shut down unwanted advances, workplace harassment, competitive jockeying. Your body and your looks don’t have to enter or influence any conversation when you’re plump. It’s thin, athletic people in the workplace who punch one another in the arm, come in on Monday mornings with their golf scores, and challenge one another to lunch-time hoops. If you’re overweight, they leave you alone. And if you’re morbidly obese, you can avoid most conversations altogether, if you prefer.
Being a little plump in the workplace is actually a preferred state among women. It’s a norm these days. Thinner women receive comments about their bodies from other women every day. Several times a day. Having 10-20 lbs. to lose is an acceptable place to be. Having less than that will draw comment. Having very much more than that will shut down the conversation.
Being a naturally non-competitive, introverted person, I have to say that plumpness did work for me. I entered the social norm, adopted an asexual form. Plump is easy and friendly. But obesity did not work for me at all. I enjoyed the androgyny of plumpness, but hated the seclusion of obesity.
But was masking my feminine body a motive to grow and remain heavy? I don’t know.
This confusion leads to the assignment. Pull out your journal or a few sheets of paper or fire up your writing software, and spend some time today, this weekend, soon, pondering the question: Is there any motive behind your weight gain? Explore all the possibilities: Masking, excusing, avoiding, hiding, punishing. From what? And why?
Why explore it? Well, if there is an underlying motive, it’s a good idea to find a way to address it, work with it more directly than muffling it with fat. If there is a hidden motive, we don’t want it swimming around underneath us, ready to grab our ankles, encourage our old eating and inert behaviors.
A caveat: It is possible with this sort of writing assignment to uncover things that are big and messy that you may have been ignoring or denying for some time. If you make one of those discoveries, you may want to call in a buddy, a counselor, a member of your clergy to help talk through it. Getting some help thinking through the big problems with a pro can save you lots of time.
And remember you may not have any motive for your extra weight at all. If there is no motive to uncover, forget this assignment and go for a walk instead.
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