I was raised in a home where appearances meant quite a lot. My mom was often found in the kitchen weighing her food on her white Weight Watchers scale. She couldn’t even walk down the mall without stopping at one of those infernal scales you often find there. God forbid she had gained a couple of pounds; the world would tilt on its axis. Where my father was concerned, life was all about being the most intelligent. He had a borderline genius IQ, and he expected a lot from my sister and me. She was older, made straight A’s in school, and was a virgin until after high school even though she dated the same boy all through high school. How could I compete with her? She took the pressure off me somewhat, but still…in my mind, I was never as intelligent as she. I was the popular one, into hairstyles, makeup, clothing and boys. That was the role I took on. I struggled in mathematics, while my sister eventually earned her Master’s degree in Statistics. In the world in which I was raised, if you were not talented in math and science, you were ignorant. Nevermind the fact that I excelled in English Literature and French, and loved to write poetry. Those things weren’t indicative of intelligence to my father. Mom often said “You’re just like me-not good at math.” So, that’s what I believed. It didn’t even occur to me that the block could’ve been in my head, not based in reality.
I started rebelling against my all-too conservative parents around age 12. I had my own views on things. I am sure I was a pain in the ass-stubborn to a fault and I certainly smarted off to my mom more than I should have. I seldom did to my father, though, because I was always somewhat afraid of him. Now that I have a teen with a penchant for smarting off to me, I feel karma has come around for sure. I always loved to sing, and so piano teacher mother that I had, she enrolled me in voice lessons. During my very first recital, I walked up onstage, saw my parents and sister looking up at me from the audience, and began crying while attempting to sing “The Lonely Ash Grove.” I knew they were all mortified, for I had embarrassed them. I managed to get through the song, but after that fiasco, I quit voice lessons. I eventually began lessons again with a different teacher, but again I quit prior to recital time. I’ve never sung publicly since that awful recital, even though it’s been a dream of mine to be a singer for as long as I can recall.
I started making myself vomit when I was around age 17. My friends were built with the enviable stick legs I always wished I’d been born with, and I guess I thought that if I starved myself enough, I’d end up with them as well. I would not eat breakfast or lunch, but then I’d eat dinner and a snack and make myself throw up. Sometimes I would vomit 4-5 times per day. The weight came off (I was never overweight to begin with), and at some point my mom realized what I was doing, but she never really did anything about it. That doesn’t really make sense to me, as a parent now. She was naive, though, and maybe that’s the reason for her inaction. I loved the sense of control I had over what I put in my body and what I allowed my body to digest. I felt more attractive than ever, and was completely and utterly obsessed with food and losing weight. During this time, I had a boyfriend that I saw through most of high school. He was older and quite good to me most of the time. I think he knew what I was doing as well; he certainly noticed I was losing weight.
Fast forward to about five years later, when I was newly married and living in Oklahoma (I grew up in West Texas). My then-husband and I flew home to see my parents, and the first thing my mom said to me was “I thought you said you lost weight.” Great to see you too, mom. I was overweight then because I was a practicing alcoholic. If you drink at least 12 beers a day, guess what? You’re going to gain weight. No way around it. So admittedly, I was fat. I knew it and I hated it. During that same visit, I was chatting in the kitchen with my parents. I tried to jump up onto the kitchen counter to sit, as I’d done hundreds of times growing up. I couldn’t lift myself, and my dad said “You can’t lift yourself up there” while laughing. While on the same lovely visit, we were somehow talking about driver licenses, and my mom asked to see mine. When I showed her the photo on my license, she made a face. I can’t recall what she said, but she didn’t need to say anything. She never did; it was always written all over her face. The photo was horrid because my face looked fat. Shortly after this trip, I got sober because I knew I was an alcoholic and headed for destruction, and the weight fell off. I began working out, cooking healthy food, I was in nursing school, and I really turned things around. My marriage flourished and my parents were proud of me. I was afraid to do anything to disappoint them or damage our happy relationship.
Thus began my many years of pretending to be the perfectly happy wife and eventually mother, too. I kept my spiritual and political views to myself when talking to my parents on the phone (I lived in Oklahoma, Kansas and Washington state during my marriage), I stifled my bohemian nature and morphed into the person I thought I was and should be. What others thought of me mattered a great deal. I remember one time, I had to run to the store at night. I was very pregnant and didn’t have my wedding ring on. I was horrified that someone at the store would think I was unmarried and pregnant! This is particularly funny to me now, as I sit here typing while nearly 8 months pregnant and unmarried-funny how life works out.
I, of course, am concerned with losing the weight once I have my baby. I’m pretty confident that I will struggle with body dysmorphia throughout my life. I will always think that bones sticking out look better than fat. Sick, I know, but that’s just the way I see things. I always hoped to be one of those women who would age gracefully, grow gray, not get plastic surgery and be fine with it all. Before I became pregnant, I had Botox and Juvederm done. Vain as it must sound, I’ll do it again after I have my baby. I understand that I will probably never look good enough to suit myself, and I absolutely believe that it’s completely superficial. There’s always that voice in my head, though that tells me I need to be the prettiest, the thinnest, the most intelligent, the most creative, the best mother, and on and on. I wonder if there will ever be a point at which I allow myself to believe and truly feel that mediocrity is really okay-that no one is keeping score anymore and the competition at this stage of the game is only in my own mind.