Tuesday, December 8, 2009

F-Bomb Alert: Skeletor Issues

A few months back, Miss D. was at a swanky birthday party (snark about parents who have stinking PONIES at their kids' parties is forthcoming). A ginormous cake was brought out, the ice cream followed, and portions were doled out to eager partygoers. Miss D., who doesn't have a subtle bone in her body, dug into her piece with ferocity. And then a girl, adorable in her frilly dress, looked askance at my child and said, in a sing-song voice..."Eww. That's going to make you fat."

That little bitch. Yeah, I just called a little girl a bitch. In fact, I wanted to punch her in her pretty freckled face. And sure, it's wrong to want to deck a 2nd grader, but when I saw Miss D., formerly so enthusiastic about her cake, take in what this girl had said, stricken, and hesitate....

Fuck. Why, why, why did I wish for girls?

Because get this. That little girl at the party? The Future President of the Bulimic Club in high school? I hate her. But I hate her Mommy more.

Yeppers. I blame that girl's Mommy. Without hesitation. Because, let's face it, that's what Mommies do. We fuck up our daughters about food.

Which, as I write this, makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Because if Miss D. or Miss M. gets fucked up about food, I will slit my throat.

Because once, I was fucked up about food, and it almost killed me. And even though it was ME bent over the toilet, puking up my dinner, was ME exercising until my muscles screamed, was ME who fainted in the college dorm shower after three days without food, was ME who came home for Christmas break weighing 85 pounds Freshman year of college...everyone blamed my mother.

Because that's who people blame when a daughter runs amok.

But I will tell you with utmost certainty that my mother did not fuck me up about food. She was slender but didn't seem to work at it, nor did she ever utter the phrase, "I feel/look fat." Our family sat down together for dinner every night of the week. My sister and I were neither praised nor berated if we cleaned our plates. Everyone ate the same meal; there was no spaghetti-for-the-family-while-Mommy-eats-a-lettuce-leaf bullshit going on. We kept candy and cookies in the house, openly and always. My sister and I were loved and told that we were beautiful and had good brains. My mother and father never, not once, snidely commented on my body.

And yet I got fucked up--dangerously fucked up--about food.

And I will tell you how easy, how mind-numbingly easy it is to start being fucked up about food. Because I remember the exact moment I started.

February 23, 1984. It is my birthday. I am in the 8th grade. The week before, I'd injured my knee skiing, so I was on crutches and rocking a glamorous leg brace. As per family tradition, we were eating at the restaurant of my choice. I can't remember the name of the place, but I do remember my order: Fried Shrimp. Which I loved.(I mean, shit, who doesn't?)

I was happy. My parents had given me my first pair of diamond earrings; little chips of things, but in my eyes, they signified that I was growing up, and cherished, and trusted to have such nice things. The waiter was charming and teased me gently about my injury. My dinner was delicious and the banter at the table lively.

And then halfway through dinner, my sister, almost four years my senior, looked at my plate and said sotto vocce, "You keep eating like that and you're going to get fat. Especially on crutches."

I don't think she really meant much by it. Although, knowing her, it is possible. But the reason I remember this moment so clearly is that there was, for me, a complete seismic shift. You think I exaggerate, but I don't. My dinner, my Happy Birthday to Me plate of exactly the food that I wanted, turned traitor, blurred in a swell of tears. I am 14. I have boys who flirt with me and I am a thin 5'7 and 110 pounds, but suddenly, things are different, newly clear.

I bow my head, mutter an excuse, grab my crutches and limp to the bathroom, where I stick my finger down my throat for the first time. The bile burns and my eyes leak and I keep gagging clumsily, but after I am emptied, I feel clean.

I was 14 years old. It took one moment. Just one thoughtless comment. And my life is de-railed for 10 years.

So who, caterpillars, is to blame?

Not Mama. Not Daddy. Not my sister, although she was an asshole. Not the fashion magazines. Not my peers.

I am to blame.

There are plenty of excuses out there: It's about control issues. It's about depression. It's about perfectionism. It's about society's focus on appearance...

Well, pardon me, but fuck those excuses and the horse they rode in on.

I am to blame.

Deep down, I didn't trust myself to be enough. Of anything. All my life I'd been told that I was good and sweet and smart and beautiful, but I'd never once believed it.

Instead, I chose to believe the bully who told me I had ugly legs. I chose to believe the sister, who in moments of anger said she hated me. I chose to believe the gym teacher who said I was weak. I chose to believe the math test that screamed--Moron! I chose to believe the boys who never asked me to dance.

You know what's amazing about those 10 years I spent being immensely fucked up about food?

I functioned.

Somehow, I functioned quite well. I aced tests, graduated Phi Beta Kappa. I wore baggy clothes and had boys willing to kiss me. I rarely got sick and had amazing stamina. I got into graduate school.

And I remember almost zero of it.

That's right. I don't remember books I read, lectures I attended, concepts I studied, conversations I had, places I went. Damn near zero.

Being fucked up about food cost me 10 years of my life. And I am to blame. Because I was given everything a girl could ask for but I still had this thing--a fault line running through me--deep and wicked and shrieking that I was no good. And that was what I chose to believe.

I don't know why some girls have fault lines and others escape. That's what keeps me up at night, now that I'm the mother of girls.

I do what my Mama did. I cuddle them and tell them to try again, because it's rare that someone succeeds on the first try. I tell them that they have quick minds and gentle hearts. I laugh as they help me in the kitchen, offer up a spoon to a willing mouth.

But part of me is standing in the shadows, waiting. Wringing her hands.


  1. Kitch. Oh sweetness. You sing to me. You do and you don't hardly know it. This is poignant. This is vulnerable. This is youth and innocence and idiocy.

    I was going to stay sober tonight. But I'm headed to the pantry. Grabbing that bottle of Captain. And tipping my hat to you, TKW.

  2. Who knows why some of us get those deep, dark fault lines. I empathize. Not going to go into detail, but I felt every word in that post.

    But I do wish for girls. I wish for them because I'd rather be able to use what I've learned the hard way to make life better for them, should the need ever arise, gods forbid. Even if, through nobody's fault but that of their internal makeup, they find themselves in a bad place with food, I'll at least be able to say to them, I have been there and it is a hard road out but I'll be with you the whole way.

    Hugs for you and Miss D. I would have wanted to give that little girl's mother a phone call she'd remember (though I don't know if I would actually have gone through with it).

  3. That was an amazing post. Thank you for sharing. While your mom was not to blame, that little girl's mom is because no child should worry about being fat at 7 years old. I believe you can use your past as a way to protect your girls. And there are some outstanding books out there to help parents raise girls through those tough middle and high school years. You'll be wonderful! And so will your girls!

  4. I'm trembling with the beauty and truth of this post and everything it says about what society (not to mention older sisters and little girls at parties) does to women and what we do to ourselves. Thank you for sharing this story, Kitch, for sharing this part of you.

  5. I was scared shitless when we found out our second was a girl. I kid you not. For reasons that lie within your post, and things that happened to me that my parents couldn't have foreseen, prevented, or helped with. Being a woman sucks. But it's also wonderful and empowering, if we can just get out of our own ways and out of our own heads.
    Beautiful brave words.

  6. NO! You can't air our secret fears!! The damage we can do as mothers - the power of my words - my actions - my looks, terrify me. I call her my "piggy monster" and talk about her adorable thighs and chubby belly - and worry about when she will resent me for it, when I mean it out of pure, amazing love.
    Damn you, witch, I am wringing my hands.

  7. This is an amazing post. I think this transcends being fucked up about food. It can be fucked up about men, fucked up about friends... it all seems to come back to what you said about not trusting yourself to be good enough. I don't have answers about how to keep our children from spitting from these fault lines. I do intend to raise a son that will see the true beauty of a woman and hope that small drop in the bucket helps this world somehow.


  8. We are all born with fault lines. Some are better at keeping them hidden under the dirt, some are always exposed.

  9. Wow - amazing post. I can relate to so much of this and I also tread so carefully around food issues with my daughter. I am near obsessive about making sure I'm not obsessive about what she eats or how she perceives comments about food. Unlike you, food was a huge topic of conversation in my family growing up and it effected me terribly, so I try to not make it one in my house.
    I know what it's like to feel out of control with everything but knowing how to CONTROL food... I wish I could figure out a way to help H feel in control as she gets older, to have confidence and feel STRONG. It's so scary.

    And honestly, I would have clocked that girl.

    I truly, truly loved this post as hard as it may have been for you to write.

  10. I am speechless. What an amazing, soul-wrenching post! And it hits me right in the heart, because I have a daughter, too, and obsess about her relationship with food. I'm trying so hard not to fuck it up for her; I'm afraid I'm trying so hard I will fuck it up anyway! Guess I will join you in the hand wringing corner.
    Thank you for being so brave, and allowing us all a glimpse into your self.

  11. Good for you. Good for you for the honesty and the courage to call it what it is and the courage to say that there are no answers. As a mother of boys, as someone who never felt pretty enough, as just ME... thank you for a beautiful post.

  12. Incredible post. Funny, poignant, brutally honest. Wonderfully written - and important.

    Believe it or not, while considerably less susceptible than girls, tween and teen boys (11 - 15 from what I can tell) start getting very body conscious as well, and worried about being fat. That I found astonishing, and had to reassure my completely "normal weight" sons that they were completely normal - until they started to sprout vertically and breathe a sigh of relief that, indeed, their bodies were evening out.

  13. This is so touching--you gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. Your insight is phenomenal and your ability to look at yourself is something to be proud of.

    Your little girls are lucky to have you for their mother.

    I wish you could know that. I bet they do know it.

  14. This is such an important post. I am so glad you were brave enough to post it. Your vulnerabilities. Your weaknesses. Things that I relate to, all too well.

    I am trying to encourage healthy eating, but I also joke about being fat. Your post reminded me I need to be so careful. I also need to keep a close relationship with my girl(s?) to understand what they are going through.

  15. have you read burp and slurp you would really relate but your right we have to be so careful what we say to lil ones

  16. I feel your fear. My Girl is already freaked out about clothes. She's four. I could care less about clothes and rarely even talk about them. But for some reason, she worries about what people will think about her clothes, doesn't want anyone to see her in a coat, and cries when she tries to figure out what to wear.

    How does this happen? Last night, I asked her why she doesn't believe me when I tell her that she looks great. She just cried.

  17. What an amazing post. Unfortunately I'm not as eloquent as you so I can't properly express how this post made me feel.

    You have written an incredibly honest psot and I applaud you for not blaming everyone else, although I don't know that it was your fault as such because, like you said, you have a deep fault line running through you that can be hard to control.

    Babies are a long way in the future for me but I so desperately don't want a girl and would worry all the time about the things I was saying and doing as a mother. (But that's why they're a long way in the future!)

    Thank you again.

  18. Miss D and Miss M will both be great and have no issues because they have such a wonderful mommy. (((HUGS)))

    And being the mom to 2 girls 1 who is a teen, it is hard to watch, it is hard to not say things, my biggest worry now is keeping them healthy and non diabetic. Especially whn my teen adores comfort food just like her momma.

  19. I'm not sure what to write...there's a lot of passion there...it makes me think about my thoughtless comments to my sister in the past...and how one little thing can trigger off so much...I'm so sorry that you had to go through all of that...but I am relieved that you came out the otherside and learnt a lot from it. We all have our demons, our dark side, our insecurities...sometimes they play havoc and can take a long time to reign in - sometimes we never gain control again...human nature is very strange at times and requires a lot of understanding...I hope Miss D ignored the silly little girl and returned to her cake with gusto? xxx

  20. My fault line has been at bay for awhile now but I heard subtle rumblings as i read your post. Thank you for the honesty. Its going to be your total honesty and awareness of the world around you and your family that is going to make your girls develop into women in this crazy world. Will they still find some monster to deal with? Maybe. But will they have a mom there telling them they are smart and have kind hearts? Yes. And that is all that matters. You can only take them so far...

  21. Thank you for sharing this story. It's amazing how one brief moment can so dramatically shape our lives.

  22. Oh, TKW. We could have a good conversation about this. I battled anorexia and extreme exercise for years and years...and still struggle with self-esteem issues. I worry about my kids too...and I have boys. I don't think anyone's immune. And I remember the exact moment of my seismic shift too...exactly. It's so scary. I want to beat up that 2nd grader too. I've got your back.

  23. Oh. My. God. That was probably the most....I am at a loss for words. You are sooo brave. Sooo amazing. This post has touched me in ways I can't even describe right now. I'm speechless. You are my hero - and I truly, truly mean that.

  24. Powerful stuff here. Well written and I,m sure difficult to put in words, but thank you for doing it. As a Mother of a Son, I never had to face these issues, but I have a Granddaughter now and see how much more sensitive she is to world around her. You have my respect.

  25. It pisses me off more than I can articulate how much society and that girl pisss me off.

  26. This is such a moving post. Love you friend! It really does all boil down to not feeling that you are enough. I wish I could say I've solved that one, but in truth I struggle with it weekly. Your experiences will allow you to equip your girls with understanding and tools to deal with life. They are already strong passionate kids, and I know this will carry on into adulthood.

  27. I'm commenting here before I read the rest of your comments, because I don't want to get sidetracked. (But now the damn baby woke up, so I'm getting sidetracked.) Damnit, I'm gonna have to come back. (So why am I even posting this? Gah. Just so you know I've been here. And I have things to say!)

  28. Thanks for this. As someone who also spent many years being screwed up about food, your words resonated with me. Also, I appreciate your taking responsibility for your behavior. Although, at 14 I think we are still vulnerable and impressionable enough that the reasons spread beyond merely having made a bad decision. I don't think you should have to own it so fully. You were 14 - hardly old enough to fully comprehend the spiral you were setting into motion.

  29. Your girls will be fine! They have you as a mom, and that's reason enough. Unfortunately you can't always be there to protect them from bitchy girls that make stupid comments, but if they have your same sense of humor and outlook on life they will do the right thing: they will ignore them. Laugh about them. And quickly forget about them. We all struggle with "not being enough". Girls and boys. Young and old. I know I do.

  30. At first, I was smiling at your gift of writing...then, I began to relate. More than you could ever know. I can't even say what events led to my constant search for perfection-- for approval from my mother, never quite feeling like I could measure up. Still, I know my mother passed on her own struggles from her own mom. Parenting is tough. We have so much influence on our kids-- SO much power. I'm dealing with a son who is fighting for recovery from addiction. I have to weigh everything I say, trying now to cut him down but to lift him up. Bless you, seriously, for owning up to your choices. That's pretty f'in amazing. More moms should read this.

  31. Thank you. I feel better now. And in some ways I'm scared even more shitless. We've all heard all the explanations for this and that, and the blame and the responsibility. And I've NEVER heard ANYONE take responsibility the way you have. Wow.

    I've always wondered how ONE MINOR INCIDENT can make such a profound impact. It's happened to me too.

    I'm gonna read this again. And again

  32. Why am I perennially late? Must work on this.

    I don't really have the words to respond adequately to this exquisitely heartbreaking post. I think you are exceedingly smart and brave. I think you are a good mother and person for excavating your emotional past. This post is ruefully raw and smacks of reality and ownership and longing.

    As one of five sisters and the mom of two young girls, I think about this all the time. How words, simple words, strung together clumsily can change a life, a person, deeply. This scares me. There are words everywhere - floating in minds and in classrooms and at birthday parties.

    I have not weathered anything remotely like what you describe here, but I do worry and constantly about the body thing - http://ivyleagueinsecurities.com/2009/10/the-body-thing/

    I hope you are finally in a place where you realize how smart and beautiful you are.

  33. I love you, TKW. What an amazing post. I am so glad that you made it and are no longer fucked up by food. Even more amazing? You write a food blog that makes me salivate every time I read it. Although I have to admit, I don't really consider your blog a food blog. It's TKW's blog.


    I love my two girls to pieces. I love having girls. I love all of their girly experiences that they have already had, and I already love the ones they have yet to have. Yet, I am terrified. I am terrified that they won't love their bodies, or be hurt by something some idiot tells them. Have I given them enough armor? Have I given them the right words? Will they be tough enough? And if they can't be tough, will I be strong enough to help them when they fall?

    But you are right, there is only so much we can do. After that, we just love them and hold them, as I am sure your Mama did for you. I do know one thing...your girls sure are lucky to have you as their Mama.

  34. If only our friends could see themselves the way we see them. If only you could see yourself the way I see you.


  35. My older brother also had a major asshole moment that scarred me for a while, but I was fortunate in that my mom was normally good about not making food an issue.

    Hokey as it sounds, I have to say that being in groups like the Girl Scouts did help--if you have a really good troop and troop leaders it can be a very girl-positive-power environment that can boost self-esteem.

    All of this horseshit is why I'm terrified myself to have girls.

  36. Beautiful. striking. touching. scarey. true. Thank you. :)

  37. Oh, you are a brave, brave warrior, TKW. I so admire you for your willingness to write about your ordeal and so beautifully at that. Your girls are very lucky that they have you for a mama. You will help them get through. I worry about these same ordeals and others with my girls. I get that knot in the middle of my stomach when I think of what can happen. Damn that girls mother for bringing such ideas forth in second grade! Keep your little one far from her. That is going to be a whole mess of trouble over there...

  38. Holy fucking shit.

    I can't believe how painful and beautiful and tortured and self-aware this post is. I can't believe that little bitch and her horrible family.

    What I can believe is that this happens all the time. The cake, the shrimp, the being fucked up about food. Ah, Kitch. More to say than I have space for. But hugs to the now you, to the then you, to the way back then you. And hugs to thinking, scared moms of girls everywhere because now I have to go beat the piss out of society for all of us.

  39. In all honesty, I've been trying to write this post for months. But I've been scared of it. It says a lot about me that is weak and wrecked and wrong. But that's not why I didn't want to post it.

    I didn't want to post it because I knew it would be hard for my mom and dad to read, and it was. They did read it. It hurt them to read it, and I'm not proud of that.

    And, like some of you have so gracefully put, I worry that by being *so* diligent about not making food and issue, that it will become an issue.

    But I'm grateful for the girls at Momalom, who force me to finish The Post That Was Going Nowhere for 5 Months because I was afraid of it. Because I'm not sure what I feel more: fear or shame.

  40. This is an incredible post and it really speaks to me; as a mother to two girls I am already dreading the day my babies complain about the size of their thighs.

    It's a very fine line between the right encouragement and inciting the food-fuckupedness, and I'm not sure we ever learn to walk it with grace or confidence. Kinda like my grammar tonight.

  41. Damn.

    Here, have a hug. Seriously, that's... *shakes head* I can't really even fathom that kind of ordeal, let alone the anxiety of it happening to your children.

    So if you can point me in the direction of that bitch of a second grader, I'll go break her fucking kneecaps.

  42. TKW - Thank you! This writing is powerful! And, BLW is right that it is not just girls although girls do seem more susceptible. My 15 year old son is constantly telling me he is fat (5'11" and 179).

    We have to do what we can to support a better image of ourselves so we can support a better image of our children for themselves.

  43. ((((((((((TKW)))))))))) Love you, sweets. Someone called you a warrior, and that's exactly right. Brave, courageous, and fearless. Even though you say you were afraid to write this post, you did it. And it's amazing.

  44. I read this post yesterday, but didn't have time to comment then. HUGS! Hopefully because of all you went through, your daughters won't follow the same path.

    And I agree, that little girl who said that is a bitch!

    And whenever you are in the NW suburbs of Chicago, you are always welcome for dinner! :D

  45. This happens with boys, too. My second grader son, who is admitedly chubby, keeps coming home asking me if I think he needs to go on a diet, because his friends and his grandparents keep telling him he should. Such bullshit.

  46. Nice piece of writing! I really enjoyed the read. I had/have a fault line too that eventually I turned into a positive thing and relearned some things about not only food but about my body, health and attitudes. The emergency room with a blood sugar level in the low 50's that was not respponding to glucose was a wake up call. I'm not diabetic. I remember the Dr telling me "you need to eat, you've depleted your stores and your liver can't even make anymore". It effected my brain function. I'm still judgemental about ghastly unhealthy people, fat or not, when they just dont care about their health. I'm sorry if that makes me a rude person. I do try to not be and I always try hard to do my best and to be my best. I threw up my first hot fudge, ice cream, carmel and whipped cream, sundae - brownie whenI was 8 years old at my Grandmothers house in the middle of the night by virtue of syrup of epicac. However that's spelled. I'll be 39 in 2 days and only had my "eye opener" at the emergency room about a year ago. I'm still a work in progress but I'm okay now for the most part. I still only eat whole grain breads, fresh fruits and veggies, V8 and meats that I cook myself. I wont eat processed foods. It's a hang up of mine. I dont like all the crap they put in foods anymore. If I can't pronouce it, I sure dont want to eat it. I also started a garden. :-)

  47. I'm not sure what to say, everything sounds rather trite. I will say that you are one brave lady and I admire your courage.

  48. @ passions and soapboxes

    I think part of the problem is that isn't trite enough as far as writing goes or speaking goes. It's something that young women suffer from in silence. Yes, that little girl was a bitch and her mother should be slapped. I can see her in 10 years with major issues. People should be healthy. Being underweight has many or more, health concerns as being overweight but unfortunatley people dont talk about it enough. :-)

  49. I don't know that I have ever heard words so articulately describe an eating disorder. I am particularly moved by your comment about all the things you missed in those years, how little you remember. As a nutritionist and mother so much of this stuck a cord. I wish parenting could reinforce our fault lines. If it does, your girls are in good shape from what I read.

  50. Very moving. Thanks for sharing your story! I wrestled a different beast at that age, and I don't remember any of it either.

  51. a fault line. Thank you for giving a name to this thing many of us share. Those moments when a life changes because of a few careless words are truly stunning. I'm mother to two daughters 13 and 17. I have spent a great deal of energy pretending I'm a little more happy go lucky than I am about weight and the F-word wasn't used in our house until a few years ago. (like everything else in popular culture, eventually it rushes in) Just being aware as you are about this, will help your daughter(s?)immensely. Now if we could just do something about all the creepy females out there :)

  52. First off, Congrat's! I hate to say, that I am all too familar with that "way" of life. I don't do it anymore, but having a "Eating Disorder" has been a life long battle for me. Mine was started because of my family and fat jokes (and honestly I wasnt even fat)My mom also has an skewed self imagine, and because of two generations of this, it has been passed down to my daughter(the self imagine part)My dauther is over weight, but no matter what you say or don't say, I dont know if there is a way to ever make it right.

  53. You hit the nail on the head. Its the mothers, grandmothers, babysitters and well-meaning neighbors who push little girls over the edge into the abyss of eating disorders.
    Why do tabloids pick on the most glamourous movie stars for being too thin? Because the camera adds 10-15 pounds. The un-retouched paparazzi shots show the horrors of food absintence. Eating disorders are a dangerous addiction. Just say no! Enjoy your cake and celebrate everyday of good health.