I don’t want to give the wrong impression, my parents were both pretty good about most things. However, I spoke to my sister on the phone today and she reminded me that our mother had once been anorexic. That’s easy for me to forget because for most of my life she’s been obese. She has told us many times that she feels that she suffers from an eating disorder.
The poem by Philip Larkin that I quoted in the title goes on to say
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
For most of my adult life, I had a BMI of approximately 20. Unlike my mother, I was never anorexic. I first started dieting at about the age of twelve. As far as I know, I was not officially overweight and the doctor had said nothing. I dieted for my appearance. That began years of being obsessed with my weight. Although I was not anorexic, I do think I suffered from what is called body dysmorphia. I wore a size zero dress and a size two pant, but I thought I still needed to lose weight and felt ugly. I weighed myself everyday and kept a diary tracking my weight. I could probably tell you my weight at any given life milestone. How much I weighed the day I met my ex-husband, when I graduated from college, when I got married, and so on.
My blood pressure was eighty over sixty and I would get dizzy if I stood up too quickly. Probably I never became anorexic because the symptoms of low blood pressure would become problematic when I dropped below one hundred and eight or nine pounds.
Although I’ve never been diagnosed with body dysmorphia, I have been diagnosed with some of the illnesses with which it is associated, general anxiety, social anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. I was hospitalized for a major depressive episode about two years ago. My mother, of course, knows about the hospitalization.
A few years ago, before I got depressed, I made a resolution to stop weighing myself daily. Somehow, one day I woke up and looked at my behavior and said to myself, “This is a little too much. This isn’t healthy.” Since then, I’ve been trying to detach my sense of self from my weight. My “beauty strike” came a couple of years after I stopped weighing myself on a daily basis. I stopped taking an interest in my appearance after I got depressed and asked people, including my mother, not to talk to me about it. Part of the idea behind the beauty strike in the first place was to attempt to distinguish between how I wanted to look and how other people wanted me to look. Within the past few months, I’ve started to be interested my appearance again. In a way, this is one of the most vulnerable moments for me. Far more vulnerable than the turning inward that the strike represented. I should have known better than to involve my mother.
One thing you may have noticed is that I haven’t said a word about health other than mental health. It must be understood that all this dieting as been entirely about appearance. I may very well be healthier now than when I was thinner and I am not medically obese now. I actually exercise more now. I was not thin because I exercised. I was thin because I didn’t eat.