Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Angry Fat Girls

I’m reviewing this book for Turbo Jennie, who was sweet enough to let me borrow it before she even got a chance to read it herself. (Shoot, I think I’m not supposed to tell people she’s sweet. I meant to say she’s one tough cookie.)

Angry Fat Girls started with a blog. (See, Charlotte? It’s just that easy. What’s the hold up? Kidding!) Frances Kuffel lost 188 pounds, gained more than half of it back, and blogged her way through the trials of trying to lose it again. Through her blog, she met other women in similar situations (including one woman who had gained over 200 pounds in just three years) and several of her readers became friends. Angry Fat Girls is about Frances and four of these women—Wendy, Mimi, Lindsey, and Katie—and follows a year of their journeys to lose weight and change their lives.

The stories of these women really hit home for me. Their relationships with their mothers made me take a look at how I grew up with my mother. I remember nights of eating baked chicken breast and getting “the look” if I reached for seconds of something…the steamed vegetables and the “do you really need that” conversations we had. When I looked for someone to blame for my weight, I blamed her because I felt deprived of things so when I actually got the chance to eat forbidden foods, I went at them with abandon, resulting in uncontrollable binges that grew more and more frequent as I gained independence. As much as my mother tried to help, she was nowhere near as controlling as the mothers of the Angry Fat Girls. One mother was so distressed at her daughter’s weight that she refused to let her go on a trip unless she lost ten pounds. The poor girl nearly starved herself trying to meet her mother’s expectations.

So many of the AFGs suffered from one eating disorder or another and their combined list of failed weight loss plans was extensive and daunting…especially since my own list is fairly comparable. Reviewing the statistics of their yo-yoing numbers on the scale was a familiar experience, as was the negative self-image each of the AFGs felt.

Angry Fat Girls revealed a formula of which I was not previously aware. For every 25 pounds a woman loses, it takes her brain a year to adjust. Twelve months for her brain to catch up and actually see the thinner woman she’s becoming. It makes sense. It’s why I still browse sale racks that contain clothing four sizes too big for me. Why it never occurs to me to try on a smaller size and I end up buying pants that hang down to my crotch because they’re too big. It’s why I just can’t fathom a man smiling at me when there are so many other women to choose from. In my head, I’m still the Fat Lady I was when my journey began. And, while I’m starting to gain confidence and actually see the changes between who I was and who I am, it’s a difficult passage.

Perhaps the most startling breakthrough I had while reading this book came late last night as I struggled to keep my eyes open, knowing I was just pages away from finishing the book. Frances and three of the AFGs were planning a get-together and trying to decide where to go and who wanted to see what. Inevitably, the answer was, “Whatever we do is fine.”

Whatever we do is fine. I hate those words. It’s a fat thing: I need people I’m traveling with or entertaining to have a good time so that they’ll a)forget what I look like, b)forget the weakness and slothfulness that I am, and c)be in debt to me, a fat person’s approximation of love. To make it all worse, I, a fat woman, was in charge of three fat women. The Fat Code would be in complete effect. No one would voice an opinion, a desire, a dislike, an objection. We’d look like a collection of bobble-head dolls, always deferring, always listening for the subtle code of disagreement: “If that’s what you want to do…” “Whatever you say…” “I’m just along for the ride…”

It’s a fat thing. I knew that there were perils of being a Fat Lady, but I didn’t realize how deeply it had affected me. The Fat Code completely applies to me. I don’t like to be the decision-maker. I don’t want to decide where to eat for dinner, what movie we should see, or what book our book club should read next. I don’t want to pick something that someone won’t like…don’t want anyone to remember that I’m the one who made a bad choice. Will knowing this change the way I feel about making decisions? Probably not, but I will certainly be more aware…and I will attempt an effort to voice my opinions more often.

Angry Fat Girls was a great read and I certainly recommend it. In being a voyeur of these five women, it really made me look at how I see myself and how others see me. Whether you’ve been an Angry Fat Girl, you are one, or you know one, it will definitely give some insight into the minds and hopes of Fat Ladies everywhere.

Monday, February 08, 2010

I Can't Fight this Feeling

Traffic this morning was not fun. Lately, it’s been my “alone” time. Stolen moments to myself when I can crank up the radio and sing as loud as I want or talk to a friend on my Bluetooth without little ears to overhear and big mouths to interrupt. Today, the sign above the highway indicated my normal nine-minute-drive would take twenty-five. In reality, it took more than forty-five minutes, hindered by snow, poorly plowed roads, and busses moving on and off the shoulder.

The bridge over the river is an obstacle I endure daily. Since the 35W bridge collapse in 2007, I approach it wearily on most days, but I’m more apprehensive if traffic is backed up and I can see brake lights. My anxiety is worse yet if there is snow on the road. In my mind, the extra weight of the snow, combined with hundreds of vehicles idling while waiting to cross the bridge is the recipe for a disastrous repeat. On days I feel the trepidation rising, I try to distract myself with a phone call to my mom, a blast from the radio, a loud, off-key show tune…anything to get my mind off the stretch of bridge ahead of me. Other days, the uneasiness I feel turns into a full-blown panic attack.

Today was not a good day.

I was concentrating on the snowfall and keeping my windshield clear. The car behind me was intermittently flashing his brights at people who dared to come between us as he attempted to keep five or six car lengths between himself and the car in front of him. A bus on the shoulder was impeding traffic trying to merge onto the highway. I was listening to songs from Glee, wondering how in the world I’m going to make it until the show comes back on the air in April. My subconscious, though, knew the bridge was looming ahead.

My hands gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white and I suddenly found myself unable to breathe. My chest tightened as I forced air in and out of my lungs, cursing when I discovered I had already passed the last exit before the bridge. I have a friend that lives nearby and I knew she would understand and let me hang out for a little while if I showed up on her doorstep, too afraid to cross the bridge.

The tears came then, stinging my eyes and choking me as my breath came in short bursts, accompanied by frantic sobs that sounded foreign to my ears. I wanted to turn up the radio to drown out my hysteria, but that would mean letting go of the steering wheel, which I held in a vice grip. In the center lane, I concentrated on the car in front of me. A cement truck pulled up along side my small sedan. Too heavy! That truck is too heavy! Get off the bridge! My mind screamed. I squeezed my eyes closed for a second, forcing myself to open them again and focus on the road directly ahead.

Images and thoughts filled my head and I wondered, for the millionth time, why I hadn’t invested in one of those tools that can slash though a seatbelt and break the car window in the event of an emergency. I had a plan, though. I’ve had it in the back of my mind for the last two and a half years. If the bridge started to crumble, I would throw on my emergency brake and open my power windows before the car started to fall so I could climb out before I hit the water below. I ignored the voice in my head telling me it was too cold…the river was mostly ice…there’s no way I would make it.

I stared out my windshield at the sea of brake lights creeping over the pavement, silently willing the cars blocking my escape to move out of the way. Okay, my pleas were not so silent. In reality, I screamed at them, my sobs making the appeals almost unrecognizable. GO!

After several minutes a few hours an eternity, I finally made it to the other side of the bridge. I contemplated taking the first exit to sit in the parking lot of a deserted gas station and cry for a while, but I was already flirting with being late to work. Instead, I loosened my grip on the steering wheel, and rolled my shoulders a couple of times. My entire body ached with tension. The crying continued sporadically until I reached my office building. In the parking lot, a woman I didn’t know grinned and greeted me with a comment about our everlasting winter. I offered her a weak smile, but couldn’t come up with a response. Shaking legs carried me into the building, where I stared at my reflection in the mirrored wall of the elevator. I looked tired. A little pale, but the image starting back at me certainly didn’t echo the anguish I’d endured this morning.

Crossing the bridge brings me a panic attack a couple of times a month. I never know when they’ll strike. While they’re more likely to happen when the weather (and therefore traffic) is bad, they can hit on a clear day when traffic is moving quickly, too. In May, I’m starting a new position at one of our locations less than four miles from my house. No highway. No river. No bridge.

Only seventy days left. And one hundred and forty more chances for absolute, uncontrollable panic.