WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because every picture tells a story. Even if it’s not one you expect.
By Melinda Evette
To a fat person, one of the top five annoyances, right after unsolicited nutrition lectures while eating, is when a physically fit, or effortlessly nonfat, person asks, “How’d you get so big?”
Well, I took a left turn at the intersection of If I Knew That I Wouldn’t Be Fat and Screw Your Mother.
Unfortunately, even after you’ve figured out the root cause of your obesity — which often is not poor diet — dealt with it and are now at a healthy weight, you’ll still get this question when your fat past is exposed.
Most Nonfats ask out of genuine curiosity. They want a quick answer that makes sense: a back injury, pregnancy, the popular problematic thyroid. I either give a bland answer, or I take them deep into fat territory.
You see, I grew up as the youngest of four children in a military household ruled by my father’s moods and fists, and by both parents’ alcohol intake. I observed, quietly. At 6, I was just trying to figure out a way to survive without being beaten.
My father really had no use for boys. He said if he didn’t want to have sex with you, he didn’t love you. My mother was harmless then, busy covering bruises and black eyes for PTA meetings while surreptitiously sipping gin from leather flasks that matched her purse and high heels.
I didn’t have the tools at that age to combat sexual danger. But I knew fat women received scorn.
My father drank openly and had a love of sex and food. I was too young for the sex — biological connections didn’t really concern him — and had no particular feeling about food other than hating lima beans.
My father? Opinions about everyone in the family but me. My mother was a stupid hillbilly. My brother a punk. My eldest sister a dyke. My other sister a slut. Me? I decided I would be his buddy.
He’d always found my personality amusing, but that alone wasn’t enough to escape his belt. I ultimately curried favor by liking food as much as he did. When he slathered butter on his bread, I did too. After stuffing himself he’d sit on the couch, unbuckle his fatigues and release his gut. I’d sit beside him and do the same, inflating my belly with air so it would be extra impressive.
My father liked driving us cross-country with each new military posting, and when we arrived in California from Kansas, I was porky. The weather was so nice, I spent my days outside playing. My belly decreased. The remaining fat had shifted and settled in parts of my body that caught my father’s attention.
One afternoon while I was showering, my father burst into the bathroom wielding a camera. He opened the shower door and started taking pictures of me naked. I cringed, trying to cover myself, and screamed for my mother through sobs.
My father lowered the camera when my mom confronted him, told her that he was teasing. He wasn’t really going to send the pictures to Penthouse. At 9 years old, I knew what Penthouse was. That was the only time I remember my mother hitting him.
I’d avoided beatings by being my father’s little buddy. I didn’t have the tools at that age to combat sexual danger. But I knew fat women received scorn, when he bothered to even notice them. He didn’t think obese women were Penthouse-worthy.
So, the more he commented on my developing breasts, the more I would eat. I started my period that year, and tried to hide it. My mom found me crying in the bathroom and I admitted to her that I was bleeding a lot. She crouched down and asked me quietly if I had been putting anything in my “kitty cat.” No. Had anyone else?
Embarrassed, I answered honestly. No. “Not yet” hung heavy yet unsaid. I got fatter so that my father wouldn’t molest me. My parents divorced when I was 11, after my sister the Slut revealed he had molested her.
The overbearing, strict control of our home was gone. Alcohol and drugs were used openly; it wasn’t unusual to wake up in the morning to find strangers passed out on the living room floor or my sister’s boyfriend snoring next to me in my bed.
Food transformed from a protective shield to an emotional necessity.
I complained to my sister about her boyfriend coming into my room while I slept. She was upset. With me. She said she was suspicious that my 12-year-old self was secretly luring her 22-year-old man into my bed from hers.
I broke my bedroom doorknob so that it became a makeshift lock, and slept fully clothed.
They hoarded alcohol and fought over drugs; I stashed food and locked myself in my bedroom. That’s when food transformed from a protective shield to an emotional necessity. It was consistently, utterly dependable.
In public, my fat was like an invisibility cloak allowing me to drift relatively unnoticed. Taunts from schoolmates about being overweight were rare but didn’t faze me when they did occur. I was called much worse at home.
Finally, at the age of 25 and 290 pounds, I realized I was neither emotionally nor physically healthy. Although I’d avoided sexual abuse, and moved several states away from my family as soon as I turned 18, my mentality about men and food weren’t normal.
I lived using my family’s choices, mistakes and failures as if they were my own. I finally accepted how unhappy and bitter I was, but not why.
I dieted and sweated most of the weight off on treadmills but still avoided relationships, especially with men. I feared that I’d end up with men like those in my childhood, men who would control me. I would be like the other women in my family: stupid, weak, amoral and helpless where men were concerned.
When my looks started to attract too much male attention, I would ease up on my strict diet, maybe skip a few days of diet pills. I rode the fat escalator up and down for a few years until I developed Type 2 diabetes. I decided to have gastric bypass surgery.
Post-surgery, I was lost. I couldn’t hide physically anymore — baggy clothes offended my sense of style — and with every pound lost, I finally felt what it contained. I was in mourning. Lonely. Angry. Food was back to being only food. It could no longer save or soothe me.
If I could’ve reversed the surgery at that time I would have. I had no other coping skills and no way to turn off what I was feeling. I cried in my apartment while my body healed. I struggled to understand the reasons behind the obesity.
And I was receiving sexual overtures from men whom I had believed to be casual, buddy-like friends. The invisibility of the person under the fat was gone. I had to deal with it, ruthlessly. I confronted every belief I had, separating what was mine from my family’s.
I traveled. I felt free in temporary places with temporary people. I disposed of my virginity on an island in the Bahamas. Sex was nice. I had a lot more of it, but only with men who couldn’t affect anything about my life except an orgasm. I became more comfortable with being seen as sexually attractive.
It’s still a struggle to open up to people emotionally. I’ve had long-term sexual relationships, but sharing anything more than sex and casual friendship is something I’ve been unable to do.
I wish I’d just had a lazy thyroid.
- Melinda Evette, OZY AuthorContact Melinda Evette