“I almost didn’t go this year,” my friend told me. “I almost said I was sick, came up with an excuse. I seriously thought about not going.” My friend was referring to an annual reunion with some college friends that she hadn’t missed in many years. Her smile turned a little mournful. I asked her what was going on.
“I’m embarrassed about how much weight I’ve gained,” she admitted. “I don’t want my friends to see me this way.” She was afraid they might “recoil in horror” when they saw her. I was 100% sure they would not.
I’m not sure there is any good way to respond to a friend saying, “I’m embarrassed I’m so fat.” Everything “nice” sounds disingenuous. If she says she has gained weight, then she’s gained weight. I could tell her that she looks great anyway, that she is beautiful, smart, thoughtful, generous, funny, that no one cares if she’s put on a few pounds– and I did tell her these things, because they are all true—but she is an intelligent woman in her early 60’s; she feels what she feels. She knows that she can’t fit in to the pants she wore last year, and I totally get how much that sucks.
“I’ve been there. We’ve ALL been there,” I added, speaking on behalf of women-kind. Because most women I know totally understand how miserable you feel when you feel fat. Most of us were not born skinny. Most of us have struggled with weight issues, and have dieted, failed, dieted, failed, too many times to count. And I use the word “failed” deliberately, because that is what if feels like when you gain weight back—a colossal failure.
Even at middle age—and maybe especially at middle age, when menopause takes its toll on our figures, we talk about our weight, what we are putting in our mouths, how big our asses, hips, or our bellies are, or how our arm fat jiggles. It’s tiring, yet a few pounds can still wreck our enjoyment of a family event, more than a few can wreck a week, a year, or even more.
As my friend was telling me this story, I couldn’t help but think, “At what age to we let this go?” Certainly not our 50’s or our 60’s….but is there hope for our 70’s or 80’s? Do we go to our 65th reunions wondering if our 86 year old asses look fat in that dress? Why does this issue of weight continue to haunt women well into middle age? And would a grown man with a gigantic pot belly hanging over his belt ever feel like he was too fat to go to a reunion?
I get weighed every month at my oncology appointment. It’s worse than the injection in my ass that follows. The “weighing in,” which is part of the “taking the vitals,” provokes an anxiety in me that is really hard to explain. I’m a woman with cancer, and I worry more about my weight than the cancer cells that are swarming around my right breast.
The nurse and I go through this little dance every month:
“Step on the scale,” the she tells me.
“I don’t want to know if I lost or gained weight,” I tell her. “And I don’t want to know how much I weigh.”
“Ok, turn around on the scale, and you don’t have to see the numbers.”
“OK. I know it’s not good.“ And as I say this, I know that the only “not good” in oncology is if you are losing weight. And that thought makes me feel even more uncomfortable. “Here comes the nutcase,” I can hear her thinking.
“Step on the scale, please.”
“I really don’t want to know, so don’t tell me. Don’t forget and blurt it out.”
“Ok. You don’t have to know. Step on the scale.”
Sometimes, despite my warnings, she tells me I am the same as last month. Sometimes she doesn’t say a thing, and I find myself up in the middle of the night worrying about what that means.
I don’t want to know, because if I have gained weight, then I have to face the music and stop drinking an abundance of beer, wine and tequila and eating so many chips, cheese, guacamole, dark chocolate and peppermint stick ice cream. And I don’t have the energy for that right now.
But if I were sane, if I could get over this weight thing for even 5 minutes, I would embrace my healthy appetite, because it is when you are losing weight, (and not trying to) that’s when you really have to worry.
My mother was, at different times of her life, thin, chubby, a little fat, obese. She told me many times, “I’ve never been full in my life.” Food was a huge part of her life– she absolutely loved food. She loved to cook, to eat, and she loved to eat while she cooked. Who doesn’t?
But in the last years of her life, my mother started shrinking. Every time she went to the doctor to be weighed, she lost weight—an ounce or two, a quarter pound, a half pound. Food stopped tasting good. She’d order a corned beef sandwich, take two bites, and tell me she couldn’t eat any more- she was full. (I’d finish hers- there are still children starving in Africa, after all.)
And that loss of appetite, that inability to get excited by food, was an indication that things were not going well for my mother. Eventually, she had no ass, no hips, toothpicks for legs, and a skeleton face…and then that was the end.
So, every time I try and pull those snug jeans over my hips, every time I can’t zip up the skirt, every time I feel like I am busting out of the top I wore last year, I’m going to try to be happy that I have a healthy appetite, that food tastes good, that I want to eat and drink with gusto.
From what I can see, it won’t always be that way, and what a shame it will be if the only time I can really enjoy food is the time when I really can’t enjoy food.
So if I make it to 85, and food still tastes good, I promise to meet a friend once a week for a martini and an ice cream sundae. Who’s game? I just want to warn you: I’m not sharing.