COCKROACH IN SCALES
The other morning
There was a cockroach,
A big black shiny one,
trapped in the face of
As it waved its feelers back
at my looming face
trying to see if I was
(but never just right),
I thought it made a lot
For I’m a lousy housewife:
dusting, sweeping, what a waste of
And I’m a hopeless dieter,
fat and thin by turns.
So the cockroach in my scales
reflected both failures
What a way to start the day!
Over the years my weight has fluctuated wildly from slim to fat, so much so that I’ve felt like a human accordion at times, going in and out at the speed of light. I can’t say I’ve been conscious of whether I’ve been slim or fat because, regardless of my size, I was never aware of gaining or losing weight (apart from buying different dress sizes!).
I know many of my weight issues have been emotional, but also I’ve done a lot of reading about diets, weight, BMI, etc., because when I was young the hysteria around obesity and low-fat diets just didn’t exist. I do know that my weight has exercised the minds of far more people than it has mine. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard people say: “But you don’t eat a lot” and realised they’ve been scrutinising what I eat which gets right up my nose. It’s no-one’s business but mine what I eat, keep your nose out of my plate! As I said in my previous post, I’m also aware that when I walk into a doctor’s surgery their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and then look somewhat taken aback by results well in the healthy range.
I was also, decades ago, stupid enough to agree to go to a fat farm to lose weight when it was suggested by the organisation I worked for,and I really regret it. I lost 14 lbs in one week, with a mainly fruit juice diet, but of course, when I got back to the real world, the weight boomeranged back and then some. And it started me on a bit of a habit of fasting, then eating, and so on, which really has stuffed my body’s metabolism. I should have had the guts to tell them to poke their fat farm where the sun don’t shine, and that’s precisely what I would do today.
The day after I started working on this post – about weight and my mother’s death – I woke with excruciating sciatic pain in my hip and leg. It took until the next evening to realise that this was my physical response to approaching these subjects – matters of life and death which obviously have a great emotional and physical impact on me.
As soon as I twigged why the pain had exploded in my hip, it abated considerably. But I have been doing all sorts of odd jobs since then to avoid getting on with this post. So I have finally glued myself to my seat and here goes!
I weighed myself the night before I had the cast removed when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996 and then when I got home – 6lbs disappeared overnight, yeay! In the six weeks I’d been immobile, unbelievably I’d lost 14lbs, much to my surprise. It was as if the shock of the fall galvanised my body into detoxing all of its own accord.
From these comments and the intro you’ll probably guess that I have had some challenges with weight. And I’d probably be a weird woman if I hadn’t, given the obsession with thinness and fatness in today’s Western society.
In my childhood I was what you then called “chubby” but no-one banged on about weight and obesity as they do nowadays. In those days it was accepted that kids could be chubby but they’d lose this puppy fat once they hit puberty and started growing into adulthood.
The first time I became aware of perhaps being a bit weighty was when I stayed with my German penfriend in 1965. She was absolutely gorgeous and had a terrific, slim figure. Beside her I felt large and clumsy and I remember we each weighed ourselves but, as it was in kilograms, I had no idea what it meant. I do know that she and her mother exclaimed at my weight. When my cousin and his male friend visited us while they were in holiday in Germany, they only had eyes for my pen-friend and I felt fat, awkward and lonely. For the first time I became self-conscious about my figure.
I do know now that I ate because it was comfort food in a family where I felt on the outer. I closely associated food with being loved by my parents, particularly if my mum and I shared special food which Dad didn’t like, and we’d have this when he was doing overtime – mushrooms on toast (mushrooms were a luxury when I was a kid) and soft cod’s roe on toast (another luxury). I can also look back now and see that carrying extra weight was protective for me. My father was a bully, a control freak and he used to browbeat me if I voiced my own opinions. We’d go at it hammer and tongs until my mother would intervene to try to calm things down as she hated the discord.
At University I guess I remained somewhat podgy in my first year. I was in student accommodation and I used to drink a very hot cup of black coffee prior to meals in the refectory. The idea was to dampen my appetite but it wasn’t particularly successful, particularly if they dished up Queen of Puddings for dessert. It was my favourite and I’d eat my own portion as well as the portions of anyone who didn’t want their serving! I guess I really wasn’t overly bothered about my weight, just felt a sense of dissatisfaction which I never really pinned down.
The first time I really lost weight and became very slim was when I was working abroad during my third year at University. I was living in Stuttgart and started work at 7.30. We had a break around 8.30 and I’d get a roll with cold meat for breakfast. At lunchtime, we had a subsidised meal in the staff canteen but as very little of the food appealed to me, I had very small lunches. And in the evening, when I cooked for myself, I also didn’t eat much as it’s not much fun eating on your own.
I was, however, very happy at work as I made friends with a lovely Hungarian lady, Frau Kiss, a Hungarian refugee who’d settled in Stuttgart. She helped me in lots of little ways which made life more pleasant. Eventually I also met some really nice girls in the women’s hostel where I was living. When I first arrived in Stuttgart I lived in my own unit on the ground floor and it was quite lonely. Then I was moved to the basement area where I shared a room with a Finnish lass. She was a real raver and was always out in the evenings so I started leaving the light on in the small sink area in our room. She was quite taken aback at this as apparently the previous German girl had left the room pitch black and then complained when Marjia-Liisa made a noise trying to get ready for bed in the dark. But my little act of helpfulness broke the ice between us and from then on we got on like a house on fire.
Then a couple of English girls arrived from universities in the UK, they got stuck in the basement area like me, so we all got together. We were finally joined by Barbara, a German girl, who had a great sense of humour and adventure. And we certainly got up to all sorts of adventures between us, quite innocent now when I look back. But we were always laughing and having a good time together.
We went to the Christkindlmarkt in Stuttgart which was wonderful although bitterly cold. We visited the cinema at the American base nearby where we parked Barbara’s car and found it dwarfed by the huge American yank-tanks lined up in front of the cinema. We drove to Ulm to climb the steeple of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world with 768 steps. It’s often called Ulm Cathedral but is actually a Minster as it has never been the seat of a bishop. We climbed up to the top where we found beautiful views over Ulm and the surrounding countryside, climbed down okay but when we got outside, our legs were like jelly and we ended up flopping on the floor laughing our heads off. I stayed at Barbara’s parent’s house one weekend, her folks were incredibly hospitable, and we also visited Rothenburg-ob-der-Taube which is a wonderful, medieval town.
We girls had boozy sessions in our rooms, confident we’d hidden all signs of the mayhem until we’d get home and realise our rooms smelled like pub bars, an empty wine glass or two stood on the mantelpiece and the sour-faced women running the hostel would greet us with icy faces!
One night Barbara introduced us to Schnapps, I think it might have been Goldwasser, which we English girls imbibed with gusto. She told us to skol it down it which we did and all promptly got drunk as skunks as none of us drank much at all. We were staggering everywhere, and I remember waking up with an appalling hangover. Barbara thought it was hilarious as we British girls sat there, head in hands, moaning, until she frogmarched us one by one to the restroom and stuck us in a cold shower!
I didn’t realise that, in this new lifestyle in Germany, I’d lost so much weight until I returned home for the Christmas holidays. My parents both commented on how much slimmer I was, and so did my boyfriend, but I didn’t see it in myself at all. I do know that when I returned to university in the fourth year, after my third year abroad, many people commented on the remarkable change in my appearance although, once again, I hadn’t realised how much weight I’d lost, it just sort of happened.
Much the same sort of weight loss happened when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel in March 1972, prior to travelling to Australia. I did physical work on my feet all the time, and the weight dropped off. I do know that unless I’m really active, it’s hard for me to lose weight, even more so now I have mobility challenges.
I realised much later down the track that my time overseas in my third year at university was really the first time I was away from anyone’s influence. I was pretty much on my own, and I lost weight because I didn’t need it to protect myself from my father’s bullying ways and the fact that I extended that to being subconsciously fearful of any relationships I had with the opposite sex. I loved being independent both at university and in Germany and France where I also spent six months.
Because I have so many air signs, nine in astrology, I have always been in my head and thinking, thinking, thinking. My conversations start: “I think…..” or “I’ve been thinking…..” (and generally my husband looks nervous because he says this usually means hammers and nails somewhere in the house), or I say, if people do rash things: “Why don’t people THINK”. Occasionally I look down and remember I’ve got a body attached to my head and say in surprise: “Oh, hello, body, still hanging around are you, thanks very much, I appreciate it.”
I started getting some idea of why I used food as a substitute for love and weight as protection when I saw a psychologist after Mum died. The thinner my mother got as the cancer spread, the fatter I got as if in some way I could protect myself, I think, on two fronts: from the fear of death myself if I got fat and from the grief I was experiencing as Mum came closer and closer to death. Seeing the psychologist after mum died, to get help from the loneliness and grief I felt, also opened a can of worms – mum no longer stood between me and my father as the peace-maker, we had to face each other, and our relationship got rocky to say the least!