I love love love Natalie Dee.
This weekend something awesome happened: My husband’s grandmother, the last living grandparent either one of us has, came to visit. It was the first time my children have ever met their great-grandmother although they know her well from the cards and stickers she sends them on their birthdays. In the entire 14 years my husband and I have been married, Grandma Ann has never forgotten a birthday – not even mine. (A stark contrast to my own grandmother who gave me exactly one birthday gift in my entire life and that was a pair of used underwear.) We spent a wonderful day with her and at 86 she’s as sprightly and fun as pop rocks in Sprite.
When Grandma Ann saw this picture I apologized for Son #3 on the right. “Oh, it’s okay,” she said, patting my arm. “There’s always one!” “In every family?” I finished. “No, in every picture! They’re kids,” she laughed.
Afterwards my husband was admiring all the great pictures we’d taken with four generations of his family and that was when I had to go and ruin all the fun.
“You didn’t tag me in those pictures, did you?” I asked as I hovered over his shoulder.
“Uh no, not yet. You want me to?” he answered.
And then I turned into winged gremlin and flew shrieking across the room. “Nooooooooo!!!!!” Okay, I tried to make it sound casual. More of a “Nooo!” Three “o”s = very restrained.
“Why?” he said, completely unaware of the landmine trigger he just stepped on.
“Because I LOOK FAT!!!” The pictures weren’t terribly flattering…
Normally my husband is very understanding of my body issues but tonight he looked firmly at me and said, “You know, not everything is about you.”
And he’s right. This weekend was about enjoying time with family, not about my poor choice of a horizontally striped sweater. But all of a sudden none of that mattered as I was firmly in the grip of a fat and ugly attack – FU for short. And when I’m feeling FU, nothing else matters. And that’s the real damage of a FU attack.
Have you ever had a “fat and ugly attack”? It’s like being on one of those makeover TV shows where everyone who you thought loved you shows up to tell you that you dress like a 50-year-old Amish hooker. From the 80’s. And then giggles while they go through your stretched out sweat pants and you try not to cry on camera. Except that instead of being attacked by your family and friends (seriously what is up with those shows?) you’re attacked by your own mind.
A pile of discarded clothes on my closet floor: this is where it usually begins for me. No matter what I try on, everything makes me feel fat. Jeans make my thighs look like sausages. Dresses make me look pregnant. And every t-shirt I own hits at exactly the widest part of my hips making me feel like Tweedle Dee. (Especially when I wear skinny jeans – will someone please please bring back high-waisted wide-legged pants??) Gah! I’m so fat and ugly!! I wail. And as the day continues I see everything through that lens. Grocery checker doesn’t make small talk? It’s because she thinks I’m hideous. Guy compliments my shoes? It’s because he thinks the rest of me is fug. Friends aren’t as chatty as usual? It’s because they know I’ve gained weight and are too embarrassed to tell me. Kids have a bad day at school? It’s because they have a crazy mom so what else can be expected of them? You see where this is going, I think. It sucks. And it makes everything else suck.
Back when I was deep in my eating disorder(s), I used to have fat and ugly attacks all the time. Every day. I was super skinny and yet every time I went out I was sure everyone was thinking about how huge I was. It’s so weird now looking back at pictures – I honestly can’t believe that girl was ever me because what I looked like on the outside never ever matched how I felt on the inside. But as I’ve continued with my recovery I’ve had fewer and fewer of these attacks. While I’m still not 100% immune (um, obviously) I’ve been doing so much better! Which is why I am so disappointed in myself tonight.
It reminded me of a past Facebook status from my sister:
“Big ol’ fat-and-ugly attack tonight. Geneen Roth says that just calling it out for what it is and naming it is supposed to stop it. Not really. What do you people do when you are tired, frustrated, and disappointed with yourself? Charlotte Hilton Andersen I’m tagging you here because, seriously, what do I do?” [Charlotte’s note: Geneen Roth is the author of many books on Intuitive Eating – I adore her.]
First I have to say that I love Facebook for always having everyone’s full names on there. Now when I talk to my friends in my head (what – you don’t do that?) I automatically insert their maiden names. I can’t tell you all 50 state capitals – as I discovered helping my 4th grader with his homework recently – but I sure can recite all the married and maiden names of my college roommates from junior year! It reminds me of when we actually had to memorize people’s phone numbers if we wanted to call them without looking at the list taped to the wall. I’m old. ANYHOW.
So I tried to remember the advice I gave my sister. Not because I’m so wise but because sometimes the best thing is just knowing that you’re not alone. And because my husband is right: it’s not about me, it’s about this:
Four generations of Andersen ladies! (And I’m not posting this to fish for “it’s not that bad, you look fine!” compliments but rather to show myself that one unflattering pic is not a big deal. Especially when it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment like this!)
Charlotte’s Tips for Combating a Fat and Ugly Attack
1. It’s not about the fat. It’s also not about your clothes, your hair, your zits, your back rolls or any other physical feature you are feeling self conscious about. For me it’s about feeling overwhelmed and helpless and frustrated and sad and having nowhere else to put those feelings except in my too-tight jeans. It’s about having uncomfortable feelings not knowing where to put them. So instead we manifest all our woes onto something we can control: our bodies.
2. It’s a learned skill. I don’t want to speak for her but I’m not sure Geneen Roth meant to make it sound that simple. Naming and recognizing a fat and ugly attack for what it is is a very powerful first step. Sometimes just saying “Oh look I’m having a FU moment, let’s figure out what’s really bugging me” is enough to derail that train but getting to this point takes work. It was immensely hard at first but it does get easier.
3. Fake it till you make it. Even if saying the right things doesn’t make you feel better right away, we are what we (obsessively) think and eventually you will believe it. Have you ever tried looking yourself in the eyes, in a mirror and saying out loud “I love you. Thank you for all of this, for everything you do for me. You’re beautiful.”? It is way harder than it sounds. I bawled my eyes out the first time I actually got the words out of my mouth. But it sends a very powerful message to yourself that you are not beautiful because of your body or in spite of your body, that you are just simply beautiful. Period.
4. Meditate. It’s cliche but it helps. Even something as simple as sitting down – I’m already on the floor in my closet anyhow, right? – and breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth while you count your breaths will make you feel better. Yes it will! Don’t look at me like that. I swear it helps.
5. It’s worth it. All of this work? This blood, sweat and tears? This rewiring of our brains? It’s worth the effort. Because you are worth the effort.
At this point, I usually think “But what if I really am fat/gained weight? Shouldn’t I feel fat about that?” No. Seriously. “Feeling fat” is not the same as being fat or gaining weight. The latter terms, when stripped of all their societal implications, are just clinical terms. But feeling fat, well, that is a slurry of shame and you don’t have to drink it.
I’ve talked on here already about the weight I’ve gained this past year. No I don’t know why and I don’t know how much and no I’m not weighing myself again (see there are modern-day miracles) but I can tell because my pants and skirts are all too tight and – TMI alert! – my underwear is cutting into my skin where it didn’t used to. So yeah, I’ve put on some pounds. In the past this would have sent me into full-on diet craziness but this time, whether from being smarter or just lack of options, I’ve tried to be gentler with myself. The point is: I’m okay with it. Life is hard sometimes and I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself and that is something to be proud of.
Because while there are many family traits I want to pass down to my kids, FUs aren’t one of them.
Do you ever have fat and ugly attacks? How do you combat them? What advice would you add to my list? Do you ever un-tag yourself in photos??
(The mouse over text said “People like to make fun of burquinis but I think they’re a great idea.”)