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Speaking Out


Notes from the Road

by Maureen K.

Hello friends, comrades and fellow revolutionaries. Though we've never met, in some way, I feel like you know and understand me better than some of my closest friends! I was so happy when Judith, Carol, Jane and Carol decided to start a newsletter… as we all know, the first step in any revolution is establishing communication! So together, with nothing to lose but our dieting chains, we struggle on…

A little dramatic maybe, but hey…

I am sure that my experiences are similar to many of yours… Weight Watchers® at the age of 12… the Cambridge Diet at 16 (remember those goofy plastic shakers?) …the "OK fine I will move to New York and come back skinny Diet" after college… more and more Weight Watchers until I arrived, despairing, desperate and very cynical at Judith Matz's doorstep in the spring of 1992. The past two years have been an incredible learning and growing experience, with many tears along the way. I am amazed by how far I have come. I am staggered by how far I have to go. But in my saner moments, I see this approach has brought me the first peace around food I've ever had. Last week, I heard myself saying that I am more comfortable with my body now, at its largest size ever, than at any other time in my adult life.

That does not dismiss, however, the mini-skirt factor…

Recently, Judith and Carol held a seminar in Chicago focusing specifically on body image. As one of the exercises, participants brought an article of clothing from their closet, that was representative in some way of their struggle. The stuffy, poorly lit hotel room became charged with memories, both painful and joyful, that were somehow embodied in these jeans, jackets, swimsuits, and T-shirts.

One by one, the participants held up their clothing, and they talked. Where they purchased it, their size at the time, how they felt about their size, and why they could not let it go. Tears flowed. Some women finished speaking and threw the clothing into the middle of the circle, to be discarded. Others could not, still not quite ready to let go of the feelings and memories the clothes represented to them.

My contribution was a blue jean mini-skirt, a size 13 (microscopic by my standards), which represented a time in my life when I was living a less structured life, working a variety of low paying jobs, struggling to become a writer. The skirt was my link to that self, who I remember as being free, sexy, easygoing. One look through my journals of those years shows I was actually riddled with self-doubt, deeply critical of my body, compulsive about food and eating and exercise. (At 5'8" and 135 pounds, I wrote "I hate this body, I just can't even look at it." And recovering from an exercise-induced injury, I commented, "I can't wait until I can get back to the gym, I am so tired of being so flabby.")

Did I throw the skirt away? Well, that's why this is called Notes from the Road, not Notes from the Finish Line. I brought that skirt back home, not quite ready to admit that my fantasies about life at that size were not true. However, I did roll it up into a ball and tuck it away in the very back of a closet, with the rest of my smaller sized clothes. Perhaps one day, I will let them all go, in a huge ritualistic bonfire, hanging on to the memories, but letting the pain and fear go up in a big cloud of smoke.

Good luck to us all!

Diane, a successful branch manager for a large bank in New York City, was looking into job opportunities in another department. During her search, the executive vice president called her in to talk her out of her search. "I consider him a mentor and I've always felt comfortable calling him and asking him any kind of question," Diane explained. But at the end of their conversation the exec said, "I just want to mention one other thing. Between us, you really need to lose some weight. I'm telling you this because the president of the bank had some concerns about it. It's an image problem."

"I felt as though he had punched me. I'm a very large woman, but at that moment I felt very small," Diane said. "I really felt unable to stand up for myself right then and there, but I tried to hold my ground and told him that I didn't believe in diets. He said that he didn't either. Because I had noticed that he had been losing weight, I asked him if he was cutting back on fats. He just reiterated that he didn't believe in diets and cut the conversation short. I came out of this feeling very crazy. Imagine, as we're leaving the office, he gave me a friendly kiss and said, 'I told you what I did because I care for you and respect you.' Then I felt even smaller, more violated and angry."

One evening soon after this encounter with her boss, Diane attended a New York City weekly workshop where she told her story. "Wow, in his position, he really took a risk telling you something like that," said one group member, "and you know he could be brought up on discrimination charges." "He said it's an image problem. What's in need of change is the image, not your body," said another participant.

Some time passed as Diane processed her boss' comments; then she gave him a call. The conversation went like this:

Diane: Hi, Ted. First of all I want to tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you went out on a limb to say what you said to me in our last conversation.

Ted: I felt that I had tested our friendship.

Diane: I want you to know that I gave what you said a great deal of thought and I've made a decision about what I'm going to do about my weight.

Ted: Oh, what's that?

Diane: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except accept myself exactly the way I am!

There was a silence until Ted resumed the conversation.

Ted: You know, I'm glad you called because we have a few plans for you. I'd like to see you become vice president and area director. What would you think of that?

Diane: I'd be very interested. I'd love to talk to you about it.

The following week Diane went back to the Overcoming Overeating group and had this to say: "I'm so proud of how I handled my boss. I've come to realize that my weight has nothing to do with my professional skills. And I won't allow the company—or even the former me who used to agree with them that I needed to lose weight before advancing professionally—determine my reality. I feel terrific and have never felt better about my body and myself."

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