Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writer's Workshop Wednesday - Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, by Marcia from Menopausal Mother


Welcome to Writer's Workshop Wednesday! This is my way of paying it forward to all the people out there who want to start writing, but don't have their own blogs yet, or who are established writers that are looking to appeal to a different audience. I have also opened this up to those who would like to post anonymously about topics that are too difficult to write about publicly. Each week, I will host one or two posts by different writers.

I hope that you enjoy this series, I hope you find some new writers to follow, I hope this helps them out and I hope we can all learn something from them.

Marcia is a rare and unique voice in this strange and beautiful world of blogging. I "met" her a while back now, I'm not even sure when really, but we just connected instantly. You can find her on Facebook here and her blog, Menopausal Mother, here.

Losses take those we love away, but they bring us closer to others that we may never have met without that shared experience. In Marcia, I've found someone who understands the places I'm in sometimes more than most people ever could, and for that I am immensely grateful.

When I asked her if she would like to submit something for this series, I knew that whatever she would come up with would be from the heart. Today, she shares something she doesn't talk about much, something she doesn't tell many people. I hope that you'll love her as much as I do.

With love and respect, Marcia. 


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MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL

I was at the gym recently doing my best to keep up with the other ladies in my zumba class when something caught my eye. I turned and saw a trainer kneeling down next to a woman, quietly speaking words of encouragement. The client was overweight and struggling through a set of pushups. I was riveted by what I saw in the woman's eyes---determination and hope. My own eyes clouded with tears; her struggles mirrored so many of my own.

My childhood was a mixed bag of insecurities. I ran home from school often, cutting through neighborhood yards to escape the children who taunted me. I was a shy, pudgy little girl who struggled in school and dealt with an eye condition known as Mixed Dominance, requiring me to wear a patch over one eye. This made me an easy target for the bullies who thrived on breaking me down in order to build themselves up. The insecurities created from this situation festered deep inside me, causing years of fear and shame. Little did I know how damaging it would be to the quality of my life in the future.

The lack of confidence in my physical appearance prevented me from doing many of the normal things girls my age were doing---attending swim parties or clothes shopping at the local mall. I was incapable of confronting the body issues that plagued me---I had been cursed with a large frame and a chubby stomach that I despised and hid behind blousy clothing. I was also taller than all the girls at my school and yearned to be petite like them. My reflection in the mirror was a constant reminder of my shortcomings, and some days I couldn't bear to look at myself because I knew how bitter the self-recrimination would be. Outward appearances were important in the prominent family I grew up in. My father's convoluted view on weight loss in correlation to beauty was damaging not only to me but to my two, older sisters, who also endured his sharp criticism. Rather than growing up with a healthy attitude toward food, we grew up fearing what it would do to our waistlines. Ironically, my mother was a stellar cook, but food was the enemy that led to diet failure, and both my sisters and I feared we could never measure up to our father's expectations.

The message in our house was clear: the inability to lose weight signified a lack of self control.

If we were unable to control our bodies, we were weak. As a result, I spent my youth yo-yo dieting and binging, but was never able to escape my addiction to fattening foods. I obsessed about every calorie I put into my mouth. It was a vicious, destructive cycle that involved starving, binging and purging, and it would form the basis of a pattern throughout my adult life. Despite my husband's best efforts to compliment me and assure me that he found me to be beautiful inside and out, it wasn't enough. I didn't believe him because I didn't believe in myself. I was suffering not only from a binge-eating disorder but also from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and was ill equipped to deal with either one of them.

My life was dictated by the numbers on the scale, which left me with a closet full of clothes ranging from the smallest to the largest sizes---a testament of all the years I'd spent dieting and failing. I tried every fad, gimmick and diet pill out there to lose weight and warily ignored researchers claims that overeating is caused by a need to fill an emotional hole. 

There were times when my weight spiraled out of control, impacting my social life by causing me to isolate myself from people. I was playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette by engaging in episodes of mindless binge eating. For a brief period I thought I had found my salvation in the form of a little miracle drug known as Phen Phen. I jumped on the diet pill bandwagon and dropped weight effortlessly, which fed into my obsession to be thin. People told me stop losing weight---I was getting too thin---but their words only fueled my desire to keep losing. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of power over my body and freedom from my food obsession. But as is true with any diet, I set myself up for failure, looking for a quick fix rather than doing all the hard work on the inside first. In a few years, I gained back all the weight and more, further engulfing myself in feelings of self-loathing and disgust.

My biggest mistake was allowing my children to see that darker side of my psyche. While I was focused on building up their confidence and self-esteem, I busy tearing my own down. I failed to see how my depression and self-recrimination was affecting them----especially my daughters.

They grew up with a compulsive mother who calculated calories, categorized food as "good" or bad" and berated her appearance daily. 

Whenever my children slipped into bathing suits for a swim at my parent's house, I insisted they wear t-shirts over their suits because I wanted to protect them from my father's critical comments. In reality, I was passing down the same lessons that I had grown up with---shame and a fear of how others perceived them. My older sister died from the devastating effects of her eating disorder. She literally ate her way into an early grave. My sister had a binge-eating disorder, which researchers have now found is closely linked to anxiety and depression. The disease damaged her heart and her gastrointestinal system when she became morbidly obese. I was helpless to stop the self-destructive path she was on because I was busy fighting my own eating disorder demons. I handled her death the only way I knew how---I ate through the guilt and grief to punish myself. Stuffing down my emotions with food was an easy solution to filling the void that was left in my heart after she died. It numbed me, allowing me to ignore the pain. One day my husband handed me a picture he had taken without my knowledge and said, "You look so pretty in this blue dress." My eyes blurred as I stared at the overweight, middle-aged woman in the photograph; a woman I no longer recognized but one my husband still saw as beautiful.

How could I have done this to myself?

How could I have allowed my unhealthy attitude towards food and body image infect the lives of my children?

They are beautiful adults now but are haunted by low self-esteem issues and are self conscious about their appearance. I am responsible for their attitude because I didn't set the right example when they were young. They learned incorrectly from me that thinness equated beauty. Since the day I saw that unrecognizable woman in the photograph, I joined a gym and am learning to eat healthier. I no longer punish myself with grueling diets or berate myself every time I look in the mirror. Instead, I focus on my positive attributes and take pride in my workouts at the gym. Once I stopped counting calories and obsessing about the numbers on the scale, the weight started falling off. I have tuned into what my body has been trying to tell me all along; life is a gift and that every human being is a work of art regardless of size, shape or color. The path to confidence and self respect will not be an easy one for me, but this is a start.

I am determined to be the person I know I can be---for my sister, who gave up too soon, for my children, who need to discover their own, inner beauty....but mostly I am doing this for me. Life is meant to be lived; it's time I start enjoying the ride.

35 comments:

  1. You have me in tears. Out of all the posts I have ever read of yours, this one means more to me than you will ever know. Thank you.

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  2. Marcia, this piece is so beautifully vulnerable and open. You have put into words feelings that so many of us have, and your honesty about the impact these things had on your children is so lovely. I have no doubt that any self-esteem issues that they may have are outweighed by the love and support that you gave them as a wonderful, smart and loving mom.

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  3. Oh,Marcia. It had to be so emotional for you to write this. THANK YOU for sharing such a big piece of your heart and family with us.

    Hugs to you, Mama xo

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  4. Although my father was in no way responsible, I can relate so closely. My siblings and I have been on every diet at some time or another. All four of us suffer from self esteem issues related to our weight. I do good a few days a week and horrible the rest. We, husband and I, try daily. Hopefully one day we will get it right before it's too late. God bless you for sharing!!

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  5. I cried reading this. Because I see myself doing so much of that. I try so hard to not let my own views of my weight affect my kids. I try to not categorize food into good and bad. It's hard sometimes though. You're my fave meno mama....and you are freaking gorgeous. Don't ever forget that! Remember, you're going to adopt me!

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  6. I love Marcia and her honest candidacy... I grew up being told I was fat... I was not... I worry about my youngest who is tall for her age and overweight... I never say this to her. I am on my own healthy weight loss journey now... eating healthy and exercising together. I am hoping that I am setting a good example for her now.. Thank you for sharing Marcia...

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  7. Such a difficult, needed post! Thank you, Marcia!

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  8. This was a beautiful post and I am sitting here in tears. I have body issues. I have been over weight since I was 18. But this year I became obsessed with counting calories and weighing myself. I need to stop being obsessed because now when my 4 year old daughter eats something she will ask me if it is good food and how many calories are in it.

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  9. This is wonderful, Marcia, sending hugs and leaving some comment love! I am afraid I have done the same to my oldest, while I have never said those things to him or about him, and tried to shield him from comments from my mom and grandma, but he has always heard my issues solely with myself. I am happy to say that I have come to terms with much since my mom and gram passed away, that was when my healing began. I now view what the real truths are...while I would like to tone up the excess, I am still beautiful. What needs to be lost weight wise, will simply be better for my health! :) Thank you so much for sharing!

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  10. My father also told me, over and over, that I needed to lose weight. I look back at pictures of me when I was growing up and am amazed at how NOT fat I was. I've learned to appreciate my body, even with the extra 30 pounds I've carried over the past 20 years - but now my weight has become a health issue and I've had to completely change my diet.

    Body image is a huge problem for so many women.

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  11. Marcia this is absolutely amazing and so powerful. Absolute kudos to you for publishing it.

    The thing I relate most to is the constant influx of negativity from your father. So sorry you had to go through that. It's a truly horrible situation.

    I hope you manage to keep a handle on this, for your girls' sake. Sounds as though you've begun to find a way to move forward, which is awesome :)

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  12. Marcia, I just wanted you to know I read this. I don't have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation, but I need you to know I read it and I love you.

    -The Insomniacs Dream

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  13. This is an amazing, heart-rending post. Thank you for sharing your story. I've written a few times about eating disorders and weight issues on my blog and elsewhere. It really is an incredibly personal, shameful secret that so many of us carry around. Big hug to you. I'm pinning this to a board I contribute to called Binge Eating Disorders.

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  14. I didn't have a childhood of my dad disliking me, even though I was overweight as a child. I'm glad for that. But that still didn't make me not like myself for a while as an adult. When I came to America, I realized how much stock is placed on (1) the color of your skin and (2) your size (looks).

    I can relate that we as parents do not realize when we are shadowing some of our issues onto our children. It is sometimes difficult to break away from this mentality until we have come to terms with ourselves and our hangups and have accepted who we are! Nice article!

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  15. This really spoke to me. I struggle with my own demons when it comes to self-image. And this was despite having parents who constantly told me I was beautiful. I realized recently, so many of my issues are tied to my mom's history of dieting. I have to figure out how to fix myself- not just for me- but for my children. Thanks for sharing this!

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  16. What a powerful heartfelt story. I can relate to this. I learned to count calories at an early age, always seeking approval from my father. Approval I never felt.

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  17. Marcia, this is such a powerful post about the need to love oneself and to love life! I'm so sorry for what you went through and am so very sorry about your sister.
    You are an amazing woman!

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  18. So emotional and raw, Marcia. I was totally moved and changed by your post. I'm inspired by your courage to move through all your pain and try to overcome it. So sad to hear about your sister's death and the reason for it. I have weight issues and have always been a chunky girl. Now I'm in my 50s and am focusing on health more than thinness and focusing on loving myself more. I got to Weight Watchers and am learning to take care of myself instead of guilt and deprivation being the motivation for losing weight. It's a daily challenge but definitely worth it. Glad you are on your journey to self love, too. Great post and I found it so powerful and honest. Very different from your humourous posts but that shows your great writing skills to be able to write such a different tone. Thanks for sharing as I'm sure it wasn't easy to write this.

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  19. I am so sorry Marcia. This must have been hard to write. Our children do learn from us, but ultimately we all have to find it within ourselves to change and move forward from the past. So don't be too hard on yourself my friend. I am sure just reading this will be helpful to your children and many others as well!

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  20. I can't thank you enough for writing this. I know exactly how hard it was for you to put this out here. But this is something sooooo many of us need to hear.
    Thank you. I <3 you even more, Meno Mama!!!! <3

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  21. Wow! I never knew this about you but I can so relate! I grew up with a dad that also criticized my weight constantly. Most of my youth I heard phrases like, "for a fat girl, you don't sweat much," and "must be jelly cuz jam don't shake like that." My mom wasn't much better..I would hear her and my Aunts talking behind my back saying that maybe when I reached puberty the weight would come off, and the ever popular one...."she has such a pretty face if only she wasn't so fat!" I, too shied away from any group activity that might mean a lake or a pool, never dated and learn to hate the person I saw in the mirror as well. I think the parents thought that harsh words would correct the problem but it only made it worse. I carried this into my adult life, too. Only I didn't have kids or get a husband either. I don't see myself as attractive so why should a man...right? I know that these things are not true but, I see how it makes us think that way. Thanks for "slicing that vein" and letting the blood flow! Luv ya girl!!

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  22. Oh, boy, did that blog bring up memories. I have struggled with my weight and body image my entire life. This is, in fact, the first year that I have comfortably worn shorts all summer, in spite of my large size. I am finally ok with it. At 44. Still, my husband of 16 years has never seen me stand naked in front of him. Ever. I was taught to be ashamed of my imperfect body. My mother blamed my dad for my issues and my dad blamed my mother. Both made me feel less than perfect. I remember my mother crying and telling me that I was ruined when I got stretch marks...at 11. Ruined at 11. I was made fun of by EVERYONE for my fat thighs in spite of the fact that I was healthy and strong. I was ridiculed by the opposing team when I cheered at football games. My gymnastic coach always harped on me to lose weight. All of these years later, I can't get past it.

    I refuse to let these problems be perpetuated with my kids. My daughter has no problem wearing a bikini. She can walk to the neighborhood pool in just her swimsuit. She wears short shorts and walks confidently. As a teen, my son likes girls who have meat on their bones. He appreciates curves. They are good kids with good body images. Of that I am most proud.

    I'm still fat, but I'm healthy. When I have been skinny, I have had major health issues. I am big and strong. My husband loves me. It's good.

    Thank you for writing my words and thoughts better than I ever could.

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  23. It's posts like yours that made me fall in love with moms who blog years ago (and start my boards and our group and our website and blog). Raw, honest, wrenching, inspiring, brave. What you shared will reach so many women and give them a voice. You are their voice.

    And you basically outlined a best-selling memoir in my eyes.

    I was born with a different body and set of parents, but I saw kids get teased, and they had the most lasting impact on me, so much so I hear and see them when I write characters and scenes, they give me compassion and empathy, as do you.

    And I'm so sorry for the loss of your sister. Bless you for writing this, now go write that memoir!

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  24. Countless women, including myself, can relate to this post. We try so hard to be perfect and our "best" but in reality neither of those are achievable. The former because no one is perfect. The latter because our "Best" is often unattainable and misdefined. THank you for sharing your honest story and struggles. It's so easy for us to say we shouldn't care about the numbers, but it's so hard to live it. Thank you for showing us what a little change in mindset can do and the massive impact it can have.
    Beautifully done, my friend!
    vicky
    www.thepursuitofnormal.blogspot.com

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  25. what a powerful post to share -- thank you for being so candid!

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  26. It takes an astonishing super woman to take a life experience like this and turn it into something positive! You should be so proud of yourself & I know you are... I'm so proud of you! Thanks for sharing your story...

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  27. This piece is genuine and raw and I absolutely love your powerful message and beautiful placed words.
    You will be an inspiration to many many struggling souls out there, my friend!!!
    I am so proud of you for sharing this deep and fragile part of you...

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  28. Wow. How did I not know all of this about you??? I am so sorry about your sister. I struggled with weight issues (normal-range self-hatred, nothing life-threatening), and the thing that changed my life was doing the Tough Mudder. I finally reached my "goal weight" a few months ago only to find it to be very anticlimactic... because I just don't give a shit anymore. I'm kinda in love with myself. I kinda love my muscles and my endurance and drinking that disgusting-ass veggie juice... it's all so much more empowering than those insignificant numbers on that stupid scale.

    This is so poignant, and beautifully written... xoxo

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  29. My dear, I am right there with you...

    I INSISTED that my husband take pictures of me at the fair. This is because there are very few pictures of me at any of those type of events. Yet when I looked at them I tore them apart, because I hated the way I looked. My arms were too fat, my face too full, my boobs were too booby (yeah I said it!) My husband is like your husband in that he thinks I'm beautiful, but unfortunately he doesn't say it very often.

    Even when I was 90 pounds from starving myself I still thought I could lose more. That is not a rational thought process. If I hadn't been scared into letting myself eat again, who knows what would have happened to me?

    Thank you for going out on a limb and sharing this Marcia!

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  30. Just read this and I am so glad that you told this story MM. There are so many men and women who have issues over their bodies including myself. We all want to look nice on a daily basis and feel comfortable in our own skin, but something inside tells us that we look gross, or we're too fat, or everyone will be staring at us in a negative way.
    I don't have problems with food in the same way you did but I can't stand to look in that mirror for too long or see my own reflection, some have said that I may have BDD.
    Yes, it might have started when you were very young, and this is a harsh lesson for all those parents who think they are doing well for their kids by constantly making little digs about their children's weight, looks etc. Some of those kids grow up with the same problems that you had MM. Some parents are not even aware that they are doing this.
    I'm so sorry for what happened with your sister and I can't imagine the pain she went through on the inside as she struggled with her weight. It must have been a very sad time for everyone and a time for reflection.

    I'm so glad that you are now looking at food in a healthier way. Going to a gym and eating a balanced diet is a great way to get physically fit. Accepting who you are and what you look like, can be a long road to travel. But as long as you stay on the right path, you have nothing to lose, but will instead begin to gain the confidence you lack. Don't give up. Your story has inspired me and many others. Thank you so much for sharing it with us all.

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  31. Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of yourself. I truly believe by sharing this you're helping so many. I don't know a single woman who is happy with their body - too fat, too skinny, too short, too tall. I have three daugthers - of very different sizes and shapes and I hope to pass on self confidence and love of their bodies - not the shame and embarrassment I know I feel. I'm working on myself too - hopefully I find my way as you have!

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  32. Thanks for sharing this very personal part of yourself. It seems we had a similar childhood. I have chosen to find my therapy in my plus size blog but you are right, this stuff stays with you forever!

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  33. Oh goddess, I see a bit of myself in this story. Perhaps not quite so extreme, but my father also was a bit critical of my weight problem (and in NO position to point his chubby little finger at anyone as he was always SERIOUSLY overweight, and his love affair with food eventually killed him) as well. My mother not quite as much, although she did subscribe to the idea at the time (a fairly common belief back then) that most people are overweight because they 'can't push themselves away from the table.' I was never huge but I've been battling weight issues since I hit puberty. I hope your kids work to move beyond the damaging beliefs they've got about weight and looks. Really, this whole damn continent needs to get over its fat-phobia!

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  34. Marica, your grace, honesty, and reflective nature are evident throughout your post. I am glad you are in a better place now. Thank you for sharing your painful past with us--I think you will help others to recognize the signs and symptoms of what "you're never enough" parenting feels like and maybe reach out for help. I believe that people who go through intense challenges in their lives end up becoming more compassionate and empathetic towards others. The hard part is turning that compassion inwards. I have immense respect for you--for sharing your story and for attempting to make healthy changes (both physical and emotional) in your life.

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  35. Thank you for writing this Marcia. Thank you for reminding us (me) that just because someone is super awesome and funny and a great blogger and so beautiful(you), doesn't mean they haven't had tough times and struggles, some similar to ours (mine). Thank you.
    <3 <3

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