Archive for November 27, 2009
I had good news and bad news again at the doctor’s office today . . .
. . . good news because my waist size is 35 inches, which is exactly where I want it to be and just within the recommended guidelines since women with a waist bigger than 35 inches are at greater risk for health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and breast cancer*. (For men, it’s 40 inches.) I had been worried lately that my waist had grown bigger than 35 inches, mostly because of the fibroids but also because of my weight gain last year, so I was relieved to hear that was not the case.
On the other hand, I felt like the nurse who was taking my vitals was trying desperately to find something to criticize about my health, and that really bothered me.
She was a tiny little woman—petite really—and she kept making strange comments about my body.
First, she said that she didn’t want to ruin my day, but I had to get on the scale. I told her I didn’t mind, but I was irritated by the suggestion that a number on the scale would ruin my day. And I also was bothered by the idea that she felt comfortable saying that—because it’s the kind of comment that reinforces the notion that we should be bothered by these numbers when, in truth, we should all know that such numbers are not necessarily the best indicator of our health or our attractiveness.
Then she took my medical history, and when I told her that I don’t know much about health problems in my biological family because I’m adopted, she pushed me on the subject. I had told her earlier that I have met my biological family, so she asked if any of them were obese.
Not if anyone of them had cancer.
Not if any of them had heart disease.
But if any of them were obese.
To be honest, I was offended. Was she trying to say that she thought I looked like the kind of person who might have obese relatives? Because that’s definitely the message I got.
But rather than show my offense, I answered the question and told her that I really don’t know. No, none of the biological relatives I have met are obese (and none of them are super thin either), but I have only met a handful of the people who share my genes.
She suggested that I contact them and find out for sure, but if you know anything about family dynamics, you can probably imagine how difficult that would be for me to do with people to whom I’m technically related but barely know.
Still, what really bothered me was her implicit assumption that I would have obese relatives. Sure, she was thinking about protecting my health, but I am definitely not the person who walks in a room and makes people think “obese.” My body is actually hourglass-shaped, nipping in at the waist and blossoming at the hips. In fact, this nurse was the first person to ever ask me about it. My doctors have told me time and time again that they are not worried about my weight and that I should continue doing what I’m doing: exercising regularly and trying to eat as many home-cooked meals as possible—so it was a surprise that a nurse introduced the subject.
So why did this nurse feel comfortable doing so? What I really believe is that people in our country are so obsessed with body image that they feel comfortable criticizing anyone who doesn’t fit into the really narrow definition of American beauty. It’s as if we’ve given small people free rein to judge those of us who are not tiny, as if curvy people and people who are not naturally thin are second-class citizens who are expected to be ashamed when someone asks us to get on the scale or talk about our bodies, a fact that really bothers me and makes me feel even more strongly that we need to expand our notion of beauty. And I, for one, won’t give into the pressure to feel bad about my body.
No, I’m not skinny! So freaking what?! No, I don’t weigh 125 pounds. Who gives a damn?!
All of the tests they have given me say that I’m in good shape, all of the doctors say I’m healthy, and I will not allow some petite little nurse to make me feel bad about myself no matter how hard she tries to do so.
I didn’t say anything this morning because I didn’t want to sound defensive, but what I should have done is broach the problem directly and ask her if she was worried about my weight rather than listening to her tap dance around the issue. And that’s what I’ll do in the future . . . if someone is hinting at something, I’m going to make them say it, rather than letting them make passive aggressive comments that seem designed to hurt my self-esteem more than improve my health. And I recommend that you all do the same.
As I’ve mentioned before, even though I was in perfect shape throughout my childhood and well into my twenties, I was never a small girl, and when I was young, I got the “thunder thighs” comment on more than one occasion. Back then, a comment like that could send me into a downward spiral of insecurity and self-doubt. Of course, I’ve since learned to love my womanly thighs, but it took a long time to get there.
My friend Tom Hunley recently introduced me to a fabulous Denise Duhamel* poem that I think fits this blog perfectly, and I want to share with all of you . . .
*Denise Duhamel was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in 1961. She received a B.F.A. degree from Emerson College and a M.F.A. degree from Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry, most recentlyKa-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh, 2009), Two and Two (2005), and Mille et un sentiments (Firewheel Editions, 2005). A winner of an National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she has been anthologized widely, including four volumes of The Best American Poetry (2000, 1998, 1994, and 1993). Duhamel teaches creative writing and literature at Florida International University and lives in Hollywood, Florida.
I’ve talked many times about the dangers of processed foods, specifically in my post called “The Problem with Processed Foods.” And I’ve also discussed in my “Little Pink Houses” post that when I was living in rural North Carolina, I figured out that many of the poor folks there were obese because the foods they had access too—fast food and the processed foods that are so readily available and affordable at Wal-Mart—were so bad for them. It wasn’t necessarily that they were eating more as much as they were eating worse.