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Flash Memory: Fat Grams

This memory comes from the year that I was eight years old and in the third grade.  Up until this age I was extremely skinny.  No really.  Like, My-Mother-Got-Turned-In-For-Neglect skinny.  And around the age of eight I finally started to fill out.  I look back on pictures now and I still see a child that could use a scoop of ice cream and a day of rest, but back then I remember being ashamed of my growth.  One of my mother’s friends jovially made the comment, “Hi Jenny!  Wow!  You’re getting fat!” 

Maybe she had no idea that you have to be sensitive to a female when making comments about her body even when her body is only eight.  Or maybe she had food issues of her own and she got a sort of thrill from the remark.  Or maybe she simply meant that I was finally finally not looking weak as a kitten and growing up.  It didn’t matter her intention.  It only matters that to this day I can see the expression on her face, an expression that was excited and happy.  An expression that may have been a little TOO excited and happy, instead looking a little scary.  I can hear the pitch of her voice and feel the slap on my shoulder.  I can see her hair.  I can see her silhouette that wasn’t curvy or filled out.  I can see her wrist bones. 


I was horrified.  I went outside to play and instead sobbed a little bit.  Then I ran around her yard as fast as I could until my mother said it was time to leave.


My mom and I lived with my grandmother a lot.  We’d move to different apartments but somehow always end up back in the big brick house on the nice side of town.  That was okay with me.  I loved my grandma and her hugs and her ability to make me feel safe and independent and cared for all at the same time. 


My grandmother was a very social person and weeknights were filled with card clubs, bingo outings, and dinners with her friends.  During the day it was common to have visits from a friend or two.  I remember one day very well.  It was the day Alice came to visit.


Alice had barely made it through the front door before my grandmother exclaimed, “You’ve lost so much weight!  How on earth did you do it?”


“It was so simple.  I counted fat grams.  I never eat more than twenty grams of fat per day.  If I want a candy bar, I’ll have a candy bar.  But I make sure I never go over twenty grams of fat.”


And there it was.  The seeds of my fat gram obsession were planted and would take root in less than two weeks.  ‘Never over twenty a day’ became my mantra.  I wouldn’t eat lunch at school but I could drink the milk because the nutrition information was printed on the carton.


Of course, an eight year old doesn’t have much control over what is served at dinner and figuring out portion sizes and using measuring cups was subject to ridicule by family and some pretty complex math.  After a few months of stressing about fat grams and having nightmares that I’d eaten hundreds of them a day, the behavior fell to the wayside.  Sort of.


I still hear “never more than twenty a day” every once in awhile.  I still look at the fat grams of anything I eat.  I still have body image issues but at least now they’re nicely packaged in this cool new website!  I still find myself ashamed of my size and although I AM obese now whereas before I was not…I’d like to get rid of the shame.


Work in progress.


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