How I became the chubby kid
As a child, I was given free reign to eat whatever I wanted. This meant daily bowls of crushed oreos in milk, after-school snacks of burgers and fries as a “treat” for answering phones at the family business and, in the evening, half a pint of Haagen-Dazs for dessert. Every day I satisfied my “junk-food tooth” on top of my favorite past-times: reading, watching TV or playing with Barbies. Consequently I was that kid. The chubby one.
At the time, I didn’t have a lot of critical self-consciousness about it … I can’t remember inner voices telling me “you’re fat” or “if you eat that you’ll get fatter” (although I did always wear a T-shirt over my bathing suit). I say “inner voices” because there actually were some external voices saying these exact things to me, directly and out loud: my parents and grandparents. They saw my bulging belly, thick thighs and chipmunk cheeks and thought it went beyond cutesy “baby fat.”
How I became anorexic
I’m not sure exactly when the transition occurred, when the voices expressing fear and disappointment with my body turned inward and became my own self-critique. But I do remember this: At age 11, I stopped eating. I was 4′9″ and 100 pounds. I started doing my mom’s yoga video, the Jane Fonda Workout, and began to dance. Eventually I reached 65 pounds. I was anorexic. My family stopped making comments. I was thin and totally a mess emotionally … but that didn’t matter. I stopped incurring the snipes and jabs.
There is way more to this story — I am leaving out loads of detail in the interest of keeping this a blog and not a memoir. But the short story involves years of disordered eating, lots of attempts to heal, a tailspin into bulimia for four years, and then finally deep acceptance and healing. This involved completely changing my relationship with myself in every way possible, and learning how to re-parent myself and create new, supportive inner voices.
Next-generation baby fat
A few weeks ago, my dear friend Kirstin from college, who also happened to be in the “sisterhood of eating disorders” clique that I danced with, told me that her 7-year-old daughter, Lyra, recently exclaimed, “My legs are FAT!”
Now, when you have survived hospitalization from an eating disorder because of fear of food, gaining weight and the actual underlying emotional baggage, hearing your daughter utter negativity towards her body for the first time is gut-wrenching.
Kirstin saw the moment in slow-motion. A thousand responses flooded her mind, and, somehow, she landed on this one:
“Oh?” pause, “And how is that for you?”
Lyra grabbed her thigh with both hands, threw her head back and declared, “They feel soooo GOOD! They feel soooo SOFT!” She bear-hugged and caressed her legs in delight. And Kirstin exhaled.
Kirstin’s wisdom in that moment to not invest any of her own body bias was easily one of the most brilliant parenting moments on record. In that moment, she could have directed her daughter to believe any number of perspectives on fat, and its meaning. Instead, she backed off and allowed Lyra to define her own (self-loving) associations and assign her own (supportive) meaning. The inner voices inside Lyra’s head were not the ones that Kirstin or I had anticipated would be there. We both assumed that she was already hosting a negative concept about her body. Silly us.
Stay tuned for part two of this blog next week!
[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]
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Reading your vulnerability, Jill, I will admit something that I feel quite ashamed of, which is that at a few times while reading the YTU Level 1 training manual, I’ve noticed myself having dismissive thoughts toward you along the lines of “well of course her abs are perfect, look how thin she is, what could she know about any body image issues….” You get the drift. I would try to shoo the thoughts away when I noticed them, but they still happened. I think the lifelong desire I’ve felt to be thinner and smaller than I am– ick it’s hard to even name that, it’s so antithetical to what I consciously believe and what I want to feel–biases the way that I look at women whose bodies look the way some part of me has always wished mine looked. Thank you for sharing your story, and for holding a mirror to some parts of myself that I need to bring some more light to.
Thank you for sharing, Jill. Self-love is such an important thing to implement in our lives, and our children’s. We often forget as parents the value of sharing positive feelings toward our own body.
This was an interesting article to read. As a former dancer, yogi and runner, food can be a fine line. I also battled an eating disorder for a good portion of my adolescence and it took a long time to return to what I loved to do and for the right reasons. Even after I recovered and was able to accept my body and the miracles it performs each day, every time I heard another girl complain about her body or mention talk about calories, a part of me would cringe and become very protective. It’s almost taboo to talk about in our society, so prevalent, and so necessary to confront.
Hi Jill, thank you for sharing this & I would be interested in reading a memoir about your experience with disordered eating and body image and how you came to dep acceptance.
Humbly grateful for you,
This is so hard when raising children. When kids are over weight it becomes a thing. We start to police their eating and then it’s a thing and once it’s a thing well we have lost. We all have the ability to regulate when we are hungry or not from birth and some how we derail it and then spend the rest of our lives trying to right it.
Its a relief to read that we are not alone in our self deprications and self doubts and that these manifest in so many ways. The other day in class we talked about the distance between awareness and unawareness = advancement. Sometimes for so many varied and numerous factors, we unconsciously listen to our npt so nice inner voices so closely – that we see just that one eyes view. It is when we become AWARE that those negative thoughts exist, acknowledge them and take responsibility for them, that perpective shift takes place and change can happen – advancement occurs. Being able to propriocept is so powerfull; AWARENESS creates an enviroment for adaptation – for healing to occur.
” I am smart, I will love myself, I will nurture myself, I will get strong – I will share that loving nurturing love”
JIll – Thanks for sharing – and opening conversation for AWARENESS!
Thanks for sharing Jill – opening conversation for the power of awareness.
its weird that i came right to this blog post today. a lot of things are weird about today, and what i discovered in class with you about my own body. but the weirdest of all is re reading my story in yours, with the difference being the height i am and weight i reached (5’7″, 95 lbs…i know everyones wondering secretly!) and i came to all of this in a similar way and by learning to think of the FUNCTIONS of my body and what the food is for and how fricking COOL it all is and yay. but then there is always that voice, and it came up today again and again and again. and all i want to do is take care of myself and be kind to myself and its so hard. but this reminded me that in my “other life” as a performer and writer, i went from being the girl who almost got kicked out of acting school because she couldnt sustain her energy and focus onstage and was completely disconnected from her body, into being the woman who wrote and performed a personal solo play that is an hour and a half with no intermission, is intensely physical and demanding, and reframes this very story. More than a few high school girls have entered the hospital bc they or their mom saw my play and approached me about getting help because i told the story with compassion and understanding and love for my younger self. the point im making is that even though every day i am frustrated that i cant stop hearing the negative voices in my head about my physical self, all i have to do is stop and look at what i have done thus far and be impressed, grateful and ok about me. WHY DONT I DO THAT MORE? in the spirit of that: my butt is a butt that looks like a butt bc when it was flat and i used to run miles and miles and mile with my wonky hypermobile skinny legs and their non nourished and still growing cartilage and bones, i busted my knee and had three surgeries and then bursitisin my hip and blah. and now i have a butt that looks like a butt bc its there to protect my knees. good for me.
I was the chubby kid also. I remember eating candy bars after school on the walk home and then again when I got home playing video games. I used to see how my belly was doing as I sat on the floor, “can I make this belly a little table for my game controller?” I thought to myself and even reveled in the attempt to do so. Much like your friend my mother never made me feel or believe anything about my own royal fatness. In turn I got to a point and just wondered what it would be like to make better food choices. I started slowly and cut out soda from my intake and went from there. Over time I developed a very healthy sense of what if felt like to be in my body in relationship to food. It takes a solid parent to not make their child wrong, or bring their own baggage into the parent/child dynamic-cheers to your friend for letting her daughter be her.
Also I’m glad you got good with yourself and your own relationship with food/mind/body/emotion/spirit. I have dated 3 ladies now in a row that have all done time in an eating disorder club or self served solitary confinement. None of them would feel comfortable to speak about their experience as you do here. From my perspective do to so demonstrates real healing of that wound-NICE! 🙂
Thank you for sharing this Jill. I was also a chubby child and had years of eating issues and weight fluctuation. It took a toll on my confidence and body image. Not until I found yoga, did I learn how to love my body again. Being heavy when you are a child is so hard to deal with, especially around other children as well. I was also rewarded with food from my parents and sometimes have to remember in my adult years that food doesn’t always have to follow a celebration of some sort. You are truly an inspiration and I love reading your blogs. Thank you for showing us that you can truly turn your life around for the better!
Looking forward to the memoir.
I love amazing mom stories! Your friend was so wise. I sometimes forget that if I take a breath and allow my inner true voice to say something it just might be the best thing possible. If only I can remember that some day in the future when I have a little girl and keep my practice. This young girl will hopefully continue to be a stand for the positive and perhaps she will be an amazing leader. I wish she had been my friend when I was 7!
OH That is so beautiful. It is so incredible to read that little girls comment about her legs and feel the same fear I felt when I was battling my eating disorder and then to hear the wisdom of a child appreciate the beauty of the essential fat in our bodies. I really believe that the seeds of thoughts we bestow on our children has a profound effect on their development. We as a society have to change our consciousness, we have to embody the beauty that is our bodies and look at them and our children’s bodies in a loving an accepting way. If we do this, I really believe that we will rid our society of so many food and body related diseases!
[…] extremely obsessed with body fat as a barometer of health, well-being and social acceptance. Having survived both anorexia and bulimia as a young woman, my journey to robust health did not, nor was ever, satisfied by an ideal number on a scale. I can […]
Jill, the first thing I need to say is that children are just so flippin’ precious, aren’t they??! I LOVE that story and that innocent child’s response. Thank you for sharing.. Just adorable. … ( i try to write down all the cute things my kids say).
..and the 2nd thing I wanted to say is that I would have never guessed that YOU were that kid! The chubby one.. the junk food junkie…. wow, that’s amazing how you went from that to not eating bread.. 🙂 .. no, but seriously, you are such an inspiration to have come so far.. and not only did you reparent yourself and overcome your anorexic and bulimia disorders but you created yoga tune ups!! and you are sharing it with the world! Thank you SO much Jill! for sharing your knowledge with the world and for sharing your story.. We love you 🙂
Having struggled with similar things in my youth, I empathize with your experiences. Back in the day, yoga was something that helped me find self-acceptance and a different connection to myself and my body.
Kids can bring up our old stuff, and your friend’s response to her daughter was inspired. (And her daughter’s reply was great.)
This is why it bothers me when people talk about “yoga bodies” or when celebrities talk about being skinny because of yoga. While yoga brings health to the body and mind, it’s not about having a certain body. To me, that’s the antithesis of yoga. 🙂
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