The Daughter's Story
"I was gross, lazy, and unfixable."
When I was 6 my mother, a journalist, wrote an article for Woman's Day called "Kids Get Fat Because They Eat Too Much...and Other Myths About Overweight Children." Under the main article was a sidebar about how she'd turned me from a slightly chubby 4-year-old into a slightly less chubby feeding me less.

This was typical. When Mom wrote about children and health, I appeared in the role of Fat Kid Saved by Diet or Exercise. The reality might have been that I ate no more than other kids, that I read a lot but also played a lot outside, that I wasn't even particularly fat. But such complexities weren't part of my role in my mother's narrative. I was an object lesson—proof that even fat kids could be salvaged.

The diets never worked for long, so my permanent role in real life became Fat Kid Who's Also a Failure. The 6-year-old in that first article is shown dancing ballet, eating yogurt for lunch, gazing joyfully out onto a slimmer future. In fact she couldn't bear to look at herself in a leotard, and was terrified that her mother would catch her using her milk money for chocolate milk instead of skim.

It's not that I had the world's biggest complex, or the worst food issues, or the most poisonous self-image. And I'm not the most textbook illustration of how fixation on a daughter's body can destroy her self-esteem. But this isn't only about the harm my mother unwittingly did me; it's about the harm the weight loss fantasy does to everyone.

Mom didn't allow me to eat fast food (which I've never missed) or dessert (which, lord, I did). When I was 9 I bargained with myself that if I went a month without sugar, I could have an ice cream sundae, something I'd never eaten before. But when I still stayed fat, all food became suspect.

At a sleepover in fifth grade, I was served sweetened cereal and was simultaneously repulsed and fascinated—it tasted awful, but it looked like dessert for breakfast, and I didn't even get dessert for dessert. Food took on a mystical but terrifying appeal, desirable and dangerous, and safe only when nobody was looking—and I resorted to sneaking and hoarding it. On average, I didn't eat more or worse than other kids, but I didn't have to. If you think you don't deserve food, everything starts to look like a binge.
Photo: Alessandra Petlin


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