In my life I’ve shown three distinct faces to the world: Fat Debbie, Hot Debbie, and Debbie.
Fat Debbie debuted before I turned three years old.
According to my mother, she and my father were just so thrilled to have a little girl (my older brother preceded me by two years) that they could never say no to me. So if I wanted more cookies, more candy, more anything, they gave in. I doubt it was really this simple, but I don’t have any specific memories of that period. My first real food-related memories kick in a few years later, after two more brothers had been born. We were struggling financially–the only “poor” Jews in our synagogue, squeezed into a 2-bedroom apartment in a wealthy Westchester town. When my baby brother was old enough to move out of my parents’ room, all four of us kids shared one bedroom until my dad turned what had been the pantry into a separate room for me. This was wonderful, a great gift: privacy. But it was also next to the kitchen. I could not get into my bedroom without running a gauntlet through a galley kitchen overflowing with cookies and chips. My most vivid memories are of the frequent nights when my parents were fighting. On the other side of the apartment my three brothers would hole up in their room, watching television or playing some game, while I’d cower in my own little hideout, praying and asking God for a sign that all would be well. If my parents weren’t going to get a divorce, I’d ask Him to rustle the tree branch outside my window. Long, agonizing minutes would pass while I stared at the branch, willing it to move. Then silently I’d open my door and creep into the kitchen just long enough to grab a bag of something or other to sneak back into the relative safety of my room.
Don’t even get me started on Halloween–when I was about eight, our Rabbi informed the congregation that it was a pagan holiday, that it used to be occasion for pogroms, and that Jewish children shouldn’t participate. So ended our trick-or-treating, and I mourned the loss of candy as other children mourned dead pets.
All throughout my childhood and into college, I went through the revolving door of Weight Watchers. My mom, who had put on weight with each pregnancy and never lost it, would join and re-join with me. Neither of us ever had any long-term success. By the time I was in my early twenties, I’d decided that this was the size I was meant to be, and instead of trying to change it I should work on accepting myself. That actually worked for a while–my weight stayed level for a good five years. Granted, it was level in the 250 range, but at least it wasn’t rising. This is where Fat Debbie really came into her own: I was funny, I was confident, and I claimed not to understand what my mother meant when she complained about The Bias Against Fat People. Of course I was ignoring the sniggers, the kids’ hurtful comments, the embarrassment of airplane seats and their too-small seatbelts. Oh, and the utter lack of attention from men, with one categorical exception: that creepy subset of men specifically looking for fat women. Their occasional attentions turned me into the embodiment of the famous Groucho Marx quip: Any club that would have me as a member, I didn’t want to join.
For me, these were the years of raging, unrequited crushes. The years when I mocked my crushes to their faces, teasing about bad haircuts or malapropisms or an ugly shirt–I thought I was flirting, but it seems all I was doing was trying to get the rejection out of the way early. Oh, and in order to accomplish this level of interaction, I usually drank far too much. I didn’t have a date between 1987 and 1992.
When a friend set me up on a blind date with the son of a family friend in November of that year, I was so excited–and petrified–I didn’t think I’d make it through. The guy, B, was nice. Israeli, living here illegally and working in an electronics store (how much more cliched could he be?), less educated and far less driven than I. But he didn’t seem bothered by my size, nor did he seem especially turned on by it. B was sweet and funny, and he treated me with respect. I left our first date giddy, thinking it was the Best Date I’d Ever Had. I had very few to compare it to, and after a five-year drought… Once or twice during our courtship B admitted that my weight bothered him, that he wished I were smaller. Crying quietly in the dark, I convinced myself that he was in fact threatened by my successful career, my nice apartment, my sense of purpose, but couldn’t admit that. We got married just over a year after that blind date.
Fifteen months later, B came home in tears one night. He’d lied to me about having to go to work that day; instead, he’d driven around for hours, ending up in Philadelphia of all places. He wasn’t sure he loved me anymore. I kicked him out, and two weeks later realized I was too confused to figure things out all by myself. I called my insurance company to refer a therapist. At my first session, she listened to me ramble on about my disintegrating marriage, my family, my work, and as I was packing up my things to go, she asked how I felt about my weight.
“I’m fine with it. It’s taken me a long time to accept myself, but I think this is the size I’m supposed to be.”
“Well, if you ever want to talk about it, my specialty is eating disorders.”
I left her office with a lot more to think about than when I walked in.
To be continued, in The Three Faces of Me: Hot Debbie