by Lisa Ann Citarella
I saw the look in your eyes,
When I couldn’t squeeze my thighs
into those size 14 jeans.
I’ll never be a size 4,
you’ll always be wanting.
Can’t you see,
how much it hurts
to know I’m under a curse?
Doomed to fail in your eyes
no matter how hard I try.
With every rejection,
I build up more protection.
The truth is I’m bawling,
calling and calling—
somehow you cannot hear.
So I guess I’ll stay stuck,
among this rubble and muck,
until I have ceased to breathe.
I wrote this poem when I was 15, after a particularly devastating shopping trip with my mother. Reading it now, my heart breaks for my younger self—for the one who had to live with comments like, “you can’t be hungry now, you just ate” and questions such as, “are you sure you need that second helping?” Growing up in a house where sugar was banned and one side of the pantry was filled with herbal supplements caused me to boomerang in the opposite direction. At age 8, I started hiding my Halloween candy and eating it under the covers at midnight. At 10, I was so focused on my friend’s dessert that I stole it from her lunch bag—almost ending the friendship. By 12, I was regularly binging on whatever I could get my hands on, bringing the wrappers to school to dispose of them in secret. My disordered eating exploded when I turned 16. Getting my driver’s license provided the “freedom” to obtain junk food and to hide the evidence. These behaviors only got worse as I moved to college and then to my own apartment. Freedom meant being out of control.
My disordered eating had several roots. I had no idea how to cope with my feelings, and therefore I ate them away. I bought into society’s idea of “beautiful,” and felt that if I could not meet that standard, I had no value. Most influential was the fact that, growing up in my house, I learned to ignore my body’s signals—to disconnect and live entirely in my head.
My pediatrician did nothing to combat the messages I was receiving at home. At every appointment he took the opportunity to remind me that I was overweight. He ignored the fact that I was active (I participated in soccer, softball, and gymnastics) and generally healthy, choosing instead to focus on the dot on the height/weight chart. These experiences taught me that doctor appointments were embarrassing necessities to be endured—a belief I struggle with to this day.
My journey down this road was not without some resistance. I consider myself a feminist, and struggled with what I saw as the hypocrisy of using my weight to define my worth. I attempted to find plus-size role models and to redefine my concepts of beauty. Unfortunately, my efforts were ineffective against the constant barrage of pop culture images proclaiming, “Skinny=Beautiful, Skinny=Healthy, Skinny=Self-Worth.”
The past 5 years have seen a slow dismantling of these beliefs. I am working to revise my ideas of beauty and health, and to find a home inside my own body. I have had many supporters in this process. Rather than ignoring my various physical ailments, I have been making doctors’ appointments to address them. Importantly, I am being honest with the doctors—seeing them as partners in health rather than a source of ridicule. In so doing, I have begun to find other measures of health than weight. Although I am currently close to my heaviest weight, my cholesterol and blood sugar levels have never been better. After all, the height/weight charts that doctors use were developed by life insurance companies—weight has never been a scientifically supported measure of health.
Over the years I have tried many diet programs. I am beginning to understand that dieting only sets one up for failure. What I am working toward instead is a gentle, supportive relationship with my body—one in which I eat what my body needs, rather than what my head wants. This process has included an expansion of my definition of “normal” eating. I now understand that “normal” takes into account sweets and comfort food, as well as salads. My therapist has been instrumental in this process, supporting every small change that brings me closer to my goals.
Although I was an active child, somewhere along the way exercise became a tool for desperately trying to counteract the effects of my binges. A recent stay at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a woman’s wellness retreat in Ludlow, VT, has reconnected me with the pure joy experienced in moving my body. I’ve remembered that exercise can be fun. I have started walking, doing yoga, and swimming—not because they burn calories, but because they feel good.
A recent internet search on “size acceptance” led me to the Association for Size Diversity and Health. In reading the HAES® principles and literature, I realized that I had found kindred spirits on the path to redefining wellness. I joined the same day, and gained access to the wealth of member resources. I am excited to have a new supporter on my path to embracing a holistic definition of wellness. For the first time in my life, I am able to believe that health, happiness, and self-worth depend on more than a number on the scale. Now, freedom means finding joy in my body, mind, and soul.
Lisa Ann Citarella was born in a small town in Pennsylvania, but always wanted to live in New England. She has her B.A. in psychology and philosophy from Connecticut College and is currently working on her M.S. in mental health counseling. Lisa lives in Vermont and works in the social services. When she’s not working or in school, she loves being outdoors and creative arts.