Well & Good
OPINION: "In my head, I am always thin," writes Daphne Merkin. This is "alarming [given the] number on the scale".
What is also alarming is the lack of lucidity with which Merkin, like most of us, sees herself.
"I don't see myself... with quite the same piercing clarity, the same objectifying gaze as I imagine others do," Merkin confesses. In her case, she suspects, "because it would be too painful and, at its most extreme, lead to my never leaving the house for fear of public scrutiny".
So, she holds on to her own delusion, all the while using the fleeting fix of food to anesthetise her sense of imprisonment within an "inflated body".
"I mistake food for love, feel desperate when faced with a landscape of restricted (or, as some might see it, healthy) choices," she says.
Beyond its function as a temporary void-filler, Merkin recognises that the dissonance fulfils another purpose.
She longs for love, wants to imagine herself as sensual and "f--kable". Maintaining the lie allows her to do this.
"[But] I can't help but wonder if my weight is in part an obstacle I place in the path to heterosexual intimacy, a way to ensure that I won't have to engage in a dance I've always found as problematic as pleasurable."
The body, then, becomes a tangible platform for all our projections; our sense of it and treatment of it a reflection of the conflict or harmony between our physical and psychological realities.
In Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America's Obesity Epidemic, J. Eric Oliver argues that our bodies have become "a scapegoat for all our ills" and our "own chronic feelings of helplessness".
The body as a "scapegoat" is a concept I, as I'm sure many others, appreciate. I understand Merkin's twisted sense of herself for I too have a twisted sense of myself.
For me, however, its manifestation has been in the reverse.
I have some sense of where it started.
My mum, who I adore and am incredibly close to, suffered debilitating depression as I was growing up.
She was so sensitive to life, it seemed that there was no filter between her and the rest of the world. Every unexpected noise startled her, seemed to physically hurt her.
It meant, as a physically cacophonous kid, I felt like a giant ogre crushing daisies - never small enough, quiet enough to soothe her sore mind.
And so at some point, from as far back as I can remember, I was conscious of being colossal.
In kindergarten, I would look at my thighs and compare them to those of my smaller, more delicate friends. In my eyes, my perceived enormity equated with being problematic and displeasing and so began a lifetime of projection.
If I were less large, less hideous, less loud ... then perhaps I would be less likely to cause distress. Perhaps I would be acceptable and ergo worthy of love.
As a result, my poor, ever-dutiful body was put through the wringer and bore the brunt of my blame for any of the dissatisfaction and pain I inevitably went on to experience in life. Not just life at home, but life on all fronts.
Of course, try as I might - and I swung between trying extremely hard and rebelling equally hard - I could never be good enough, pretty enough or small enough.
Because it was never the problem.
I was attempting to find a solution based on my confused, childlike interpretation of a complex situation rather than the reality.
It is heartbreaking to write it, conscious as I am of the craziness of it all.
Yet, it is far more challenging to separate from the entrenched, unconsciousness of it all. The abusive self-criticism is so effortless and easy to slip into. Even now.
And the body is such a palpable, straightforward target for angst.
Whether we see ourselves as slim, when we are not, or enormous, when we are not, a skewed self-perception begins with buying into a certain set of messages.
"In every social interaction that we have - even before we are able to fully engage in those social interactions, because of our level of development - we are given instructions," says psychotherapist Michael J. Formica. "Sometimes those instructions are positive, sometimes negative and sometimes benign."
If this is the case then perhaps it ends when we make a decision to buy out.
And so my resolution for the new year is no longer to be smaller or better or less... whatever it is that I am.
It is simply to stop making my body the sacrificial lamb for the imperfection in my life. And it is to soften the extraordinarily severe filter through which I view myself.
My hope, in doing this, is to see with more clarity; to have some harmony between my internal and external self-perception.
As the poet Kahlil Gibran says: "The appearance of things change according to the emotions and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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