Your Body As Biography

On a recent flight to Minnesota, I did something I rarely do – I spent the whole flight talking to the woman next to me.

My greatest fear on an airplane is not crashes, turbulence, or even snakes. It’s running out of reading material! I don’t often engage in conversation. I’m usually nose-down in a book or napping. Somehow, though, this woman and I began chatting before we even took off and didn’t stop till we got to baggage claim.

Turns out, she was on her way to Minnesota to bury her grandmother. I asked her to tell me about her grandmother. In the course of the conversation, I learned that it had been a difficult five years for the woman.

Five years ago, her mother – with whom she had a warm relationship – died after an short illness. Two months later, her father died in his sleep. She bore twins but one died at three months. Then her grandmother, a woman with whom she had a sometimes difficult relationship, died.

When her son died, she did not have the luxury of stopping her world to grieve. With a 3-month-old still at home, she had to keep going. She knew that at that young age, her son responded acutely to her face, so she worked to keep a happy loving face turned towards him, despite the devastation in her heart.

She found there was so much she had to say “no” to –grief, self-care, exercise. She turned to food. As she said, it was the one place she permitted herself to have pleasure and joy. It was the one place she felt she could say “yes”.

Her family is one that puts great store by good appearances. Being dressed nicely, well-groomed, and well-made up. She was frustrated with the weight she had put on in the last five years – probably 40 pounds. But she was also philosophical.

“My fat is my scar tissue,” she said.

I understand that. When I listen to clients talk about their frustration with their weight, there is often a story behind it. An injury. Trying to work during the day and go to school at night. Caring for small children. Supporting (or fighting with) aging and infirm parents. Death. Loss. Pain.

For many people food is the place they can say “yes”. The weight they carry represents the soul’s effort to bring pleasure in some small measure to their day. And why not?

The human body is my world. I grieve for people in an adversarial relationship with their body, the people who hate their body for being “fat”, however they define that. Everything that your body is and does is a manifestation of its desire to take care of itself and you.

There is a lot of harshness directed towards people in our society who are not “fit” (just read the advice columns!). They are deemed unhealthy and a drain on the common good. They are glared at, lectured, and derided. They are chastised for not caring enough for their children, grandchildren, spouses, etc. to get “better”. We now talk about the overweight the way we once talked about smokers.

A few things to remember, whichever side of the divide you find yourself on.

Skinny is not automatically the same as healthy.

“Fit” and “healthy” are highly subjective and always temporary. Each one of us is only 2 minutes away from being “disabled” at any time.

When you see a “fat” person, ask yourself what they looked like a year ago. You probably don’t know. What you see in front of you may be a huge improvement over what you would have seen a year ago.

Our bodies are our biographies in many ways. Be kind to yours when you look in the mirror. Be generous and gracious to those you see around you.

And you are all welcome on my table.