Anxiety = Control
Originally written back at the end of July:
The damn family picnic is coming up. A little more than a week away, and I’m completely on edge.
Part of it, mind you, is because I know I’m going to be teetering on an emotional precipice as it is. It will be the first time I’ve seen my mom’s family since the interment. And, just to really stack the deck against me, the last time I saw Mom alive was at last year’s family picnic.
But the other part of it is that I’m worried about someone saying… something. Supposedly Aunt Brenda talked to Uncle John, so ideally no one will say anything. That’s the plan. But then, who would have thought anyone would say anything the last two times either?
Seriously, though – I think that’s Rule No. 1 of Fat-Bashing: it always appears when you least expect it. You’re cruising along, you’re doing all right, and next thing you know someone makes an assumption or treats you crappily because of your weight, and the rug’s been pulled out from under you. And then you’re shaky and self-conscious and unsure of yourself and feeling freaked out, and it just sucks all around. There you were, living your life, doing your thing, and suddenly you’ve been singled out for abuse simply for having the temerity to exist.
Of course, this is where the sheer, diabolical genius of fat-bashing comes into play: A little goes a long, LONG way.
You don’t have to get bashed often or necessarily very hard to feel self-conscious and vulnerable. And those feelings don’t disappear overnight. They linger. As Rose and I found after Joan’s little tirade before we could even get on with planning our mother’s funeral, words like that hang around, no matter how much you want to scrub them away.
And this is the genius part – for a long time after getting bashed, you worry about it happening again. You practice your rejoinders, your witty repartee. You take deep breaths and remind yourself that you are completely within your rights to say “Fuck off” to a mannerless stranger who thinks your body is their business. You steel your nerves and go in ready to swing, and nothing happens. People just kind of look past you like normal, and no one says anything crummy, and you leave feeling both relieved and slightly foolish.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t go through the whole exercise again the next time you go out, and the time after that, and the time after that.
And the part we don’t like to talk about, the part we hate to admit, even to ourselves, (or at least the part I hate admitting even to myself) is that sometimes? There are things I want to do, but I can’t do them without first psyching myself up in case of a confrontation. Which would be fine (well, not fine at all, but the closest to fine I usually manage in these instances), except sometimes I wind up deciding that whatever it is I want to do? Is not going to be cool enough to merit the exhaustive psyching-up preparation I have to do. And so I wind up staying home. Or I choose some less-scary alternative plan.
But either way, I let the fuckers WIN, because they’ve shamed me out of living my life the way I choose to. One little bit of fat-shaming, and they don’t have to look at me for weeks.
And that’s me – an adult woman, an opinionated, somewhat educated mother of two children, who used to hang out in an online community that was occasionally described as akin to “debating in a shark tank.” I’m not a weak little spineless nothing, you know?
But still – that fear, that anxiety about getting shamed? Continues long after the shaming is done, and does what an outright “No fatties allowed” sign would not: it keeps me from participating in the public sphere, it keeps me from living my life. It lets them control me, and all out of the fear of what someone might say.
Which brings me back to the family picnic, and the mounting wave of anxiety that’s threatening to engulf me. There’s a pool where the picnic is held – which swimming suit should I bring? Do I really still dare to swim with these people? Yes dammit, I do. Fuck Joan and the horse she rode in on. Besides – swimming is healthy! Heeeaallllllttthhhhyyyyyyyy!
But more importantly, I like swimming and most importantly of all, my kids love swimming and the idea of going someplace where there’s a pool that I won’t let them go play in? Sh-yah, right. I may as well just hand out spikes for everyone to jam in their ears – it’d be less painful than listening to the screaming.
But still – I’m frustrated. I feel like I should shop for a nice new outfit – something super-cute (the folks at Fatshionista are being super-inspiring lately, I swear) and that doesn’t hide my body or anything. But we don’t have the money, and even if we had the money, I don’t have any time to go shopping without dragging the Terrible Twosome around, and well… yeah. Not that this keeps me from clicking around online every night after the kids go to bed, pondering this cute top or that cute dress, on and on and on.
But see? It’s a fucking picnic. There will be watermelon and people hanging out and chattering and junk, and iced tea and Aunt Tina’s Candy Apple Salad, and really – it’s not supposed to elicit this level of anxiety and panic. It’s just not.
And yet it does.
Epilogue: The picnic was, of course, fine. Nobody said anything weight-related to me, though if Joan had tried one more time to cajole me into taking a cookie I was going to decide to take offense (I was on the fence as to how to interpret that – in my mom’s family the offering of food is often an expression of love, after all; she may well have been trying to be nice, or even overcompensating for her previous poor behavior, “See? I don’t think you’re too fat. If I thought you were too fat, I wouldn’t offer you cookies!”). We went to the pool, the kids had a blast, it was all pretty much fine.
Oh, and for the Fatshionistas: I wound up wearing my standard uniform: a green T-shirt and a pair of jeans, which was for the best because everyone else was totally casual – I would have looked like I, too, was overcompensating.