In the movie Molly’s Game, Kevin Costner tells his screen daughter that a therapist knows from the first session what three questions their patients are seeking to answer. As a favour, he tells her, he’s going to give her her own three questions and answer them.
I asked my therapist if this was true. If therapists know immediately what three questions their patients are trying to answer. Always a sucker for efficiency and speed, I asked her if I could have my three questions and answers and be on my way. I had started therapy six months earlier after a cycling accident and I was starting to feel the drain on my temporal and financial resources. She demurred, explaining that it defeated the purpose of therapy. I had to come to the questions myself and the answers would align nicely once I did.
But in my last session, something happened. I think she gave in. I had just finished telling her about my latest idea for a script when she asked why I had chosen sports as a topic.
“Do you think it may have something to do with your image of your body?” she asked.
I assured her that I was interested in the subject purely from a social perspective. That I was merely concerned with the social pressures women in my region constantly face.
“Of which body image is an integral part.” She was nudging me along.
I assured her, again, that I hadn’t thought of the idea in that respect.
“Not consciously, at least,” she said.
In my past two years in therapy, I have analysed all my relationships, from my grandfather, through my parents and siblings, husband, children and closest friends. But there was one I hadn’t truly tackled yet: my relationship with my body.
Yet many, if not all, of these relationships that I had been exploring, scrutinizing and dissecting had in fact been affected, if not shaped, by my body or at least by my, and their, perception of it. My body had been constantly reflected back to me by the same people populating my therapy sessions.
My mother continually expressed her sorrow that I had inherited her genes.
My father never thought my body a problem because I had a beautiful mind. Yet, when I was around 10 years old, he would make me do 200 rope jumps a day every day in a bid to lose weight. Maybe so that my body could then match my mind.
My sisters are both taller than me and have been, for most of our years, thinner. But accepting that was acknowledging their physical superiority over me. I had to be different, so as not to compete.
When I was a pudgy teenager, my brothers, who had already gone to university, put on the requisite freshman 15 and lost them again, offered to help me lose weight. (It lasted for about a day.) Acknowledging that I had body image issues, therefore, took me to all the places I did not want to go. Of course I didn’t have any! Body image issues were for losers. And I, I was a winner.
During the first 20 years of our marriage, my husband had to continually reassure me that I did not look fat. I lashed out at him once, after my trousers wouldn’t zip up, because he had not warned me that I was getting bigger—I grew up in a family where telling someone that they have put on weight or are not looking their best is a duty, a sign of love and that you care. My sister-in-law once chastised me for eating a slice of pizza. She was helping me take notice, caring for my body when I obviously had no idea what I was doing.
I am surrounded by dieters and restrictive eaters, men and women. The thin ones succeed at it. The bigger ones less so but that doesn’t stop them trying again at the next meal. Growing up, gadgets were important in our household. Family and guests often gathered around the latest scales, those that stored your weight and that of others, or that measured your fat and water weight as well. We always had either a stationary bicycle or a treadmill. I used them all, along with the jump rope.
My body has been so good to me. First of all, it moves. In all directions. Up, down, laterally, diagonally. It does squats, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups, runs, cycles, swims. You get it. It moves with ease, without pain and rarely ever complains or gets sick. It has borne me three wonderful children and grants me many moments of happiness playing or walking with my dog. So why on earth I have been trying to squeeze it into a smaller size all my life, I have no idea. Why I have starved it, gorged it, poisoned it, ironed it, forced it to follow a certain imposed ideal I don’t know.
There were times when I would rebel, usually a few weeks into a new “diet” to end all “diets”. I should not have to worry about what I look like! I am a writer, a professional, what does it matter what I looked like? As long as my thoughts and my words were aesthetically pleasing, did I have to be too? Of course not! I would take out the wine, eat carb-laden meals and dessert, not necessarily for enjoyment, but because I could. Because I was finally out of alimentary jail. And then along would come a famous and successful writer, musician, poet, or scientist, who also looked slim and I would regret my rebellion. I would find another, more suitable, “diet”. I also wanted to have it all, just like them.
When I told people I was writing an article entitled Am I in therapy because I’m fat? They were amused, interested. No one said, “Oh but how come? you’re not fat.” That, I understood, was not a reflection of my own body but of theirs and their own struggles. They also would benefit from losing a few pounds. We all could. We’re all fat. We’re all in this together. And if we’re not yet fat, we’re in a death-defying struggle not to be.
I asked my therapist once when one finishes one’s therapy. “When one grows up,” she said. I understood that to mean when we truly take responsibility for our actions and accept our own mortality. With all due respect, I’d like to disagree. I think in my case, it may just be when I finally accept my body and treat it with the respect it deserves. I may be finishing soon.