I was a fat kid. At least, that’s what I was told. “Fat” was the word Sunshine used. She used it early (when I was as young as age 5) and often. She encouraged others to use it too. My father had three sisters. Two were indisputably fat. They jeered me whenever they showed up and they did so with Sunshine’s complete agreement and approval.
Fast forward: a member of my church suggested my infant son was plump. The tigress in me rose up and growled. My son had a little round face, short, fat legs and a pokey stomach like most 6 month old people. I’m sure the lady didn’t mean any harm (words can hurt, even unintentionally), but my message was clear. Lay off my kid. I was determined that nobody would speak badly about my children. Period. I’d shield them from careless verbal assaults. That was my attitude.
Sunshine’s attitude was a little different. The tigress in her pounced on her cubs.
I learned very young to brace myself when my aunts visited. They’d come in, fling their jiggly arms open and let fly with “Lynne, come here and let me see how fat you are!” and “Lynne, look at you! You’re sooooo fat!” Sunshine totally enjoyed the spectacle. More than once, I was asked “Lynne, what do you eat?!” With a laugh, Sunshine joined in the attack, “Anything she can!”
The only thing worse than Sunshine with our relatives was Sunshine without them. When Daddy worked late and wasn’t at the dinner table, she’d berate me for eating too much. “You’re just gonna keep eating aren’t you?” she’d blare if I asked for another piece of meatloaf. “You’re just gonna keep on getting fatter and fatter!” My younger sister, Straighten Up! asked for more gravy and extra slices of cake too, but she was often sick then and extra thin. She wasn’t chastised for eating. Sunshine lay into her, too (another post). She just didn’t call her fat.
I wasn’t different from other children. I ate what I was served and tried to get more of the stuff I really liked. True, I loved cookies and sugary cereal; but in that way, I was like every kid on the planet. I also loved music, reading, sports (best kickball player in the schoolyard), ballet class and cartoons. I was a good student (mostly A’s and B’s) and got along well with my sisters. Outside of enrolling me and Straighten Up! in our once-a-week dance class, Sunshine didn’t encourage much physical activity. She certainly didn’t get physical with us herself. She was usually tired and had to get her rest and her soaps.
Childhood pics of me don’t show a fat kid. They don’t even show an especially chubby kid. I looked like other kids on our street and most in my class. But when Sunshine looked at me, she apparently saw morbid obesity. Did loving concern for my physical health inspire her taunts? I’m not stupid enough to believe that.
Sunshine kept up her routine for years. By the time I was 13, Sunshine had added an easy, breezy, beautiful contribution to the Lynne Is Fat narrative: “Yeah, she’s bigger than I am!” Sunshine saw herself as the 90 pound waif who was nicknamed “Little Lady” in college — her glory years. She looked her petite best and was the perfect weight for herself and everyone else. When I brought my first child (at 3 months) to visit, she greeted me in the doorway with “Lynne, you’re fat-faced!”
Sunshine is no waif. She wasn’t when I was a child and she definitely isn’t one now. When she tormented me she was nearly double her college size.
Sunshine subscribes to the idea that it’s her duty to “toughen up” her children — and not with any of that huggy-kissy-touchy-feely stuff either. Mockery was and still is meant to keep us from being soft. The notion of a home as a refuge? A foreign concept. Sunshine fancies herself a practitioner of “tough love.”
My father acted as if he believed that a loving home and supportive family was of paramount importance. Because of his example, I enjoy wonderfully warm and enriching relationships with my children and grandchild.
I renounce my mother’s contemptuous behavior toward me and my sisters and I wholeheartedly reject her absurd and destructive parenting concepts.