Monday, May 23, 2011

Weight a minute – the early years.

Okay, it’s time to talk about it.
The weight.

Let’s start off by saying that I just finished having two handfuls of Sour Patch Kids, a candy I don’t even like, for lunch today.

Here we go:

Below is the very first entry from my beloved Hello Kitty Friendly Diary.
I was seven years old:

I vividly remember seeing the Friendly Diary at the store “Small, Small World” in the Chillmark Shopping Center in Ossining New York. Small, Small World carried a variety of Sanrio products, mostly the uber-popular Hello Kitty line. On days when I deserved a special treat my mom or dad would take me there to pick out a little something. Like a fun smelly eraser, a bubblegum lip gloss, some Boyton Cat stickers or something from the coveted Hello Kitty line. I had fondled the Friendly Diary many a time, begging my parents to please buy it for me, but it was too much of a big ticket item. My birthday was coming up in February and they kept telling me just to be patient, but I wanted that Friendly Diary badly and didn’t want to wait.

I remember going to visit Dr. Lubell with my mom that sunny afternoon to get weighed. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning, I had just drank a bunch of Hi-C Cactus Cooler and called it good. We drank Cactus Cooler constantly at our house. The sugary concoction came in a big can and you would punch two triangle shaped openings through the top, one side to pour out of and one side to vent for air (which I never understood). It was the color of your pee after you eat asparagus. I thought that by not eating that morning I could trick the scale at the doctor’s office into showing a lower number, but no such luck.

My family was always weird when it came to the issue of my weight. They would feed me crazy amounts of food, praising what a good eater I was, but then make me feel like something was wrong when everybody else got ice cream and I was stuck eating crappy ice-milk. Eeew, ice milk. It came in a single serving cup with a paper lid with a little pull tab on it that you peeled back to reveal the icy, bland tasting “dessert.” All it did was make me sneak more Brach’s Caramels out of the candy bowl that my mom put on a shelf way up high in the living room.

Every Sunday we would go over to Grandma and Papa’s house for Sunday dinner - meatballs, macaroni, and Sunday gravy. There would be a green salad that was never referred to as salad, it was simply called “lettuce” and consisted of iceberg lettuce soaked in olive oil with salt and black pepper. For fruit there was a tray of sliced navel oranges doused in olive oil which were called “oily oranges.” Papa was a butcher and did the majority of the prep work and the cooking while Grandma poured oil on the different food items and smoked her cigarettes, leaving hot pink rings on all of the butts that were in the ash tray.

My grandparents were known for sneaking me food; they were like CIA Agents on a secret mission. They would cause some sort of distraction in the living room, like something that needed fixing by my father. Then my Grandma would command my Papa to “give the baby a meatball” and he would call me close to him over by the hot stove. I would gobble down a piping hot meatball on a buttered piece of Italian bread. Nothing had ever tasted so good. Sometimes instead of eating the gravy on my “ronis” my Papa would save some of the pasta water, combine that with butter, parmesan, and ricotta and mix it all together in a big bowl for me. Butter noodles my ass, this was butter noodles Italian style.

Mission: give the baby a meatball.

My mother would bring dessert every Sunday. She took classes in cake decorating so the deserts were always pretty elaborate as she was testing out her new skills. There would be doll cakes, cakes with a million perfect sugary roses on them, custard cakes, and cobblers.

Be a doll and eat this cake.

And strangely, everyone began to wonder why I was starting to become overweight.

The Friendly Diary became my confidant, the thing I could tell all of my seven-year-old weight-obsessed issues to. I spoke to it like it was a person, begging, “Please, please Diary, help me to be good,” or “I didn’t eat that cookie Diary because I am on a dite.” There are countless entries scrawled in child handwriting with misspellings asking for help and wishing that I could just be normal like everybody else.

I wish I could talk to that little girl today, give her some ice cream along with the rest of the family and tell her that all of this nonsense won’t affect her in the future.

But that would be lying.


  1. My heart aches for you when I read this. I too was a chubby child and it always made me feel different (in a bad way).

    On a side note lets do lunch today.....How about Macaroni Grill?

  2. I Love macaroni Grill make your own pasta!
    I was the opposite. I was skinny to the point of looking unhealthy. My Sicilian Grandma would sneak me wine to put color in my face so the neighbor ladies didn't think we were too poor to feed me (ridiciulous). Having weight was a status symbol to those first generation Sicilians and Italians. Of course, after years of everyone stuffing me constantly and sneaking me wine I hit puberty and became a wino who loves to eat and has fought her weight ever since!

  3. To eat, or not to eat. Seems like this was a double-bind for you. It's a sad story on so many levels. What I focus on (and this may be because of my work on FAMISHED) is the desperate attempts made to share and receive love with food, and how these efforts are convoluted by fear. Consider the mother striving to create the perfect confection vis a vis Papa's meatballs and butter noodles- 2 very different expressions of care. How can a young girl receive all of this and make sense of the implicit punishment that ensues with the inevitable weight gain? What does this say about how we are taught to receive care and what do we carry forward as adults in the ways we seek nurture from others? Know that as complicated as this was for you, it was at least as severe a conundrum for the women of earlier generations who wrestled with even more formidable social rules and rituals around food. Thank goodness for the Friendly Diary and this blog, your allies...and ours. Thank you!

  4. An interesting bit of trivia: Anne Frank named her diary "Kitty."