Sleeping Beauty’s Mother

Though I have written a book exploring fat and our culture, the fat complex that grips us, how the war on obesity is fought in the clinical setting, and how being fat is an ongoing traumatic experience, it is not the end of the story. Nearly every turn in the road turns up a new wrinkle in fat acceptance and dealing with weight bias for me. While I have been able to come to terms with my body, still I wished for my daughter that she not have to contend with being fat, not because I feel fat is bad but because I know how hard it is to be out of step with the culture. 

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You see that beautiful little girl in that photo? She was 5 there. I was delighted beyond measure when she was born. I always wanted a daughter, in part I'm sure to redeem my experience with my mother. To me she was and is the most wonderful daughter ever -- smart, funny, and beautiful -- everything I could hope for. 

Consider the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty — you might want to refresh your memory of this tale which you can find at surlalunefairytales.com. After the neglected fairy issued her curse, a curse that the youngest fairy could only mitigate, not undo, Sleeping Beauty’s parents did everything they could to keep her from the curse placed on her at birth, that she would prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep and prolonged sleep.

Knowing my body and how like the Fuller women I am, I was afraid that my daughter faced the curse of having to battle her weight all of her life. And I was determined to do anything and everything I could to protect her from it.  

I read and I talked with everyone I could think of who might be able to help me. I breastfed her for all of her first year, because I read breastfed babies were less likely to become fat. I held off introducing solids until she was 7 months old, because it was thought that early introduction of cereal predisposed to obesity. I made all of her baby food so that I knew there was no hidden sugar or modified starch. I was vigilant about what I and my husband ate, so that we were modeling healthy eating. I struggled to overcome my shame about my body so that I wouldn't communicate that to her -- I worked as hard as I could to get comfortable talking about my body, answering questions about it, getting comfortable in my skin.  

And it seemed to work. Until she was around 11 she was slender and I thought maybe we had escaped the curse. But the Moirae could not be escaped no matter how vigilant I was or how hard I tried. I hadn't reckoned with puberty. She began to gain weight. She started menstruating when she was not quite 12 and it seems that it signaled the pricking of her finger on that spindle I had tried so desperately to get rid of. She became plump, with the same rounded body I have. I was in despair because I had done absolutely everything right, everything that was supposed to stave off the curse. We didn't overeat, eat junk food or any of the other "bad" things. We walked and did things together. She walked to school every day and played field hockey. None of it kept her slender.  

My heart broke for her as she struggled with it all. We talked about bodies, about doing everything possible to be healthy, that people come in all sizes. Her doctor and I determined that it was important for her to focus on being active and healthy, not dieting because she was at risk of developing an eating disorder, like several other girls in her class had.  

It was like walking through a field of land mines every day. I wanted someone, anyone to wave a wand and let her have the body she wanted. I felt guilty, that somehow I was responsible for her weight, for having passed along this terribly difficult problem to her. And I struggled with a secret shame that I failed to protect her. I worked  with renewed vigor on my own body issues. But none of it could change things. And I had to forgive her for not having escaped and myself for not having been able to save her.  

She is 40 now. She is not thin, but she has settled into an adult weight less than mine. She is active and healthy. She has been able to keep her weight fairly stable by concentrating on being healthy. She is largely free of the self-loathing I was still struggling with when I was her age. 

 I read here and there and everywhere that if we get children to eat healthily, avoid junk food, and exercise, we can prevent obesity, and I think of my beautiful daughter. If they only knew how hard it is to eliminate all the spindles in the kingdom. 

Recently she wrote to me:

“Though I am still working on finding my ultimate fat place, and my struggles have been different *and* influenced by yours, something has clicked along the way because I do not hate myself nor feel ashamed of my body. I have never, ever looked in the mirror and not found several things I like…you did a good job of helping me get to this comfy place in which I now find myself at 40.”

Could I ask for anything more?


© CHERYL FULLER, 2010. ALL  RIGHTS RESERVED.