Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Chubby Chops - a life in pictures. Part 4

Marriage Picture № 13: 1978, aged 25
with husband, and sister on a visit from Argentina

Married life was lovely at first, and though it made me feel self-conscious, I didn’t really take the teasing about my small spare tyre very seriously. I just preferred to time the business of getting into my (large) nightie when my husband was brushing his teeth, and I applied make-up carefully to ensure he concentrated on my face and not the rest of me. Very dedicated to squash and high in the league, not to mention fanatical about tennis, he tried to encourage me to take up some form of exercise, but I didn’t want to - when not at work I wanted to be at home. He wasn’t interested in the new dishes I cooked – he liked his cottage pie and roasts – so I experimented on myself, and had a lovely time trying out new recipes.
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He put up a poster in our bedroom – you might recognise it, it was famous at the time. The girl played tennis locally and he knew her by sight – the front that is.
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Picture № 14: That bloody Athena poster, 1980.
Me, typically, hiding under the duvet.
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I hated it, but he told me he would take it down the day I was slim. I’m afraid I didn’t learn assertiveness for a few more years.
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A pattern started to evolve. I wanted to please him, so I would manage to lose a few pounds. He felt that I had to learn how to lead a healthy life with temptations around me, so it wouldn’t be right to ban tempting high calorie foods from the house – specifically biscuits, or to avoid going out for meals. It made perfect sense, but I just couldn’t cope with it. If there were 5 biscuits eaten from the packet, I’d wolf down the rest of the packet, go out and buy another identical one and eat the first five biscuits from the new one, so he would think I hadn’t had any. My confidence was fast disappearing.
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The psychological problem with diets if you're like me: when you break it you don’t limit the damage and carry on, or pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start again. No, you say f… it, I can’t do it – and go back to the way you were before. Except you don’t go back to where you were: you go further than last time. So – lose two pounds, gain three, lose three pounds, gain four, and so on.
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We were forever going to or giving dinner parties. Our friends were all professionals of one sort or another, slim and sporty. Squash and tennis were discussed to death. “Would you like a second helping?” Both hands up, palms facing the hostess, righteous look on face and pursed lips “Oh goodness I couldn’t possibly! That was SO delicious but I’m really full. But I’d love the recipe!” (Caroline thinking either “that remark makes me want to put two fingers down my throat” or “shit, I suppose I can’t have any more either then”.)
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Picture № 15 - at a wedding in 1981...
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...hating the dress I was wearing because I had been told before we left the house that it was a dress for a slim person.
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The self-loathing started around then. I adored him and so wanted to please him, and felt so weak and pathetic because I couldn’t control my eating the way everybody around me seemed to be able to do. Going to a slimming club would feel like “coming out”, and I was so ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t do it by myself. My parents used to say on their sporadic visits from the southern hemisphere “you’re putting on weight you know” and “why aren’t you pregnant yet?”, my husband the same but differently “you know, people like one to be slim – you’re never loved in the same way if you’re fat” and “either get slim or get pregnant”.
Get pregnant? And have another reason for blowing up like a balloon? With my history of dieting, the 7 pounds odd at the end of the nine months would be the only weight I would ever lose, and if he looked at me so disapprovingly now, what would it be like when I gradually inflated as in that deeply unpleasant Monty Python sketch where the diner in a restaurant gets bigger and bigger during the course of the meal and then explodes at the end in the most disgusting manner imaginable? That was me, only female. I wasn’t broody, I was far too scared of my own body spiralling out of control to want babies, and unbeknown to me at the time, too unloved to receive any help from him.
Picture 16 - Another wedding in 1982,
a large and sumptuous affair
I was by chance standing next to actress Karen Dotrice when the official photographer came up and snapped us – I was mortified beyond belief that I had been photographed next to a very skinny celebrity, and the smile is totally fixed. I look at this picture now and my heart bleeds for the unhappy young woman who doesn’t look anywhere near as gross as she felt.
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And so I comforted myself in the usual way – the inevitable mash potato from childhood, in high calorie form, polenta ditto (not the posh, upper class and neatly shaped stuff you get served in restaurants with ‘jus’ and sun-dried wood shavings, but the nursery type of my childhood as made by my Italian grandmother, with full cream milk, lots of butter and melted cheese, the consistency of – yes – mash potato), and oh boy was I an expert on jam doughnuts. I could bore for England on what makes a first class jam doughnut… And even ice-cream - though after the joys of growing up with the wonderful ice-cream in Argentina introduced by Italian immigrants, where every village has several superb ice-cream parlours boasting 100 different flavours, British ice-cream was to me the absolute pits in those days. (In fact most people still adore the horrible liquid Styrofoam stuff squirted out into a peak which has been pumped full of air and chemicals, and with a chocolate flake in it. When I’m dictator I shall hang its inventor up from the highest tree. Sorry, I digress.)

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Then he’d have another go at me and the cycle would start all over again, with even more self-loathing. He was never angry or violent – he just gave the impression all the time of feeling deeply disappointed with me, and was always quiet.  Seen from this distance it was very unkind and uncaring, and the remarks were frequently made in front of other people. He offered to pay for me to go to a health spa for a holiday where I would be put on a diet, but was never willing to get involved personally in trying to help me. He clearly found overweight people generally repellent. I cried on the quiet and felt trapped by my own weaknesses. Friends around us were having babies but I wouldn’t even consider it.

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I was barely aware that the relationship was slowly deteriorating – and when I thought about it, I knew it to be my own fault. Like the proverbial stork however, I felt wedded for life and trusted that we would work our way through it.
Picture No. 17, 1983, at yet another wedding, of a friend
The body language speaks volumes here I think, and I could barely smile. I thought the white collar would show off my face, and the shawl is there because a poncho wasn’t smart – it was just another way to cover up.
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In 1977 on my wedding day I had weighed around 9 stone (126 lbs, 57 kilos). Now in 1983 I was about 11 stone (154 lbs, 70 kg). At my present size two stone doesn’t mean as much, and in fact I can’t wait to weigh 70 kg again, but at that stage of overweight, an increase of this magnitude is extremely noticeable, and I felt very ugly.

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Some years before I had found some pseudo-ephedrine pills at a chemist which didn’t require a prescription, and I used to take them on holiday so that my husband would think I was being very careful and restrained with my food intake, and be pleased. I didn’t take them all the time because I could see they were bad for me – they increased my heart rate and made my hands shake a bit, and worse still, I had noticed that they made me feel very anxious about silly, unimportant things. I eventually cut them out altogether for that reason.

Picture № 18, 1983, in Crete, aged 30
This one makes me cringe to remember – my husband took it when we were on a holiday in Crete with another (slim and very attractive) couple, and I have cut them out of the photo, on my left. It’s evening, we’ve just showered and are ready to go out for dinner. I’m standing apart from them, feeling totally alienated in a summer world where one is next to nude all day long, on the beach. The couple are recently married, all over each other, she’s gorgeous. She eats sparingly at dinner, my husband asks me why I can’t follow her example. I feel fat, self-conscious, and totally unloved. Ugh.
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By this point my parents had moved to Johannesburg, South Africa for a few years, and we planned to visit them in October 1984. I had managed to lose a stone or so (14 lbs, 6kg), but my husband issued me with an ultimatum – that after our two week visit I should get unpaid leave from work and stay on for a couple of months, losing weight under my mother’s watchful eye and attending regular aerobics classes. I simply had to lose the weight or there was no point in carrying on together.

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I was stunned, but resolute.
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(To be continued)
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-oOo-

9 comments:

Simone said...

Oh.My.Goodness. I am not even going to tell you what I want to do to that man right now!!!!! Unbelievable that anyone - least of all your husband - could do that to you.

Your story is fascinating Caroline - and can I tell you how beautiful you were....and still are...you must have enormous strength of character to have come through this.....and the years that followed......

I have to tell you that in that photo with Karen Dotrice, you are WAY MORE ATTRACTIVE THAN HER!!!!

Am really enjoying reading your story.....I am sure it is not easy to write.....but please don't keep us waiting too long for the next chapter....

Best wishes as always,
Simone

DocSly said...

Bless you, Caroline. You have experienced the ultimate abuse (verbal). As I read, I started to cry. The pictures of you are absolutely beautiful. But then, I always look at people's eyes and smiles. I have always lived with people telling me I have a beautiful face, and what I hear is, but your body is fat and ugly. You weighed as a young adult what I weighed in high school and although it is not altogether obese, it is overweight for our height. I feel like we are soul mates in our similarities. You give me strength to share my tale. God bless you, dear friend.

Tina said...

Good Lord Caroline!! I was cussing repeatedly at your ex-husband. No man has the right to abuse someone like that. I wonder what exactly the self-failings he was covering up that he had to call you out like that...Over here in the states I would say he must have had a very small penis he was compensating for. I know one should never speak ill of another woman's husband (even ex-husband) but his behavior has riled me up big time.

Tina

Nola said...

Well....I will speak ill of him...what a farking wanker!!!! I agree with Tina...he was definitely compensating for something lacking in his life by trying to find something wrong with you.
You looked beautiful and of "normal" weight in all of those photos to me. What a shame he could not see that.
I admire you so much for telling your story. It is very, very interesting and I too am looking forward to the next chapter.

Lonicera said...

Wow - what terrific support! Where were you all in 1984 when I needed you! Thank you so much. Actually, therein lies the problem - I didn't have friends of my own then, as the university ones had gone their various ways, childhood friends were back in Argentina and I got engaged before graduation, so all friends were mutual, and when we split up they told me they didn't want to take sides (understandable), and years later someone told me that at the time they feared that as a 'dropped' wife I was a loose cannon, and might be after their own husbands!! So if they didn't recognise I had SOME moral standards (not to mention an acute sense of dignity) then I was better off without them altogether, nuff said.
I didn't want to present him as an ogre, more as a typical product of his time - of a certain type. I'm not "trophy wife" material, I'm afraid.
This part 4 was the painful one - I'm half way through the next which isn't half as bad.
A collective hug to all of you.
Caroline

Reddirt Woman said...

Caroline, that man is an abuser. You don't have to be slapped or beaten, bruised or bloody to be an abused woman. He was the most insidious type of abuse. He tore your sense of self worth, which from your stories was quite fragile even then. Such a quite, subtle horrible abuse.

It so difficult to get yourself built back up. I know.

Hugs, Caroline.

Helen

Tina said...

I agree with Helen and have one more point to add---If your ex-husbands friends were so afraid of you in your newly divorced status you must have been some kind of attractive woman to keep them scared like that....hmmm seems to me your exhusband was not stating the truth but trying to keep you from realizing your own beauty (inside and out!!)

Tina

Simone said...

Yes, some kind of friends they were...."loose cannon" indeed!

I just wanted to say a big WELL DONE on your latest monthly weight loss.....congratulations :)

Take care :)

Lonicera said...

There's more than one comment in here that smacks of some degree of personal experience, and I salute you all.
Thank you Simone for your encouragement - I regret I'm a bit too jaded from past failures to cheer and punch the air because I've got below the 100 kg mark, but I am pleased about it, no doubt about that.
I've banned words such as "diet" and "target" from my vocabulary, but admit I can't help wondering whether the next 6 months will make me start to actually feel I'm getting there. Right now I feel less breathless, and my face is a bit better, but that's about it.
Thank you all so much.
Caroline

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