The fact that I’ve never had an eating disorder is pretty remarkable. My parents were perfectionists in absolutely everything from the cleanliness of the house, to their children’s marks. And since I can’t see, I got some very early lessons in what looks good and what doesn’t.
I think it started when I was around seven. I can’t remember how the subject came up, but I’m guessing I must have been eating my share of the Saturday sweets. When I was little we only really had sweets on Saturdays unless there was a special occasion. But What I do clearly remember is mum saying something along the lines of “I hope you’ll never get fat. Because most blind people are fat and absolutely hideous to look at.”
Perhaps because I was so young, I thought what mum had said was very funny and I asked her to list the names of the biggest fatties in the blind community. I then asked why blind people were so fat and ugly. And she said it was because they ate too much and moved too little.
I never really forgot the conversation, although I didn’t ponder over it then. I was a very active child anyway. I did athletics, swimming and horse riding. And since I was a very picky eater as a child, I was very skinny anyway.
When I was 12, I got the kind of puppy fat most young girls get and grow out of. Looking back, I don’t really think I was fat. I remember using size small and I couldn’t have weighed that much. But mum was very good at reminding me. “No, you can’t where that. You’re too plump.”
What I didn’t know at 13 was that I’d grown out of the puppy fat stage. I only found that out later. So, being quite slim, I was convinced I was really fat. I could only compare myself to myself, so there was really no way of knowing what I looked like. I also didn’t know that your stomach not being ironing board flat sitting down was normal.
But I never really dieted. Instead I comfort ate when there was food around to comfort eat, which in our house wasn’t often. And throughout my teens, I was convinced I was on the larger side because of my dad’s “spare tire” jokes and hints that I needed to lose weight and join a gym. My dad was obese, so he probably was just taking out his resentment about his weight on me.
I think my teenage angst about my body was pretty average, but with one big difference. I couldn’t see what other people looked like. It’s only as an adult I found out that I was a relatively slim teen. And only because I saw my clothes from that period as well as having been able to explore what kind of bodies people around me had. Not necessarily always by touching, although having been able to feel waistlines of very close friends has helped. But also through information about measurements, BMI and learning that not everyone has the same body type and build.
Had I known all these things as a child, I would perhaps have resented my parents less every time my weight came up. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have had issues with my own body and wishing for it to be more perfect, but I would have been able to look at things differently had I known there was so much variety in sizes and shapes. At least I’d like to think so.
I know other blind girls and women who have experienced unfounded negativity in relation to their bodies from well-meaning parents who want them to look good. But I also knew blind people who have been completely spared from everything to do with body issues because they are blind.
I don’t think either extreme is good. You don’t have to be a size zero with and hour glass figure, but knowing what’s healthy is very important. Weight and body issues are things blind people need to be aware of. But there are good and constructive ways to raise this awareness. And having known blind women with eating disorders and my own resentment towards my parents growing up, I’d say that when it comes to any negative criticism, one has to be extra careful with a blind girl, or guy for that matter, who doesn’t always know the bigger picture.
My relationship with my body is a lot less complicated now, luckily. As I mentioned, I’m a lot more aware of a lot of factors that play a role in what makes someone fat or slim. I still have days and times where I’m not happy with parts of my body. But that’s normal. And I know I’m strong and healthy which is the main thing.