Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Fat Didn't Protect Me

I've done a lot of thinking (and some writing) about why losing weight is, in some ways, scary. How as the weight comes off, sometimes we feel more vulnerable. The fat is a shield of safety for many of us. A lipid-based coat of armour. But lately I've thought about the fact that my fat didn't protect me. Not really.

Yesterday I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Refuse to Regain. It's not really a weight loss blog. It's more of a maintenance blog, as the title implies, but I figure I can use all the help I can get. After all, someday I will be a maintainer, and even now, the battle not to regain is ever-present. The article, "Introducing Questions From Readers To Readers," was relevant to this idea I have been tossing around in my mind about fear of losing our fat. The question posed is: "do you feel vulnerable, either physically or emotionally or both, at your goal weight, and was the fear of feeling vulnerable ever an excuse not to reach your goal?"

The question is innocuous enough, but when I started reading the replies, I started remembering things. Things that happened when I was fat, that some people use fat to avoid. For example, some of the comments talked about vulnerabilities such as attention from the opposite sex. By staying huge, we can avoid lots of male attention. But then I read a comment by a mother with older kids (like me) who talks about not being in a position to have comments/advances towards her because she is in a small town and just goes to doctors, kids events, etc. No place that she is at risk, so to speak.

Me too. But my fat didn't protect me from men.

I always got plenty of male attention when I was at a normal weight, and it didn't really let up a lot when I gained. Some of it was quite unwelcome, and upsetting, because I was married or it was just plain inappropriate.

The first time I remember this happening, I was in my 20's. I probably weighed close to 200 pounds, and I went to a chiropractor for the very first time. I was a little nervous as they handed me a sheet and told me to undress, but it was all business, right? So I laid on the table, alone with this man. He ran his hands over my back and did his adjusting, but the way he brushed against me at times seemed... not quite right. How he pressed against me, how his hands slid to my curves and lingered there sometimes. But it was all in my head, right? When he finished working on my back, he asked me to turn over. When I did, he rested his hand on my upper thigh. He leaned in and talked to me quietly and his hand started to caress my leg. I think my jaw dropped and my eyes about rolled onto the floor, because he saw my deer in the headlights look, smiled, and said, "I hope I see you again." He didn't.

The second time this happened I was still pretty heavy, maybe 180 or so. I was going in to see a doctor for removal of a suspicious-looking spot on my back. I'd seen this doctor before, and he was always very nice. Maybe too nice. Always offering me painkillers even when I was not in pain. (I was young, I didn't get what was going on. I just said no thanks.) I was lying on his table, alone in his office with him. He had asked me to remove my top completely for the procedure and there was no on in the office but us. As strange and wacky as this sounds, after he finished the procedure, he ran his hands up my bare side... from hip to breast. I was alarmed... shocked. What the heck is he doing?? He rubbed my back for a second and I stammered, "are you done? I need to go." He stepped away and I got up and left. I later read in the paper that this man was accused and disciplined for sexual misconduct with a patient. So it wasn't just me.

The next time, I was newly divorced and weighed about 240 pounds. I decided I should see a counselor. I found one I liked... a man who was a bit older than I was, and was very helpful as I talked to him about the struggles of becoming a single mother. But then he started sharing stories about his life, too. About his wife who was not meeting his needs. About how he is looking for a "side" relationship. He would sit close to me, look in my eyes, and put his hand on my leg. Then one day he told me that what I needed to do was "have an affair with a married man." He talked about my "needs" being met without worry of commitment. I knew what he meant. I stayed away for a couple of weeks, trying to decide whether or not to report him, but someone else beat me to it. I wasn't the only one there, either.

There was the assistant I hired, once, to help me with errands in my supervisory position at work. I had a lot to do, and my two assistants were both men who helped me out when needed. One day my son was home from school, sick. He was in bed asleep. I had to stay home and do my work in my home office (I was divorced at that time and probably weighed about 240). I called one of my assistants to come to my house and pick up some files to deliver to the office. When he arrived, he acted like he didn't understand my instructions. He asked if he could come in so I could explain in more detail. I let him in and led him downstairs to my home office. I pulled up a couple of chairs and started explaining to him just what I needed him to do at work... and as I was yapping away he reached over and placed his hand on my thigh. I was so shocked I just ignored it and kept yammering on, until he started rubbing my leg and leaning towards me. I stopped talking. I grabbed his hand and removed it from my leg. He held onto my hand and said something about how very attracted he was to me. I was his BOSS for heaven's sakes! I stammered, "You're MARRIED!!!!!!" and he said, "That doesn't matter. She doesn't need to know." And I stood up and said, "she WILL know, I'll TELL her if you don't back off. I need you to leave NOW." He did get up, red faced, apologised, and left.

And then there was the new doctor I started going to. He was a nice guy. He would come in and shut the door and chat with me about my life. He started sharing about his, too. When I was sick and he needed to listen to my lungs, he would lean in very close, his breath on my collarbones, and place his hands under my shirt as if to feel me breathe. By this time I was terribly confused. Why were all these men doing this? Is it all in my head? Am I nuts? He is just being a doctor. He is just making sure my lungs are okay. Even when he gave me a long hug after our appointment, I kept telling myself it is not what I think it is. I AM FAT. I weighed 265 pounds by this point! I told myself that he was just being a nice doctor. Until the last visit, when he hugged me close for a very long time, breathing in the scent of my hair as I stood there stunned, and then kissed me on the cheek. Enough is enough, this is insane! I stopped going to him. I was going to report him. But then he died.

There are not even the only instances. These men were attractive, and for the most part, in good shape. No matter how much weight I gained, I couldn't get away form this kind of experience. And I have hated it.

The difference for me now is that as I have shed the fat THIS TIME is that I am also shedding my insecurities. I'm not a scared fat chick wondering what the heck I did to bring on such attention. I'm not the chubby woman who is so terrified of "misreading" an advance that she lets it happen. Part of the problem before was that in my head, I was thinking, "nooo, this can't be right. No man would make advances on me. I am so fat, I have no attractive value." I was scared that if I said something, like, "What the hell is your problem? Get your hands off me!" that the doctor/counselor/chiropractor would just laugh and say, "You gotta be kidding me! Why would *I* want to touch someone as obese and gross as YOU??" I was too scared to stand up for myself immediately and tell them to back off.

You can bet if that happened to me now, I would be ALL OVER that guy, whoever he is. It's not right for someone in a position of "authority" such as a doctor or counselor to make advances on a patient. Ever. No way would I tolerate that crap now. He would get a big fat knee in the groin. I love who I am, and who I am becoming. I'm not scared of this kind of crap anymore. And I happen to really like *appropriate* male attention!

My fat never kept me safe from unwanted advances, just as it never shielded me from illnesses, grief, and other life tragedies. I still got sick, I still had heartache. I still had stress and pain and struggles. Fat's just a hindrance to me reaching my fullest potential. There's no benefit in keeping it around anymore.


ryry the adventurous said...

FOR THE LOVE OF PEEPS, LYN! I cannot beleive you have this many stories like this... how horrible! I can't even fathom how you would have any faith in men after that. I know I wouldn't. :(

...and those types of stories are why I only have women doctors ><

But seriously... what a story. And you are awesome, as usual.

Deb said...

Wow, those stories are When you talked about how as an obese woman you didn't have the courage to stand up for yourself but that now you would, it made me wonder....did these creeps sense that exact thing and therefore thought they could get away with it. I guess in the end our ultimate protection is our confidence and ability to stand up for ourselves.

I am very sorry you have had all these things happen to you. I had a doctor touch me inappropriately once. I've never told anyone because I thought it was in my head. But now reading your stories, I do not. I was at the gyno, feet in stirrups. His fingers rubbed against a spot that I had never before or since had touched by a gyno, if you catch my meaning. I was so young I didn't say anything. But I stopped going to him and will never have a male gyno again ever.

Heather said...

Im really sorry that you had those experiences. but its important that now you realize that they dont need to happen and that you can do something about it the next time (And hopefully there is no next time), something like that happens. you are right - fat doesnt do much to protect us. sometimes we think it does, but it the truth is it doesnt.

LastJourneyDown said...

OMG Lyn! How absolutely awful - and that it happened so many times - yes, many, many - too many. Sorry you didn't feel you could report these sick professionals - horrible. Never, as a not-too-fat or morbidly obese person did anything like that happen to me, but I may have reacted as you and not reported, but been disgusted by me, which is really worse. So sorry - glad you could write about it. Hugs xo

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

Wow is definitely the word. Wow. That your wrote all this out is powerful. Yowza, girl, you've had quite the experiences. I just can't get past wow. And I'm a literate person! LOL Some day when we meet for real, we'll have a big old long talk. For now, I'll just way wow. And I actually get what you said on a personal level. Unfortunately.

Tamzin said...

Thanks again for sharing, its very true what you have said about unwanted attention, fat doesn't protect, or shelter.

Although you should have said, "He would get a big LESS fat knee in the groin."


Lyn said...

Thanks all. It did take me a long time to acknowledge these events. Mainly because I thought.. I *should have* reported them immediately. Not waited a couple of months until someone else reported them. It made me feel guilty. But in my head I thought, these events (except for the last one) were "subject to interpretation" and my word against his. Who would believe that a doctor would make a pass at someone "like me"? By the time I had that last experience and was READY to go report him, he was dead. That felt like a kick in the gut.

Never again will I *NOT* say something when I feel like I am being taken advantage of.

Lin said...

Let me echo all the other sentiments, "wow". Probably quite a few of us have abused sexually and/or touched inappropriately when we were younger. I know I was. But to have it happen so many times is inexplicable. Sometimes I think that I let myself get fat in order to protect myself from men and their advances. And, sometimes, when i lose weight, and I start to get more attention from men, I start to overeat... trying to put on that protective layer of fat???
Thanks, Lin, you're a wonderful writer.

Lin said...

Oh, and no wonder there is always a female nurse or assistant in the room with you these days during a Drs. exam....

Anonymous said...

You know, Lyn, I wonder if the truth (about being shielded) is quite the opposite. Perhaps what this sort of man sees is a woman who would jump for attention from any man (assuming of course that who could love a fat woman). A woman who would never complain because who would believe her? The handsome male doctor, or the overweight patient? She's just making it up!

Maybe what's really happening is an intentional exploitation of someone who is perceived to somehow be in a powerless position.

Hanlie said...

I can relate to that completely. Our fat does not "protect" us. In the six years between my marriages I received lots of sexual attention fom men... mostly just the negative kind. Some men must think that fat women would be ever so grateful for a bit of attention.

A few years ago I injured my ankle and was treated by quite a well-known orthopedic surgeon. Months later I heard that a few of his female patients had reported him for inappropriate (sexual) conduct. I take it my fat (or my ankle) hadn't turned him on, because he was very professional with me!

As for being more vulnerable when we're thinner, I think just having gone through the laborious and emotionally challenging journey of losing a large amount of weight, so we will be able to handle ourselves better in situations like you describe. Along with a new body, this journey also builds character.

You've given me a lot to think about with this post! Thanks!

Marshmallow said...

I agree with the comments of the last Anonymous poster.

Aside from that, I'm horrified that you went through so many awful events! I'm so sorry that you had to go through all of that, and I'm in awe of your bravery to share it all with us.

It's so great to hear that you'd ensure that they'd get their asses kicked if anyone behaved that way with you now. They so deserve it!

MizFit said...


three letters. one word. all I have right now.

(eh, I lied. you are such a strong surviving woman.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing! Unfortunately, we have a long way to go before women truly begin to feel safe and secure.

I can share *MANY* of the same stories including a boss who pulled me into an empty conference room, grabbed my breasts and said he wanted to "make sure they were real." When I reported him, his boss told me that he was just joking. I had to quit to get away from his behavior.

Unfortunately, sometimes even reporting this behavior doesn't amount to anything. I pray this changes before my daughters hit the workforce.

Chub said...

That's one issue I've always wondered about - fear of getting thin and attracting attention...
I'm really wondering if I'm not a bit guilty of this.
Obviously you're not and good for you!
I love reading your insightful posts. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Your blog brought back painful memories of two similar incidents in my own life: one with a college professor and one with a dentist. I left both situations confused and afraid and told no one for years. Your blog gives ALL women the power to speak out and not accept unwanted advances from men!!! We don't have to take this!!! If your honesty saves one woman from years of pain and self doubt and allows her to stand up to any man who dares to violate her, then you have provided a wonderful service.

Hang in there, Lyn!!!! You are so strong and so honest and you give us all hope!!!!

Karen in TN (your biggest fan but someday hoping to be smaller with your amazing inspiration)

~TMcGee~ said...

Good heavens! This makes me kind of glad that I am too embarrassed to go to a male physician and only have female doctors.
I'm sorry that happened to you, those men need to be horse whipped.

Vickie said...

My therapist and I spend a great deal of time talking about Victim Stance.

I am SO NOT saying that you/we/I ASK for inappropriate behavior from others. I am saying that you/we/I may have learned at a young age 'how to be a victim - accept things'.

I think that there are many men that are very good (like a shark) at smelling blood in the water. They have an amazing ability to zone their radar in on vulnerable women.

I think in this case - HAVING the FAT – increases susceptibility to these type of men/people.

In my opinion - In this scenario it has nothing at all to do with sex appeal (as in I want to mate with you and have healthy children) as it has to do with I want to have power over your vulnerability. As in – I want to because I can.

Vickie said...

And I think it is wonderful that you wrote this post and openned this line of discussion.

I think these types of things have happened to many of us.

Some of us at ages where we were too little to understand or defend ourselves. Some of us at older ages - because we were vulnerable. I think for many of us - these type of circumstances set a course in our lives.

On a side note:
I think that many of us have a long history of relationships with gay men because they were very safe. My 14 year old daughter and I were just talking about the fact that my 6 very close male friends in high school were all gay. They were fun and loving and good friends - and very, very safe. To this day - it is easier for me to relate to gay men - yoga instructors, salesmen, tour guides, etc. There is comfort in their kindness and often they are VERY good at their jobs because they have good insight into working with women and women's needs.

Lyn said...

Anonymous & Vickie~

I think you are so right! These men see us as "easy victims" because of our insecurities, and think they can get away with it because we feel powerless. I *did* feel like a victim, and I certainly felt like no one would believe me if I told them. I do remember one thing all those instances had in common (except for the one with my assistant): I could not look the man in the eyes. I was scared. And that's a major difference now: I am NOT going to be a victim, and I am NOT afraid to look any man or anyone else in the eyes and tell them to back off.

I fully intend to take martial arts classes when I am fit enough, because I know as I get smaller I need to feel empowered so that I don't feel vulnerable. I look forward to taking self defense classes with my daughter!

Honi said...

I am not going to focus on those horrible stories.. I am only going to focus on the message of that post.. BEAUTIFUL

Anonymous said...

Wow Lyn,

I am 19 and about a year ago, I had a similar experience with a doctor. He kept rubbing my thigh until I removed his hand. I was so scared and outraged at the same time. Like you, I wanted to report him but thought maybe it was in my head or who would believe me.

Lyn, you should become an author, I couldn't keep myself from reading this post cuz it was SO interesting!

I agree with Vickie about shark smelling blood, yup.

Thanks Lyn and Vickie for making me feel empowered.

Lyn, you represent hope to many of us who have come from dysfunctional families. :)


Deb said...

I am shocked, saddened, and disgusted at how many people have had similar experiences with doctors or other "professionals". What is wrong with some men?!?!?!