Sunday, August 16, 2009

Barren B*tches Book Tour: "Moose" by Stephanie Klein

Gather round the campfire, everyone (& let's sing a round of Kumbaya while we're at it for Melissa, lol). It's time for another meeting of the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community's virtual book club, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens. Participants read the same book and each submit a question to Melissa, who compiles & circulates a list of all the questions. We then answer at least three of them in our blog, and post at or around the same time on the same day. Melissa maintains the master list of participants on her blog.

I asked everyone to gather round the campfire because our selection this time is Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein, who blogs at Stephanie Klein's Greek Tragedy. The very thought of reading a book about summer camp while on my summer vacation seemed perfect, and while I must confess I never went to camp (let alone fat camp), I enjoyed this book a lot. I could practically smell the damp towels & bathing suits hanging up to dry and feel grains of sand between my toes as I read.

I always wanted to go to camp... but somehow it never materialized. Cost was probably a factor for my parents (and of course, if they sent me, they'd have to send my sister too), and we often spent several weeks during the summer at my grandmother's in Minnesota. Plus, where I grew up on the Canadian Prairies, very few people I knew went away to camp, let alone for the whole summer. Those who did go usually went to a camp sponsored by their church, or the 4-H Club, and rarely for more than week. When they got home, they'd tell us about all the cool kids they met (especially the boys) & teach us all the new campfire songs they'd learned.

Nevertheless, I got my camp fix through books (I particularly remember "Donna Parker: Mystery at Arawak") & movies -- like "Meatballs," "Little Darlings," and, most of all, the original version of "The Parent Trap" with Hayley Mills playing twins, separated as babies by their divorcing parents (Brian Keith & Maureen O'Hara), who meet by accident at summer camp and hatch a plot to switch places and then reunite their parents. I have seen that movie umpteen times -- first at the Saturday matinee when I was a kid in the late 1960s, and many times since then on TV & video. And I never get tired of it. (The remake, with a young Lindsay Lohan in the role of twins, and Dennis Quaid & the late Natasha Richardson as the parents, came out the same summer (1998) that I lost Katie. I went to see it with my mother, post-stillbirth, and while it was a pleasant diversion, I still prefer the original.)

Enough about my own camp experiences (or lack thereof). On to some of the questions.

What from your childhood led to a positive body image? And what, if anything, caused you to struggle with your own body image?

Weight was never an issue for me when I was growing up -- although I know I would have told you differently back then. No special pressures, just the normal pressures to be thin that any teenaged girl feels -- although I think the pressures have gotten far, far worse in recent years than they were when I was growing up in the 1970s. I haven't read my old diaries in years, but I well remember writing agonized comments to the effect of, "I am now 108 pounds!!! EEEEKKKK!!! I MUST LOSE SOME WEIGHT!!!" I look at pictures of myself now (or at the tiny pair of patched up cutoff denim shorts I wore in high school that still occupy the bottom drawer of the my old dresser at my parents) & I want to weep. I want to shake that girl by the shoulders & say, "Idiot, don't you realize how many girls would kill to have your body??" (Including your older self??)

(My younger sister was always the chubby one when we were children. Around the time we went into junior high, she suddenly grew taller and slimmed down, & has stayed thin ever since then. Until just a few years ago, she could still wear a pair of jeans she'd had in high school. B*tch.) (lol)

Wearing pretty clothes was an ego boost for me, as was getting to wear makeup, when I got older. Bodywise, my hair was always a source of pride for me (still is, I will admit) -- I have yet to encounter a hairdresser who doesn't comment in amazement over how thick it is.

If anything was an issue for me as a child, appearance-wise, it was my glasses. I had to get them when I was 7 years old, in Grade 2. At first, I thought getting glasses was kind of cool. I even wore sunglasses around the house as "practice" until my new glasses arrived. The novelty very quickly wore off, however. I can remember showing up at my maternal grandmother's house that summer wearing my new glasses, & sitting in the kitchen with my mother & aunts, fighting back tears while, outside, my cousins gathered at the screen door, giggling and pointing at me (led by the boy cousin closest in age to me, whose main pleasure in life always seemed to be teasing me).

(Funny, but for all that he tormented me while we were growing up, I'm very fond of my cousin. Of all my cousins on that side of my family, he's the one I wish I could see more often. He has three kids now, and both he & his mom have often said how much his oldest daughter, now a teenager, reminds them of me at the same age -- quiet, moody, a complete bookworm. I consider it poetic justice/karmic revenge against him, lol.)

I wore glasses for 10 years until I was 17, the summer before I went into Grade 12, and my optometrist (and my parents) finally yielded to my pleadings & let me get contact lenses (I still needed a pair of glasses as backup, though). I wrote a bit about my history with contacts, and what they did for me, here. Reading about Stephanie's first day back at school from fat camp reminded me a little of my first day of Grade 12 in September 1978, wearing my contacts and the "Annie Hall" style outfit I'd acquired with the money I'd earned working that summer -- an ankle-length pleated skirt, a grey flannel blazer over a white pinstriped blouse, salmon-coloured sweater vest and black skinny men's tie. And high-heeled, high-top boots. I didn't get quite the reaction Stephanie did, but I knew people were looking at me, and that I looked good. It gave me confidence.

*** *** ***

But somewhere after high school, as I went to university, got married and began to work, the pounds gradually began to creep on. For many people, seeing a picture of themselves is the wake-up call they need. For me, that picture was taken on my 30th birthday. I realized, looking at it, that there was nothing I could do about turning 30, but I could do something about how I looked. I promptly enrolled in the next session of Weight Watchers at Work held in my office building. That was February 1991, and by October, I had reached my goal weight (and even lost a few more pounds after that). At my lowest point, I was down 35 pounds from the previous winter. Yay me!!

I continued to attend the meetings for quite awhile afterward, as a Lifetime Member. At some point, though, I stopped tracking my food intake and stopped attending meetings. I started getting careless. The pounds began to creep on again. By the time I got pregnant in 1998, I was 15-20 pounds above goal weight; when I got pregnant, I gained another 15-20. After my daughter was stillborn, the weight never came off, it just sort of eventually rearranged itself. ; ) And I added a few more pounds on top of that. I tried going back to Weight Watchers a year or so after my pregnancy, while we were going through infertility treatments, but my heart just wasn't in it.

January 2007, I decided to try again. When I stepped on the scale (which is always a good 5 lbs heavier than the one I have at home), I was horrified: I was more than 50 pounds above my goal weight. I've continued to stick with WW (& shell out more & more money), as I think it's the most medically healthy/sensible & realistic plan that's out there. I've lost about 14 lbs since then, and I do look & feel better than I did. But it's been a constant battle -- one step forward, two steps back. It seems like I keep gaining & relosing the same three or four pounds, over and over again.

Losing weight at 30 was one thing, losing it at 48 is quite another. When I lost the weight at 30, I barely exercised at all. I did many the things they tell you to do, like drinking water, using low or non-fat dairy products and salad dressing, etc. And it worked.

These days, I'm still drinking my water & using low-fat products. (I even managed to avoid chocolate for NINE WHOLE WEEKS this spring when I was having problems with food reactions/hot flashes/anxiety/whatever the heck it was.) I don't deprive myself, but I try to eat healthy foods in reasonable quantities & minimize the treats (although I'm not always successful). I'm still not big on exercising, but I've taken yogalates classes, bought a pedometer, and tried conscientiously to walk more.

But it just hasn't had the same impact. I've had to come to the realization that I am never going to be the goal weight I was when I was 30, ever again. The size 8 Gap denim mini-skirt that I fit into for about five minutes back then, and then hung in my closet for the day when I could fit into it again, has long since gone to Goodwill. And that's OK.

But I'd still like to reach the top of my goal range. I think that's a more realistic goal weight for me these days, and still a healthy one. It would mean losing at least 25 more pounds, though, and I know it's much easier said than done. But I'm trying...

How did it make you feel when Stephanie's dad laughed at her being called a 'Moose'? Were you parents/guardians supportive of you during hard times/bullying/weight issues or did they just laugh at you like Stephanie’s father?

I felt badly for Stephanie, reading that. My parents weren't as uber-involved in the minute details of my life as today's "helicopter parents" seem to be. And if anyone got involved, it would most likely be my mother, who handled the minutae of our day to day lives, while my father worked.

But I did have some issues with bullies/mean girls, especially in my middle school years, & I can remember overhearing my mother saying to my father that she might have to have a talk with my chief tormentor's mother. Part of me thought, "No, no!" because I was afraid the bullying would only get worse. But it also felt good to know my mom believed there was a problem & didn't just dismiss my concerns -- and that she'd go to bat for me if she felt I needed the help. My sister & I were generally good students, but there were a few points during our school careers when my mother went to the school to talk to one of our teachers about concerns -- hers, ours or both.

In the author's note that precedes the rest of the book, Stephanie Klein writes: "I always hear that you have to let the past go, have to live in the moment, focus on your now. I'm able to move forward because I keep my past so close." I loved this statement -- not only because I, like Klein, am a packrat (who just finished going through a stack of boxes from my mother's crawl space that hadn't been opened in almost 30 years) -- but also because, so often, those of us in the ALI community are encouraged by well-meaning outsiders to "move on" with our lives. Thoughts? How does this statement apply to your own life, particularly regarding ALI? Do you find yourself wanting to keep your past close, or to let it go?

This was my question, and you can read about my crawl space exploits, here and here. ; ) As you can tell, I quite agree with Stephanie.

With regard to infertility & stillbirth -- as you can also tell, this is true for me in this part of my life as well. It's been 11 years since we lost Katie, 8 years since we made the decision to live childfree. But I still think about infertility & pregnancy loss issues every day, generally, as well as my own situation. I'm still hanging out on message boards for childless-not-by-choice women. I started this blog not quite two years ago. We're still facilitating the support group we attended after Katie's stillbirth, although we will be stepping down at the end of this year.

I wouldn't say that we haven't "moved on," because I think we have both come a long way since those dark days of 1998-2001. But I also think -- I know -- what happened to us changed us both forever. It is part of who we are now. It's impossible, for me, anyway, to completely "let go."

In the first chapter, Klein talks about her reluctance to gain weight during her twin pregnancy as a result of her childhood obesity. How have body image issues affected you during infertility? Pregnancy? Post-pregnancy?

Body image wasn't a problem for me during pregnancy (not that I remember anyway). I was so thrilled to be pregnant, after 2 & 1/2 years of trying to conceive. I took pride in my growing belly, and loved shopping for maternity clothes. I did find it a little disconcerting the day I needed my husband's help to put on a pair of socks, though, lol. ; ) And I did develop acne on my back. When my mother was here after we lost Katie, she used to dab the zits with peroxide for me to help dry them up, & then with vitamin E oil to heal the scars.

I know that many women have postpartum weight issues. I'm sorry. But you have a real live baby to show for it.

Try being postpartum after losing a baby. You're already feeling rotten enough about your body letting you down. You feel like cr@p, and you feel like you LOOK like cr@p. Not to mention that you may still look pregnant. If there's anything worse than being asked if you're pregnant when you're not, it's being asked if you're pregnant when not only are you not, you just lost a baby. And if there's anything worse than THAT, it's being asked if you're pregnant when you're not, you've lost a baby, you desperately want another one and you're finding you can't get pregnant again. (Been there, done that. Unfortunately.)

I've talked about postpartum weight issues with other babyloss mothers, in real life and online, who are also struggling to lose their pregnancy weight. One theory put forward was this: part of the reason it's so difficult for us to lose weight is that, somewhere in our subconscious, we may not really want to. Keeping the weight is a way of keeping our pregnancies, and our precious babies, with us. Letting go of the weight means letting go of our bodies the way they were when we had our babies with us. I dont' think that's the whole answer, but I think there may be a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: It Sucked, And Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce).


  1. I know that part of my weight gain almost comforted me, I looked pregnant in a way and I wanted to have a big tummy so badly, it was the closest thing I could have.

  2. I definitely think that going away to camp is a suburban/urban thing (mostly suburban). We just had Girl Scout day camp or a weekend or 5 days at horse camp.

    Have you ever read the original source for "The Parent Trap," "Lisa and Lottie"? It's excellent. I still have my copy from a 4th-grade Scholastic book order.

    I liked your stark honesty while answering the question about postpartum body image.

  3. Great review and thanks for sharing your perspective.

  4. I'm from the east coast, so I did the whole sleepaway camp thing (definitely reminiscent of The Parent Trap). I had great female bonding times but I was so awkward around guys (I went to an all-girls school which did wonders for my social life). I actually just ran into a guy from a camp we both went to for years and he didn't even recognize me! I couldn't believe I could be transported so easily to my younger, angsty self but there it was! At least now I'm able to laugh about it.

    I'm very moved by what you wrote about your postpartum weight. It reminded me of one of my mother's pregnancies. She was 5 months along when the baby stopped moving and was no longer alive. Her doctor at the time told her he didn't want to deliver it right away for safety reasons. Instead he made her keep the baby for another month until she went into labor. She endured people asking her why she was so small and reaching out to touch her belly. It was traumatic and terrible but worse was when she finally delivered and had no baby to hold.

  5. "I want to shake that girl by the shoulders & say, "Idiot, don't you realize how many girls would kill to have your body??" (Including your older self??)"

    I notice this, too!

    I love the original Parent Trap as well. What a dreamy story!

  6. I'm always up for a rousing version of Kumbaya. And I love the original Parent Trap too.

    I've had a similar experience with WW--lost weight in my 20s, thought it was a great plan, put on weight with treatments, tried again but found my heart wasn't into it. I'm waiting to find the motivation. It hasn't come yet, but when it does, I'm heading back to WW.

  7. I was also moved by what you said about postpartum/post-loss weight.

    I still have a shirt I wore in sixth grade. It fits quite well (or it did, before I was pregnant), and is fashionable in a retro way. However, unlike your sister, instead of being a testament to how I've kept my figure, it is a testament to how heavy I was when puberty started!