skinny

Little Girl Blue

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I read a book recently that touched me deeply. The book was “Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter.” To be honest, I knew nothing about Karen Carpenter other than she died of anorexia. I suppose I just missed that generation being born in 1980 and never heard the music either.

What drew me to this book was the “why?”–why was she anorexic? What happened to her? The book was a very fast read because it was so fascinating. It started with her upbringing and how The Carpenters came to be, including their successes and failures. The story I really wanted to know was what happened to such a talented, young woman that seemed to have the world in her hands. This book went into detail and explained it, the best anyone really can.

I could tell right away that the “why” was probably her mother. Her mother was an overbearing control-freak who never showed her daughter love and propped her brother, Richard, up like he was a king. Even after it was clear that Karen was the talent and the star, she was still treated like a second-class citizen and neither kids moved out of their parents home until their late 20’s! Honestly her brother wasn’t much better. He was an egotistical prima donna and probably jealous of Karen’s success. There was also something a little weird about their brother-sister relationship (they both tried to sabotage each other’s romantic relationships).

Perhaps controlling her food and appearance was the only in her life she could be in charge of. And I imagine stepping out from behind the drums to become the singer made her even more self-conscious of her curvy figure.

What was most interesting to me was that this happened in a time period when “anorexia nervosa” was nearly unheard of. People just didn’t know. They didn’t know what the disease was, they didn’t recognize the symptoms, they didn’t know how to help.

” ‘Anorexia was not something that was talked about or known about in those days,’ her friend Olivia Newton-John said. ‘People were very thin, but you didn’t realize what it was.’ [pg 246]”

At one point, Karen was taking 80 laxatives a day and was using ipecac to purge. She was doing the classic things that anorexics do: not eating food but pushing it around on the plate to make it look like she was, telling her friends to take bites of her “amazing dinner” to give the food away, wearing layers and layers of clothing to hide just how skinny she was.

“She rearranged and pushed her food around the plate with a fork as she talked, which gave the appearance of eating. Another of her strategies involved offering samples of her food to others around the table…By the time dinner was over, Karen’s plate was clean, but she had dispersed her entire meal to everyone else. [pg 129]”

“She loved to go lay out in the sunshine. I don’t know whether it was to get a tan or to get away from her mother. Anyhow, I happened to go out to the kitchen for something and I saw her out there. She just had on her little bathing suit shorts. You couldn’t tell whether it was a girl or a boy. She had absolutely no breasts. [pg 131]”

She had to buy a new wardrobe for a tour and opted for several low-cut gowns, some were strapless or backless. The manager commented: “…[I] was horrified to see her bony shoulders and ribs. Even her hip bones were visible through the thin layers of fabric. [I] asked Karen to rethink the wardrobe choices before going on stage. ‘I talked her into putting a jacket on over the bare back and bare arms, but the audience saw it.’ There was a collective gasp from the audience when Karen would take the stage. [pg 137]” People wondered if she had cancer.

At the end of 1981, Karen expressed her realization to her family: “Richard, I realize I’m sick and I need help. [pg 245]” She went to New York to see a therapist and ended up living in a hotel for nearly a year while she got weekly counseling–not inpatient care like she needed. Eventually she went to the hospital for a feeding tube and put on 30 pounds. But that was just too much strain on her heart.

She eventually returned to LA “cured” and stayed with her parents. One morning her mother found her unconscious. The medics were called. It was really too late, but they took her to the ER and tried to revive her. The paramedic said: “Karen looked frail and very thin. A faint pulse was detected with her heart beating only every ten seconds. This is a sure sign of a dying heart. [pg 276]”

32 years old. 32 and she died of a heart attack and dehydration due to years of anorexia. I’m 32 years old. It’s shocking to see photos of her right before her death because she looks like she was 70 years old, not 32.

There really isn’t a “why” that can satisfy anyone. “Why” would someone who was beautiful and talented NOT see it? “Why” would she let herself get so skinny and still think she was fat? Despite the tragic topic, the book was really, really good. I’d give it 5/5 stars.

QUESTION: Were you a fan of The Carpenters? Do you remember when Karen passed away?

Hold That Door

When I was 250+ pounds I felt invisible most of the time. There were a lot of social situations where I felt like I blended into the wallpaper compared to the “skinny” girls–and even most of my friends. They got all the attention and I felt left out.

One of my big pet peeves as an obese girl was the open discrimination I felt. There were a lot of things that happened in the 10 years that I was obese that made me feel less than, not good enough, because of how much I weighed. A lot of those things were open and harsh. Other discriminating events were quieter.

One of those types of things that made me really angry and made me feel bad about myself was how no one ever EVER ever held the door open for me when I was fat. Ever. I’m not exaggerating when I say ever.

It was always awkward and I’d feel resentful and irritated when people were rude to me like that. Just because of how much I weighed. One of the most vivid memories I have of this discrimination was at a job I had where I had to push around a bunch of files and papers from the mailroom up to the floor I worked on in one of these mail carts:

It was a huge pain and near impossible to steer. In the two years that I had that job, no one in the building ever opened a door or held it open for me when I pushed this cart. I would struggle to steer it, struggle to open a door and hold it open to get the cart through. It was an ordeal and day in and day out I struggled with no help.

Did that change when I lost the weight? Oh yeah. It changed big time. I was shocked when people–usually men–started opening doors for me. And not just holding the doors open for me to walk through behind them. No, I’m talking about the chivalrous men going out of their way to rush to open a door, hold it open, give me a smile and wait for me to walk through.

It’s the most bizarre thing! I remember when it first started happening –I weighed around 165 pounds  and it was the most shocking and encouraging thing. I felt so GOOD about myself. Like I’d been ushered into “That World.” Finally.

It happens all the time now. When I go to the gym, the door is held open (that could be because I’m walking very fast with determination and a vibe of “don’t get in between me and my workout!” 😉 ). It happened the other day at the bank. A guy was coming through and I was going out and he made a big production about rushing to open the door for me. I was tickled and embarrassed at the same time.

If I’m being totally honest with myself, there is still a little part of me deep inside that feels angry when someone holds open a door for me now. It’s a small part and it’s buried somewhere I don’t acknowledge very often, but it’s there–it’s the old me that’s wondering “Would you hold open that door if I didn’t weigh 144 pounds right now?” I smile and say thank you, and try to ignore the little voice that wonders “Where were you 100 pounds ago?”

Could it be the weight loss? Could it be that I was dressing in a more attractive way because I had clothes available to me in a smaller size that were cute? Could it be that I was smiling and happier about life in general because I had accomplished something great? It could have been any of those reasons.

I don’t know why there was a switch in the universe and I was now deemed worthy of chivalry. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it a lot. That simple act goes a lot. It’s just nice to feel noticed and acknowledged.

QUESTION: Did you experience this? How did you feel?