Saturday, January 29, 2011

Julia Donahue's Opus

A week ago was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it got me thinking: In history, leaders, heroes and trailblazers have earned their place by facing challenges, overcoming obstacles and declaring victory over lifelong struggles. They had something to overcome, and that task became their life's work. So I wondered, what was mine?

What was the one thing I had been trying to overcome my whole life, the area in which I exerted the greatest effort in the face of probable failure?

I realized, with some degree of horror and hilarity that my life's work has been to achieve my goal weight.

Laugh if you will, roll your eyes... but it's true.

In recent years it hasn't been just my focus, it's been my obsession. You see, I have seen the mountaintop. I have been there. And now I can't get it out of my head. Healthy or not, I want to go back.

I was always a fat kid. If I wasn't fat, as some pictures attest, I thought I was. It wasn't like my parents ever pressured me to lose weight, in fact, my mother always insisted I was "perfect," which would upset me because I felt it was so far from the truth. I was always bigger than the kids around me, or at least I felt that way. Where other little girls were ballerinas, I felt like the bull in a china shop.

And while I longed to be skinny, delicate like the other girls, and pretty instead of "jolly," I couldn't want it enough to put down the sweets or stick to a diet. Eventually, what you perceive becomes a reality, and I became the fat kid I always thought I was. And I hated myself for it.

The first time I joined Weight Watchers, in the sixth grade, I weighed in at over 160lbs. That's honesty right there, folks. But I joined because wanted to lose weight. I was motivated. In fact, I always believed that eventually one day I would be thin. So I asked my mom to help me, and knowing that Weight Watchers was a healthy, reliable plan, she sent me along with my dad. He had just had his first of several heart attacks, and had been ordered by his doctors to lose weight. I dedicated myself. I lost 30lbs that first time. In subsequent years, I would join again, lose weight, and quit, only to gain again.

My desire to lose weight wasn't because of the taunting I was getting from other kids, but the taunts certainly added to my motivation. Everyone has horror stories, here are some of mine: One day, on the bus home, an older kid named Seth Benkel and his friend Albert (whose last name escapes me, so let's just call him "Albert Fuckface") stopped me in the aisle on my way to my seat.

"You should be a model," Seth Benkel said. I was cautiously flattered... a boy had never complimented me before.

"For Porky Ham!" Albert Fuckface finished, and they laughed uproariously. For the remainder of the year, they taunted me, calling me Porky Pig and chanting while I kept my head down and said nothing, praying my stop would come sooner. The stress and anxiety of boarding the bus was pure torment. Eventually, my friend Corinne and I began walking home. To this day I can't look at one of those Porky Ham 18 Wheelers that drive around New York without thinking of those two sadistic seventh grade fucks.

It should be said, neither of them were thin. In fact, Albert was actually fat. So maybe we could say it was his own insecurity that caused him to reduce me to tears every day, but frankly, I don't go for that. My insecurity didn't see me picking on the kid the next size up. Some people are just born assholes.

I could go on. For example, I could tell you how, during my Confirmation in the seventh grade, the boys in the pew behind me, Vinny Mancino, Paul Rabaste and some weirdly Nordic kid I can only remember as "Eric" sat and hissed into my ears that I was fat, a whale, blubber and finally dubbed me "The White Whale," chanting it throughout the mercilessly long rehearsals and the ceremony itself. Models of Christianity.

It's helpful to note that Paul grew into one of the most horrifyingly ugly adolescents you could ever imagine- a combination of Rocky Dennis and Dr. Frank-n-Furter- all distorted features and hormone-frizzed hair. In high school people--even his friends--viciously called him by his new nickname, "Handsome." Karma, my friends, will get you every time.

I never told my parents about any of it. I was too ashamed-- like those boys and their cruelty were somehow my fault.

In high school a growth spurt gave me a few brief months of thinness. The summer of 1991 was a perfect storm: I was 16, I hit puberty late but hard, skintight bodysuits were in vogue, and it seemed that my diet of potato salad and beer went straight to my chest. It was an amazing few months. In later years, once the weight had redistributed itself to my midsection and upper thighs, I would try again to recreate this diet and it's wondrous effects, and fail-- miserably.

Throughout all of these years, the brief moments of manageability and the longer periods of self hatred and shame, I never once was able to freely enjoy a morsel of food. Unless it was a salad or something extremely dietetic that could convince me I was on the road to Skinnyville, Population Me, I would feel guilty as soon as I swallowed.
Not one bite of even my own birthday cake-ever- has passed my lips without a chaser of remorse.

In June 2004, when I was 28, I decided that the day I always told myself was coming-- the day I'd be thin-- wasn't going to come to me. I had to set the date, and make it happen. Again, I joined Weight Watchers and, determined to do everything differently this time, I took off 40lbs in 10 months. In the years that followed, another 20lbs came off.
I began to exercise, to run, and to treat my body like the machine I was realizing it could be. I was amazed at what it could do. It was like it had been waiting my whole life for this. It was let out of its cage.

In the fall of 2008, I was at my lowest weight. Maybe not my best weight- in fact, people liked to tell me that I was too thin, but when you're a fat kid in your head and in your heart, that still sounds like a compliment. I wasn't too thin, but an extra 5-10lbs wouldn't have hurt me. It was at that time that a friend told me she had stood up for me when gossips started saying I had an eating disorder. I was thrilled. It meant people were talking about me being thin--not fat.

It wasn't just being thin that I loved, it was the confidence I got from losing weight. If I could do this, really- what couldn't I do? I applied myself at work and received professional kudos and bonuses. I went on dates, socialized, and approached anything and everything with an absolute expectation of success. I interviewed for jobs and got them. I flirted with guys, they flirted back.

I wanted everyone to feel what I felt. When friends asked me how I lost weight, or said they wanted to try, I sincerely wanted to help. The concept that you have to "give it away to keep it" is a philosophy that Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, and the principal of passing it on was something I wholeheartedly embraced. I don't preach, I don't bring it up-- but if people want to talk, hey-- pull up a chair. Need someone to go to a Weight Watchers meeting with you? I am there. Want to cook a healthy dinner? I am in.

But the truth is, right now I am struggling. And my physical challenges have taken a tremendous mental toll- after all this time, I just can't separate the two. In 2008, after a series of unsettling experiences, I went on antidepressants and in the course of two years gained 20lbs. To anyone else, 20lbs is nothing to freak out about. Not great, but not life-altering, especially when you could have stood to gain 5-10 anyway. However to Ms.Porky Ham 1987, it's cause for panic. After experiencing other troubling side effects that only manifested over time, I came off the meds.

It's been five months, and the weight won't budge. My copious research on the choice tool of obsessives, the internet, has told me that most people have a very hard time losing the weight gained from SSRIs. It takes months-- even years-- to see results. And there are no guarantees.

Not willing to accept time and persistence as a solution, I went on a cleanse and then, once I finished, decided to do my "own" diet, which meant a desperate and unhealthy cutting of calories that resulted in a severe nutrient deficiency and corresponding side effects. In other words, I just made matters worse. Instead of seeing the 40lbs that were still off of me, the weight loss I had maintained, I saw the 10 I needed to lose to be "happy," the 15 that would leave me "without a problem in the world."

When I am feeling rational, I just need time, body acceptance, healthy eating and exercise--not to whittle away my body but to make it as happy as it once was. When I am not, every tight piece of clothing feels like failure, every too-short skirt just reinforces my helplessness. My boyfriend tells me I am beautiful, and I wish I could believe him, the same way I wish I had believed my mom when she said I was perfect.

I look at the pictures from when I was a kid, and I know that what I felt like I looked like and what I actually looked like don't match up. I always thought I was fat, even when I wasn't. My perspective was wrong from the get go.

What I've realized in writing this is that even though I've been working towards it for my entire life, I don't actually have a goal weight. I never had a number, I've just been struggling towards this blurry ideal for 30 years. It's almost laughable, if it wasn't so sad. My goal weight has always just been categorized as "less than what I am now," and yet I've let it determine my moods, my self worth, and in some cases my success. I've let it push me into unhealthy behaviors, and
I have actually physically harmed myself in my unrelenting zeal to get "good enough." A lack of a clear definition of what it is I am striving for has rendered it completely unattainable.

And yet, how do you give up fighting when you've been in battle your entire life? I don't know. I guess you do the next right thing: you take care of yourself, and exercise and eat right, but you don't obsess. You ask God to fix your perspective because frankly, it's pretty fucked. You blog about it, and hope that some people won't read and the ones that do will identify or share something with you. And eventually, hopefully, it sinks in that real success and real self worth can't be measured by the pound.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Mother Was Right: Work Blog

When I was a kid, I hung out with a Spanish girl, an Italian girl, a Puerto Rican girl and a mutt who was mixed Hungarian, Scottish, Irish and God knows what else-- but she was born with jaundice. See a pattern? They all had skin that would tan.

I, of course, didn't. My mother would slather me with sunscreen, too thick to rub in, coating my portly thighs like a pig covered in Crisco. When I got old enough, I insisted on doing it myself, and in our first real power struggle, my mother would insist on squeezing the SPF into my hands. She would put about four cups of SPF 70 into my palms, telling me to "rub it in." I, of course, obeyed-- rubbing the lotion in... the back of my knees.

My preteen years were filled with water blisters and 2nd degree burns, oatmeal baths and aloe. As a result, I now have freckles permanently seared onto my skin in the shape of a bathing suit. A thick strapped, 80s bathing suit.

Anyway. It's one of my many regrets-- one of the many ways I regret treating my body. I am now a devotee of spray tans. On some level I still believe a tan makes you look thinner (this was part of my motivation as a kid, as opposed to say, dieting and playing sports)-- so while I am orange, I am still looking 10lbs lighter.

In this blog
that I wrote for work, I explore a few others-- common ways we damage our skin. Smoking, tanning, all the good stuff. Check it out if you're bored!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Gift of Beauty: Work Blog

I do all of my holiday shopping online, due to a paralyzing fear of bedbugs and a total lack of motivation. That said, it's safe to say that everything in this blog that I wrote for work is kind of made up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Sparkle: Work Blog

Back when the clock was about to ring in 2000 and we were all afraid of Y2K, I was at my second heaviest lifetime weight and had discovered a penchant for sparkling clothes, feathers, and glitter makeup--a style probably brought on by my excessive drinking and love of weed.

Anyway, I had to channel that girl when I wrote this work blog about holiday attire, which, as it turns out, is always sparkly. I guess I was ahead of my time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Seeing Red: Work Blog

Sometime around late November, I realized that while my work blog might not have a lot of traffic, it did have something I valued: a lack monitoring by any authority figure.

It was a revelation. It meant that I could start writing more like myself-you know, poorly.

Here's the first blog where I just started to be more me at work.
It was actually interesting to write-- based on a panel discussion on red lipstick and it's importance in the history of beauty.

Here's something I learned in my research: did you know in WWII, when the allies liberated the Nazi death camp at Bergen-Belsen, supplies came in including food, water and vats of red lipstick. Soldiers thought it was so insane-- why would anyone send red lipstick?

As days went on, the female prisoners gravitated to the makeup. Soldiers started seeing more and more women walking around with red lipstick.

It had given them back their individuality-- their femininity. They went from being prisoners to women again-- it was their first step in being treated like individual, beautiful humans after years of atrocities. Here is an artistic rendering of the scene from my favorite guerrilla artist, Banksy.

Fascinating, right? Here's the excerpt from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945.


I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diptheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand proping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.

Source: Imperial War museum

Anyway. I am anonymous on the blog, and you can't tell the difference from me and the old blogger except that she didn't include images in her posts-- but I'd like to think you can hear more of me starting in this blog and going forward.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sick on a Saturday

I just reread my last post and realized I was sick when I wrote it. The sickness I have now makes that one look like a silly flu, a sissy virus, the lamest of the lame of germs. Late last night while indulging in some post-Thanksgiving movie watching (The Social Network, bootleg, natch) on Aunt Mary's couch, I started to feel a bit woozy. This morning, it was full blown: thick, scratchy throat, deep cough, head that feels like it's been put in the world's largest vice made specifically for big heads.

It occurs to me that I never fully got better from my last illness. So. I've spent today sleeping, waking up to do shots of Tylenol and Robitussin dropped off by my sweet Florence Nightingale, my cousin Karen. In between I've sandwiched snippets of Uncle Buck, the remaining episodes of Glee that I had to catch up on, and cleaned out the old DVR. It's like the day I always dreamed of, except I am too miserable to enjoy it. Even with ice cream.

In my throbbing head, I keep thinking about the fact that I am still 10 years old when it comes to sick days. Why, oh why, dear God, am I sick on a weekend? When I have a list of things to do that I actually want to do? Like get a Christmas tree, or go to Connecticut to see John Moses headline at Comix at Foxwoods, where we could gamble and eat fudge for free? Or go to yoga, or go out to lunch? Whhhhy?

I guess, since I complained last about having to work sick since I can't take sick days, the fact is that I just hate being sick. I hate it, even when Elf is on.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pretty Awesome: Work Blog

When you work in editorial, people are forever sending you products to try, in the hopes that you might write about them in your magazine.

I don't work for editorial. I work in advertising, which means not only do editors consider me a bottom feeder, even advertisers don't care what I think. Usually.

That said, every now and then you get an advertiser who recognizes your human characteristics, and wants you to try their product and maybe even write about them on your blog that no one reads.

When it came to Elizabeth Arden Pretty, we had some product lying around from sweepstakes and gift bags we were fulfilling, and they wanted me to try the perfume. So I did, and I wrote about it here.

Do I love it? You know, it's not bad. I generally wear less floral perfumes, but take my opinion for what it's worth... pretty much nothing. But hey, at least I am honest!

Monday, November 15, 2010

True Flu

Ok so maybe it's not the flu but I am damn sick. My immune system-- usually the only strong part of my body thanks to years of drinking and enough stored alcohol to kill any germs that come within a seven foot radius-- is flustered, and I am sick. Beloved's been sick for a while, and my immune system pelted off his little germies for weeks before finally succumbing. I can pinpoint when it happened- after working until 10pm last Thursday, run down-- I had a wedding Friday, a trip to Massachusetts Saturday. That, coupled with Beloved's relentless germ spreading, did me in. In the car, my system gave out. I actually felt myself get sick as we crossed the New York border into Connecticut. At first I thought it was my aversion to the suburbs-- turned out it was actual illness.

Of course I had to work today. Not because I am a go-getter, but because I am paid by the day. That's right: no sick days, no vacation days, just get paid as you go. It seems doubly insulting that the people with no health insurance-- the freelancers-- are also the people with no sick days. I could get all worked up about it but I don't have the energy. And even if I had insurance, I probably wouldn't go to the doctor. I HATE doctors. But what I would do, if I could, is take a day, lay on the couch, watch Maury Povich and relax. This would surely make me feel better. In fact, I was never sick when I was unemployed, largely because that was all I did!

Anyway, it seems cruel that I took my couch for granted for so long. In fact, I had a rule- no TV in the daytime. Hello!? Stupid rule.

I am going to bed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Product of My Environment

I moonlight as Lady Gaga's stylist, as you may have guessed ------->

I was talking to an unemployed friend last night, and he said that he'd do anything to be working again. I would say that I remember that feeling, but I think if you know me you know that's not true.

In fact, I was recently waxing poetic about my days of leisure. Sure, there was stress about rent and bills, but I am working now and I still have that stress. Now I just have other things to stress about, like...

- When do I have time to drop off my dry cleaning?
- How can I move my car for alternate side before work when I am already late?
- When can I possibly catch up on episodes of Cake Boss when I am not getting home until 8:30pm?

I like my new gig- but I work hard. I am in at 9am, and I don't leave until about 6:45pm on average. I don't take lunch. Every minute of my day is filled with work- the days fly by, which is nice, but at the same time... holy shit. I get home, I eat dinner, I get ready for bed and then it's bedtime, and I am doing it all again. It reminds me of something...

Please, don't worry-- we all know I can't afford cocaine. Though it sure would make me skinny.

It's not that I am complaining. I just think that maybe we should completely overhaul the work culture in the United States. Maybe I was born in the wrong era-- maybe I should have been Don Draper's dowdy copywriting assistant, in at 9, out by 5, drinking bourbons and chain smoking Luckys in between. Why can't we go back to that?

Maybe it's my town. This week, the Daily News reported that New Yorkers are more stressed out than other Americans. I can sort of see why, between the shitty trains(that were rated an enthusiastic C as opposed to last year's C- by riders), ridiculous rents, and, of course, the scourge of the century, who wouldn't be stressed? What's so great about this stupid city anyway?

Or maybe it's just me. I tend to throw myself into my work-- I try to BECOME the thing I write about. If it's fashion or beauty, suddenly I am upping the ante on my shopping. If it's food, I am hungry. Very hungry.

When I was unemployed, I became your typical unemployed person. I hit the gym, I relaxed, I laughed off the idea of the "Sunday Night Blues." I went out on a Tuesday night because I could.

I guess the thing I am realizing is that I adapt to my environment, but not just that, I adapt to the WORST parts of my environment. I pick up all the vices everywhere I go-- never the good traits. Maybe I should work at Forbes, or some kind of budget magazine. If I worked at Oprah, maybe I'd end up saving the world. But more than likely, I'd just badmouth beef farmers, yo-yo diet and start saying Umm Hmmm a lot.