OPPOSITES ATTRACT – Chapter 3: EATING DISORDERS

Bertha was extremely overweight and after trying dozens of diets and a half-heart suicide attempt her doctor referred her to a support group. She was surprised at just how many people there were in the group like: Ronda, Trudy, Marge, Roberta, Fannie, Martha, Babs, Jackie, Fatina, Pam, Monica, and Gladys whose total poundage required a bigger room for containment. Eating disorder patients met the same night, first the ones who were bulimic or had anorexia and then afterwards for overweight people but there were two main problems with the timing. First the skinny group brought in sweets in an effort to physically support each other but they were largely left untouched by all but a few who gouged themselves then suddenly had to go to the washroom. It meant that the treats were innocently left behind tempting Bertha’s obese group who had brought in veggies to snack on which very quickly ended up in the garbage. There was a big debate about whether the skinny girls were tempting them on purpose which Bertha bitterly believed but none of the heavy women complained too loudly for fear that the pastries would disappear. Even worse than the sweets was when the two groups passed each other in the hall coming and going it was a constant visual reminder of all the work the heavy girls had to do to lose weight which was unlikely and that’s when they gave the thin ladies the hurtful title Skeleton Skanks and in retaliation they were labelled Butterball bitches. What angered Bertha just as much as the brutal name was when the skinny bitches doubled the amount of desserts they brought in making it impossible to resist.

Born at a whopping 13.8 lbs. Bertha was a big baby in comparison to the average newborn girl and her mother fed her every hour whether she cried or not. By the time that she was three years old she resembled a butterball turkey. In school her weight made her an obvious target for bullying. Bertha could understand that boys were mean to her because she was ugly but she didn’t understand why the girls hated her so much. Despite being so big many times Bertha wore clothes that were too tight for her earning her even more ridicule when boys called her camel toes and the girls told her to cover her ass that they can see her butt crack. Gym was a nightmare for Bertha and she went to great extremes to get out of it because physically she couldn’t do the exercises and besides she refused to shower not wanting the other girls to see her flaps of skin. Desperation forced Bertha to forge doctor notes but that only worked for so long and since gym was a mandatory course her parents and the principal worked out a deal. At the school there was a small exercise room with a shower for the teachers and Bertha was given permission to use it three days a week under supervision.

One problem solved but Bertha had no friends and most certainly had no shot of having a boyfriend.  When depression set in Bertha ate even more, then gained weight which depressed her, a vicious circle. She hid chocolate bars and chips in her bedroom so her parents wouldn’t judge her putting the wrappers at the bottom of the garbage can. Bertha’s self-image was terrible she took out all the mirrors in her bedroom and refused to look into the bathroom mirror. If somehow she did accidentally see herself she freaked out and had an episode that lead to severe depression and ultimately more food.

All her life Bertha struggled with her weight because of two main factors: both her parents were cooks and she lived in a neighborhood in Toronto’s downtown area that was flowing over with restaurants, cafes, fast food, and many little grocers that you could buy treats in. Her father was a sous chef at a fancy restaurant and her mother was a pastry chef and despite cooking and baking all day at work they both loved doing it so much that they didn’t mind making great meals at home hence Bertha’s vast supply of food. Monday nights were pasta dishes like lasagna, pizza, and spaghetti, Tuesday nights East Indian Cuisine, Wednesday nights beef for example hamburgers, meatloaf, roast beef, or hotdogs etc., Thursday fish plates, Friday was Asian food including Chinese, Japanese, and Cantonese, Saturday was Mexican like tacos, burritos, or quesadillas and finally Sunday was the traditional chicken or turkey. Both her parents gave Bertha large proportions and expected her to eat the dessert her mother had put so much effort into. Many foods were covered in gravy, sauces, cheese, or butter and cooked in oil or were breaded. There was always bread, buns, rolls served with the meal carbohydrates galore.

Finally in grade twelve when she graduated Bertha topped at 300 lbs. After high school Bertha was in turmoil because for two generations her family went to culinary school which was a dangerous profession for her but she had a defeatist attitude now about her weight she had given up so against her parents’ advice she took a four year program at the end of which she’d earn a Blue Ribbon. Bertha managed to keep her weight between 300 – 350 lbs for the four years. Upon graduating she got a job in the same restaurant as her dad and remained living at home. Bertha had a non-existent social life, her health was slipping, and she felt that she’d never get married. To change her life Bertha knew she had to change her status quo hence the support group.

Illustrated by: Jason Hendrickson

BERTHA 1

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