I don’t do it often, but sometimes, while channel surfing I find myself sucked in and realize why we watch reality TV. The first time I saw Hoarders all I could think of was what a sh*tstorm it was, and how does that happen to anyone. Then after finding myself on the third or fourth consecutive episode (in one afternoon) my thought was that watching it made me feel better about myself. Yes, my house is cluttered, and I am not the best housekeeper, but when company is coming I can do a one hour sweep of the house and have it looking pretty good, and even on a bad day I manage to keep my mess contained on surfaces that don’t include the floor. I’m good! Well at least I’m not a hoarder.
Then on Sunday while waiting for a show to air, I found myself watching My 600 lb. Life, the Penny episode. I mention the episode, because it is the only episode I have ever seen, and because it engendered a lot of reaction, comment-wise much of it pretty horrible. Penny is bed-ridden, can’t stand up without help, and needs several men lifting her on a pallet to get her out of the house. She underwent surgery because her stomach had become so enlarged that her doctor said she would never feel satisfied.
Penny and her husband, seem unable to make any changes to their life and habits that will help Penny lose weight. They don’t seem to have any clue about nutrition, and even the nutritionist who visits them doesn’t seem able to communicate with them. They are both filled with rationalization, excuses and blame shifting. Penny is clearly not honest with herself or her doctors about her lifestyle, and though she cries and claims she wants to change, she doesn’t, not even a little. Her husband is the worst possible enabler.
I saw only about 15 minutes of the episode, but as with Hoarders, my initial reaction was shock and horror. However, after a few minutes rather than feeling like I was OK, I saw myself in Penny, or rather I saw the potential Penny in me. I think it takes a high degree of denial to reach a point where you are bedridden as a result of your girth. I think it must require an incredibly sedentary lifestyle, and almost constant eating of calorie dense food to get that heavy. I think I’d rather have a donut than a salad, I think I prefer reading to exercise, and I think living semi-alone leaves you in a world where no one is reflecting back at you what you (your body) looks like.
I spend a good deal of time, energy and money on avoiding denial, and being honest with myself. My commitment to being honest with myself, is a flawed system. No one is capable of truly accurate self assessment, certainly not me! I also believe (in my rational mind) that if I were going to end up like Penny I would already be like Penny. And I also believe that I am guilty of a lot of Penny’s behaviors. Fortunately for me I have to do things, I have to work, I like to socialize, so I do not spend every waking moment of my life eating, and I do exercise (and read).
A few weeks ago someone asked me what my goal was. My goal? Do I have a goal? Not a weight goal, or not a weight goal per se, but what do I want for myself? I don’t believe there is an overweight person on the planet who wouldn’t like to be smaller, and this doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t happy with themselves or their bodies. Who in this world doesn’t have some things they’d change about themselves if someone granted them a wish or two? Losing weight is very hard. Losing weight permanently is even harder.
What is my goal is an entirely different question from what are my wishes. Wishes are magical, goals are something I have some power over, something I can effect (theoretically). I want to feel good, and healthy, I want to live long enough to see my daughter grow into adulthood, and begin her own separate life, I want to feel attractive enough to let someone love me, I want to be able to sit cross-legged on the floor and get up gracefully. I guess these are my goals. I want to keep Penny in my thoughts when I sit down to a meal, when I grocery shop, when I get dressed in the morning.
If I can keep Penny present in my thoughts I can keep her from appearing in my mirror. I can keep from becoming my own reality show. We watch reality shows to remind us we are sane, that we have not gone too far down whatever road both beckons and terrifies us.