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Externalizing and Politicizing

An Issue in My Childhood and Teen Years


Kent School of Social Work

University of Louisville

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My childhood and teen years were plagued with frequent diets and I was frightened of becoming fat. At the age of five I was told two things by my doctor, I would never be a runner because my feet were too flat and I was going to be fat. At that time in my life, I didnít know exactly what fat was but my doctor said the word fat so harshly, I knew it was not good.

"American girls are on guard constantly against gaining weight, and as a result, appetite control is a major feature of their adolescent experience" (Brumberg, 1997, p. 120). My first diet occurred when I was ten. It happened after a checkup with a doctor. He felt that I was too large so he put me on a 1200 calorie restricted diet. I lost a few pounds but I was so hungry from the diet I began sneaking food into my room so my parents decided to take me off of it. Shortly after that I evened out quite nicely, I was not stick thin but I was not fat. But in my young mind at the age of twelve, I thought I was fat even though I was at a normal weight. My peer group picked up on my insecurities about my developing body and they perpetuated the idea that I was large. I remember my best friend in 8th grade pinching my stomach to demonstrate how fat I was to my friends. When I entered high school, I weighed 150, which was a few pounds more than it should be. I was teased harshly by others classmates, which was painful at times. I hated being teased about my weight so I decided to diet the summer going into my sophomore year. I remember starving myself that summer to get to 120 pounds on my 5foot 7inch medium frame. I went on this wacky rotation diet that consisted of 1200 calories one

week, 500 calories the second week, and the third week I got to eat a whopping 800 calories. During this time I fainted frequently because I was not eating enough to let my

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body function. After losing the weight that summer, no one ever teased me about my weight again.

It was not until my freshman year of college that I encountered my problem with weight again. I was introduced to the lifestyle of college dorm eating. By the end of my first semester of my freshman year, I gained the famous freshman fifteen plus an extra ten pounds so I was 160. I couldnít fit into any of my clothes so I began to panic. When I got back to school for my second semester I began to diet and workout out heavily. For the next year and half, I worked out every day for three hours so I lost the weight quickly. By my junior year of college, I was tired of working out and dieting so I quite doing both activities. My metabolism was completely shot and in two short years I gained 85 pounds.

Cultural Context

Brumberg states "at the close of the 20th century, the female body posses an enormous problem for American girls, and it does so because of the culture in which we live" (p. xvii). Pick up any magazine, turn on the television, what does one see? Mainly white, young, attractive, athletic, and thin people. Go to any mall and check out the selection for a plus sized woman. Then go to a regular misses size section. What is the difference? Selection. There are vast arrays of styles and colors in the missesí section but in the plus size section there are hardly any selection at all. It tells me as a plus sized woman that I am not worthy of having choices because I am overweight. "Contemporary

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American society provides fewer social protections for [girls], a situation that leaves [girls] unsupported in their development and extremely vulnerable to the excesses of the popular culture and pressure from peer groups" (Brumberg, p. xvii).

Externalization of the Problem

If I were allowed to go back and look at the fear of fat as an actual problem, my path in life would have been different. In a sense, my intense years of dieting and my fear of fat caused me to become overweight in my 20s. Simply my fears eventually became my reality. Looking back, I labeled myself as overweight even when I was actually thin. When I began to actually gain weight I convinced myself that I was already fat so it did not matter. If I would have been able to externalize my problem, I could have went through the process of "[personifying] the problem that I felt [was oppressive]. In this process, the problem becomes a separate entity and thus external" (Epston and White, 1990, p. 39). The fear of fat was never externalized so I was not able to look at my problem in a different light. If I was able to look at the extent of what the extreme dieting and fear of becoming fat was doing to me; maybe I could have accepted myself for who I was then. Thus I could have "[revealed] the effects of the problem in [my life]" (Epston and White, p. 42). My fears of becoming fat engulfed me, which prompted me to get into a negative thinking mindset. Which produced feelings of guilt and shame, thus causing me to gain more weight because I felt powerless. Possibly, the narrative therapy process would have encouraged me to view myself in a positive light where I was able to take control my life and my issue with weight.

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Brumberg, J.J. (1997). The body project: An intimate history of Americal girls. Random House: New York.

White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. W.W. Norton Company: New York.