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How Overeaters Anonymous Saved Me From Myself

Once I was a world-traveling hottie, hating the constant attention. Then I gained weight to feel better. Now I have OA, and a happier, more comfortable version of me.

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By Ariel Pinsk

07/18/13

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I don’t want to lose these last 20 pounds, because I'm scared of the attention, but I learned in Overeaters Anonymous that what other people think of me is none of my business. God made me this way, and so I embrace being tall, fit and head-turning. I know from experience that beauty privilege is just that. Not unlike white-skin privilege, hotness can bring opportunities. It can bring love and boyfriends. But on the downside, you get non-stop sexualization, harassment, female-on-female hating and, always, the attempt to bring you down from your perceived perch.

I struggled with feeling like my sexuality was my only worth. When I stated this to a male therapist at 19, he propositioned me. That, and a later incident in Japan, were my darkest examples of society's response to attractive women. And so I did something about it: I gained 40 pounds. The drastic change in the way the world perceived me felt so good, I gained another 20.

I went through 30 countries and everywhere I went my weight went up or down depending on the whims of my eating disorder.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, where local guys would hiss, whistle and catcall me from the age of 14. I never got used to it. Five years later, working as a waitress, the chef would talk about my bum, and ask me about my sex life every day. Nobody thought this was inappropriate; it was just men reacting to feminine charms.

Here's what they used to see—long legs, high cheekbones, blonde hair, a Kardashian behind and a dazed, perpetually lost look on my face. I wore overalls to that restaurant to hide the mini skirt underneath. The "hey baby's" still followed me every day. The catcalls followed me as I left the US and traveled the world. 

I went through 30 countries and everywhere I went my weight went up or down depending on the whims of my eating disorder. The absurdity of relative beauty changed from nation to nation. Italians flattered my chubbiness. In India I acted in Bollywood movies. In Paris I sashayed down boulevards in red lipstick. No one told me I was a snob, and no one told me I was fat until I landed in Japan and Switzerland, two countries identical in their rigidity.

I started to really commit to binge eating when I moved to Japan at 23. I had run away from a fiancé to teach English in Tokyo, and I still had that beauty privilege—no matter what I said, excessive smiling was the main response from my bosses. At nightclubs women would grab my breasts and tell me they envied my curves. Then one day a chikan or “subway molester,” did just that on the last train home. While trying to be a demure Japanese schoolteacher, my fanny was flirting behind my back all day. I was the sexualized other, the “American woman.” Like my African-American friends in Japan, I was a fetish object.

I started shoving anything I could into my face. I no longer had my identity from just a year before. I missed my fiancé, my friends in Philly. I wanted the outside to match the inside. I gained pound after pound. It was a sub-conscious cry for help.

My new friends in Tokyo didn’t understand that I used to be thin like them. “Well, I only know you this way,” they would say. One day I told them that I was thinking about suicide. They offered me Jesus. Then a therapist in Japan suggested Overeaters Anonymous. I felt insulted and ashamed. I thought she was calling me fat. So I never went, unable to accept that I was overweight.

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