Author: Karen Kataline, MSW
Author: Karen Kataline, MSW
“Fatlash” came to me as a book written by a social worker recounting her experience with an eating disorder. While it is true that the author holds an MSW, the book is not clinical in the slightest sense. It is the very intimately-told story of a woman who has struggled with eating her entire life.
Karen was a girl whose mother derived most of her own self-worth from parading her daughter around to beauty pageants and dance contests. As a young girl, Karen’s diet and wardrobe were tightly controlled by her mother, to the tune of 500 calories per day in some cases, but the vast majority of the injustices done to her were completely forgotten until Karen began trying to shed pounds as an adult. Unhealthy and overweight, she began dieting but was prompted to begin seeing a therapist in order to understand why the idea of slimming down gave her panic attacks.
Throughout the process of weight loss and coming to terms with her fears, she began having flashbacks that rocked her off balance. She pursued these memories cautiously and discovered some amazing truths about the way she was raised to think about her own worth and its relationship to her physical appearance. She was forced to straddle both the past and the present as she came to terms with painful memories that changed the way she saw herself and her family.
The experiences she had in the 1970s and 1980s with parents who restricted her diet, all the while eating full meals and desserts in front of her and mocking her for her weight while refilling her brother’s plate, instilled in her an inherent lack of self worth that led her to self-soothe with food as she got older. This book is important for individuals who struggle with their weight because it offers a realistic view of how intimately our mental health is entwined with our physical health. It is also a vital examination of how important parenting messages are to our children and the lasting impacts our behaviors can have.
Karen’s voice is authentic throughout this memoir, painting a picture of her as a strong-willed child who was eager to please her parents. Her confidence was gradually worn down and the adult who sought therapy to address her challenges was unsure and confused, but the memories she gained as a result gave her the impetus she needed to heal her wounds.
Karen’s story poses some
important questions in this age of reality television shows like
“Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Dance Moms,” where so often the
images of young women and girls that resonate are of individuals who
will do anything to be seen as beautiful and glamorous. This
competitive environment where girls who are too young to know any
better are encouraged to develop habits that are physically and
psychologically harmful in the long run by parents and other
influential adults is more pervasive now than it was in Karen’s
It begs the question of whether we as parents, individuals, and a society are prepared to deal with the ramifications in the future or whether they will ultimately be worth the entertainment value we obtain from them now. Certainly, Karen’s experiences are unique to her, but the picture she paints is one that is clear cause-and-effect. She was lucky enough to find supportive people in her adult life to help her sort through the emotional challenges she faced and to have retained some of that iron will she displayed as a child when she snuck into her mother’s kitchen late at night for a forbidden handful of cookies.