I am the oldest, tallest and fattest of four sisters. Andrea and Zubedia (my half-sister and step-sister respectively) are fairly recent additions to my family and arrived in my life 14 years ago when Dad re-married. But it is the relationship that I have with Suzanne – my full-blooded sister – that is the focus of this blog and our book.
Suzanne (on left) and Heather (centre) - 1984
Suzanne is two years my junior and our relationship has ebbed and flowed over the years in a manner typical of most siblings. As is true of most relationships, we’ve been through good times and bad. There have been times when we loved each other’s company and other times when we’ve hated each other’s guts, especially when we were teenagers. She may have been younger and smaller than me, but it didn’t stop her from yanking fist-full’s of hair from my head, sinking her teeth into plump flesh – or gouging craters in my skin with her sharp little nails. Her actions earned her the nick-name “Vicious” – which I call her to this day, a name to which she happily answers. Suzanne wears a very loud warning sign on her forehead. It reads: “You do not wanna mess with me!”… and as her sister, I can assure you, that you don’t.
I’m the peacekeeper in our relationship. Suzanne hasn’t been much of a peace-loving person since I’ve known her. She once threw her popcorn box at the head of a person who was chatting loudly in the movie theatre – a few rows in front of us. When the offending chatter spun around indignantly (her throw was very accurate) – my sister quickly put him in his place by snapping: “Next time, it will be my fucking shoe!”. The man was quiet for the rest of the show.
On another occasion, she purged herself of no less than five girlfriends in one sitting. Suzanne is fiercely loyal, and she demands the same courtesy from anyone she calls friend. When she found out that the five had been spreading rumours and gossiping behind her back, she sat down and penned a generic letter addressed to all of them. The letter included details of the offences committed and ended off by stating that she wanted all of the offenders out of her life and didn’t want to see them or speak to them again. It worked. They never saw her or spoke to her again and Suzanne drew herself closer to the trusted ones in her life; friends and family who loved her unconditionally in spite of her sharp bristles and the occasional verbal snipe.
Heather (on left) and Suzanne - 1980
Those of us who know Suzanne, know that beneath the prickly exterior (and I must admit, she’s a lot less prickly these days than what she used to be)… lies a sensitive soul with strong beliefs and a good heart. There’s a lot about her to love. She can be wickedly funny and unlawfully sarcastic. She can get piping mad when faced with injustice, and doesn’t mince her words when she’s angry. But she can also be marshmallow soft, especially around my two children, animals and the people she’s closest to.
I’ve made my fair share of assumptions, over the years, regarding the state of Sue’s life and inner workings… and I thought I knew her well and sometimes even arrogantly assumed that I knew her better than she knew herself. It’s only recently, as I am now older (and hopefully a bit wiser) that the slow realisation is beginning to dawn on me that perhaps we aren’t as different as I always supposed. It was only within the past 4 years that I discovered that Suzanne has obsessed about weight and about food for almost as long as I have. This was a startling epiphany. I had always assumed that, as the fat one, my morbid relationship with food and weight was my territory – and mine alone.
I can’t remember exactly when my obsession with food began. I know only that it has consumed most of my life in the kind of all-encompassing way that a ruthless affliction might render it’s victim hopelessly incapacitated. I’ve been fighting the demon of addiction for as long as I can remember and it’s a strange consolation to finally realise that I’m not alone in this war. Stranger still, to realise that one of the people who has always been fighting alongside me is my little sister. My thin, never-been-fat-ever… little sister.
Suzanne (on left) and Heather - March 1985
Suzanne and I are different in many ways, but I find it almost amusing to discover that the way in which I thought we differed most – is the way in which we are most similar. We share an unhealthy love of food and an obsession with weight, but Suzanne, it seems, has managed to hold the demon at bay by managing to remain thin, in spite of it all. I, on the other hand, seem to have lost the battle. At 122 kilograms, I am almost 63 kilograms (139 pounds) heavier than my little sister and deeply ashamed because of it.
Suzanne (on left) and Heather - April 2010
Writing our book and this blog together, and the enlightening conversations we have shared in the process, has been wonderfully healing… I think for the both of us. So much is beginning to make sense: why we are the way we are. Why we think the way we think. And mostly – the understanding I have gained that Suzanne is not at all the shallow, self-obsessed individual that I thought she was some years ago. She’s actually more like me than I ever thought or cared to admit. We share something deeper than family genes. We share… an understanding. And I think that there are many millions of women around the world who share it with us, who may be able to relate painfully well to our particular journey, on a multitude of levels.
Allow me then, to introduce myself. I’m Heather. I’m taller, fatter and older than Suzanne. In more ways than one; I’m the big sister.