How did my VERY big sister get thinner than me Growing up, Kayleigh was always the slim sister and Charlene the chubby one. Now, astonishingly, their roles have reversed
08:20 GMT, 22 August 2012
When Charlene Hobbs was growing up, there was never any doubt of her place in the family pecking order. While the favouritism of parents is usually unspoken, it was all too obvious that it was her younger sister Kayleigh who was the apple of her father’s eye.
‘When there are two sisters, they always say there’s a pretty one — and a clever one,’ says Charlene, 27, from Seaford, East Sussex.
‘In our family, Kayleigh, who is three years younger than me, was labelled the attractive one. I was left with the stereotype of the frumpy, academic one.
'Always a pretty one': Charlene Hobbs, right, was the stereotype 'frumpy, academic one' as she and her younger sister Kayleigh, left, grew up until she started dieting and lost 9 stone while Kayleigh allowed her weight to creep up to 16 stone
‘It was no secret. As much as I love my dad, Kayleigh was his golden girl. He’d dote on her dimples, blonde curls and blue eyes. With my mousy hair and glasses, I felt like the black sheep.’
As Charlene grew older, that feeling was only compounded as she piled on the weight and compensated by burying herself in school work.
‘During my teen years, Dad thought nothing of giving me an affectionate poke in the tummy when I walked past and saying: “All right, fattie You need to lose a few inches.” He’d even say: “You’d be as pretty as Kayleigh if you lost some weight.” ’ But far from making her eat less, Charlene was so beset by self-loathing that she ate more — gradually becoming morbidly obese and tipping the scales at 22 stone.
But then Charlene did something that many sisters who hate their assigned labels dream of doing. She swapped roles with her prettier, slimmer sister.
Swapped size: Kayleigh, left, was always labelled the attractive one growing up with sister Charlene, right, who was taunted by her father. Research shows that parents, more often fathers, shape their daughter's self image of herself
Over the past two years, she has
dieted and lost an incredible nine stone — dropping from a size 24 to a
size 12. She looks so stunning that she draws comparisons with a young
her sister Kayleigh, 24, openly admits she has had to relinquish her
position as the most attractive sibling after allowing her weight to
creep up to 16 stone.
and Kayleigh’s story casts a spotlight on the dynamic between sisters,
and how they cannot help but continually compare themselves to one
another throughout life.
It also shows that it is often
fathers — not mothers — who shape a daughter’s image of herself. For
even though Charlene now has model looks, she says she will always see
herself as ‘the fat one’.
Research from the University of
Auckland has found that a father’s judgment of his daughter’s appearance
— particularly on weight — carries the most influence of all on her
'Kayleigh was the golden girl and I was the frump'
study of 200 families where fathers were known to place emphasis on a
girl’s appearance, every child they interviewed had a distorted body
image — and was more likely to have a problem with her weight.
That was certainly true for Charlene. She says: ‘I know Dad’s remarks sound cruel, but I don’t hold them against him. I know he would do anything for me.
‘But when we were growing up Kayleigh was clearly the favourite. He would say the one thing that kept him going as he built up his car repair business was his “Kayleigh Wayleigh Baby”, waiting at home for him at the end of every day.
‘On the other hand, I was openly spoken about as daughter number two, the devil child. While it was always said in a jokey way, it was part of family lore that I had been a difficult child who never slept. It was always said I nearly put my parents off having any more.
‘There were four of us in all: our older sister Katrina, now 29, and our younger brother Adam, now 22. Both were very quiet and kept themselves to themselves.
‘Kayleigh and I were the feisty ones. We were close, but we clashed a lot. She wanted her way and I wanted mine. She would bat her little eyelids — and she usually won.
Undervalued: Growing up Charlene, left, felt she was not the favourite and although she now has model looks, right, the 27-year-old will always see herself as 'the fat one'
‘Katrina was the eldest, Adam was the boy, Kayleigh was the favourite. I felt I had no role.’
Of course, all children secretly fear their siblings are valued more.
But Kayleigh, who lives close to her sister, confirms Charlene’s recollection of events.
‘As a child, I was made to feel more special than Charlene — and I lapped up the attention,’ she says.
‘I remember doing some modelling shots as a child. My dad would say “Kayleigh, you have lovely hair” or “Your eyes are so beautiful”. But I don’t remember any nice comments about Charlene’s appearance.
‘It was me who sat on Dad’s knee getting a cuddle — while Charlene sat on the sofa eating biscuits. I was the one with the mug that said “Best Daughter in the World”.
‘It seem insensitive now — but I never questioned it. It was just the way it was.’
The sisters recall that the family dynamic was very much directed by their father Jack, now 55, a charismatic, humorous man of few words.
They describe their mother, Wendy, as a distant figure who was happy to leave the day-to-day running of the household to her widowed mother Phyllis. Charlene believes their father made so many comments because he had a family history of heart disease and obesity, which led to his parents and brother suffering serious health problems. Jack also struggled with his weight.
‘He’s lovely, but Dad is no diplomat. When I began to put on weight when I started secondary school at 11, he tried to point out how fat I was as a wake-up call,’ says Charlene.
Growing up: Kayleigh, left aged six, and Charlene, right, aged nine with grandmother Phyllis, were close as children but clashed a lot. Charlene said 'it was always said I nearly put my parents off having any more'
‘I’d pretend his comments didn’t get to me. But I felt so bad about myself I started eating even more — sweets and snacks on the way to school and at break-time, and convenience foods when I got home.’
/08/21/article-2191693-14A2BEBB000005DC-155_634x658.jpg” width=”634″ height=”658″ alt=”For acceptance: Charlene, right, reached 22 stone three years ago and was warned of the health risks posed by her weight gain. She started dieting and thought it was also her chance to be accepted by her family” class=”blkBorder” />
For acceptance: Charlene, right, reached 22 stone three years ago and was warned of the health risks posed by her weight gain. She started dieting and thought it was also her chance to be accepted by her family
Three years ago she had just given birth to her second child, Ryan, and had reached 22 stone.
‘At my check-ups, the doctor pointed out that my blood pressure was getting dangerously high and I was at risk of diabetes,’ she says.
‘Soon afterwards, I bumped into a friend who’d lost three stone on a strict diet in which all food is replaced by three nutritionally balanced shakes a day.
‘She told me that if I stuck to the plan, I couldn’t fail. It just made sense to me.’
In the first week, Charlene lost 13lb — and it set her on the path to losing an incredible nine stone.
When shedding the pounds left her with huge drapes of loose skin around her tummy, she completed her transformation with a 6,900 tummy tuck at the Harley Medical Group, with the help of a loan from her father.
‘While I had started dieting for my health, part of me thought this was also my chance to get acceptance from my family,’ she says.
‘Maybe when it started working, a part of me did think: “I will show you all now…”
‘Before, I’d always felt like daughter number two. Now I’d slimmed down, it was me that my dad was raving about.
'It's almost as if fat has become such a painful, taboo subject in our family that it's not for open discussion'
‘I remember walking into a family barbecue and Dad saying: “Here comes the supermodel.” I was embarrassed, but pleased to finally get the admiration I’d always craved from him — and let go of my label as the fat, difficult one.’
With admirable honesty, Kayleigh admits that stepping aside for her sister has not been easy.
They still see a lot of each other at weekly family social events and outings.
‘At first, when Charlene went on the diet, we all thought it was just a fad,’ says Kayleigh.
‘I only noticed how much weight she was losing when she asked to borrow a pair of my trousers. I thought: “Hang on. You can’t fit into my clothes.” Then she gave them back to me because they were too big. That was a shock.
‘People are always saying how fantastic Charlene looks — and I have to admit a twinge of jealousy. Of course, I’m pleased for her, but I do think: “Hold on, it’s usually me getting the attention.”
‘Now when Dad sees Charlene, he says: “All right, skinny” To me, he says: “Look at you! Now you’re the bigger one.” It’s given me a glimpse of what she had to put up with all these years.’ Now in the ongoing see-saw of sibling rivalry, Kayleigh admits she is thinking of slimming down.
Reversed roles: Psychology professor Terri Apter says that when the roles are reversed between siblings, the adjustment depends on how heavily the siblings have invested in those roles
‘I am engaged and getting married in a few years. I don’t want to be the fat bride with my skinny sister next to me.’
The irony is that amid all this angst, the sisters have not once directly brought up the subject of weight with each other.
Charlene says she doesn’t want to appear patronising, while Kayleigh confesses she can’t bring herself to tell her sister how fantastic she looks.
Charlene adds: ‘I don’t hold it against her and we’re very close. But it’s almost as if fat has become such a painful, taboo subject in our family that it’s not for open discussion.’
Terri Apter, a psychology professor at Cambridge University and author of several books on family dynamics — including the Sister Knot and Difficult Mothers — says the scars left by parental favouritism run deeper than anyone realises.
Comparison is inevitable because sisters share the same gene pool. ‘You look alike and can’t help but notice how the same features, arranged slightly differently, have come out so much better on someone else,’ she says.
‘Siblings are so keen to differentiate themselves from one another that they construct their talents and personalities to be different. These self-made differences are called contrast effects.
‘It explains why identical twins raised apart are sometimes more alike than those raised in the same home. The twins raised apart do not bother with contrast effects.’
When the roles reverse between siblings, as they have in the case of Charlene and Kayleigh, Terri says the adjustment depends on how heavily the sisters have invested in those roles. ‘Seeing someone you compare yourself to change suddenly, moving far ahead according to some marker you — or your parents — have set can be unsettling.
‘The other sibling has to get used to the new positioning. It might be a trigger to reflect on who they are and what they want to achieve.’
Yet despite her transformation, Charlene still struggles to be comfortable with her new shape.
‘I still don’t think I am attractive. When I was fat, I thought that people were staring at me when I went out, thinking: “She shouldn’t be here.”
‘When my friends and family tell me people turn around and stare at me because I look so good, I can’t quite believe it. Inside, I’m still that little girl desperate to make her dad proud.’
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