I work on the Internet. Last week, it felt as though everywhere I turned the women of the world were talking about body issues. From the viral photo of the fit and unapologetic Maria Kang that prickled many woman’s spine either in outrage or defense, to a popular blogger, Glennon Melton of Momastery throwing away her scale, to this powerful video of a college student’s poetry slam exploring the question of why the women in her family deprive themselves to feel small.
Or maybe it felt that way because I have my own body issues and those are the messages I see through my jacked up filter.
I was a skinny little girl but I remember thinking I was fat. When I was 13 I wore a women’s size 3 which I thought that was way too big compared to my friend’s size 12 JUNIOR. I remember shopping trips to The Gap looking for jeans under the 3 sign and feeling shame that I wasn’t still wearing junior sizes like my friends. I was in the 8th grade, and in gym class of that year when I would also start my period for the first time. By the time I was 14 and a Freshman in highschool, I would be a women’s size 12 while most of my friends graduated into sizes 0 and 1.
Everywhere I looked from the hallways at school to the teen magazines to the commercials on TV — everything told me I was not small enough. That my wide hips and big chest needed to be smaller, thinner, better.
I hated my body with a ferocity in those teen years. When I was 15, and in the privacy of my purple painted bedroom adorned with magazine clippings of cute boys, I would grab folds of fat on my belly and hips and pull at them — digging my fingernails in so hard I left deep, deep marks. Sometimes I even took a pair of scissors and pretended to cut it off. Sometimes I bled. I always cried. I wanted this fat off OFF my body so bad that daily I fantasized about slicing it off with a knife. Many times I took duct tape and wrapped by body from my hips to just under my breast like a mummy. The tape was so tight I could hardly sit or breathe. When I was done, I went to my closet and tried on different outfits so I could marvel at how much better I looked in them while I was squeezed and squashed to breathlessness under feet of tape. Had I only known a woman would do the same thing years later, call them Spanx and make millions I could have beat her to the punch.
I still remember the bright red flush of my skin as I ripped off the tape. I remember sort of liking the pain. It was what I deserved for being so fat and so weak. My heart aches for that sad girl.
I remained a natural size 12 with the exception of a waxing and waning depression between 17-20 years old where I would occasionally be a size 14. After I gained control of that I was back to my natural size except for one militant phase in my mid 20’s when I counted every calorie and worked out daily. During those years I was able to get down to a size 8 for about a day and a half. That remains my smallest size ever. Somewhere in there I realized I actually liked working out and eating healthy and I settled into a very comfortable and manageable size 10 until I got pregnant with my first child at 30.
Now, two years after my second child, at age 35, I’m still trying to lose the last 10 pounds to get back down to a comfortable size 10. As I write this, I’m on the border between a size 12 and 14.
I work out 4-5 times a week; Zumba, Pilates, Yoga. I can run 30 minutes without stopping and I can do back bends and head stands in yoga. My body is strong. I eat a healthy diet which I enjoy. I even juice kale and worse — I like it! I have treats in moderation. Ice cream mostly. I do not eat candy or fast food very often and I don’t like things with too much sugar. I drink an alcoholic beverage once, maybe twice a week. On a good week.
I know that I could lose those last 10 pounds if I became militant again, but I refuse. I simply do not have the desire to spend my precious time and energy thinking about food to that level. Plus, that whole process makes me a wee bit crazy. If I slip on a few calories here and there I start to shame myself. I get angry and crabby and judgmental of my every decision and perceived weakness. I’ve been there before and it’s just not worth it anymore.
So for the most part I’d rather just eat healthy, workout, have treats in moderation and be a size 12-14. Accept when I wouldn’t. Those times always come when I see an unflattering picture. At those moments I get angry with myself all over again. That sad 15-year-old-girl who wrapped her body in duct tape reappears inside my head and I must work hard to calm her down. This happened to me about a month ago.
I went back home a few weeks ago to celebrate a friend’s baby shower and there was a picture taken that awoke that scared, self-shaming girl inside my head.
Even among two pregnant friends, I am the biggest one. Even after how hard I work every day… I. AM. STILL. THE. FATTEST. BRIDESMAID. <sigh>
Truth: That picture sent me down a shame spiral… but not as much as what happened next.
A day after this picture was taken I was sitting around one of these friend’s kitchen table. My friend’s 15 year-old daughter was sitting with us. We have known this girl her whole life and have watched her blossom into a beautiful and intelligent young lady. I remember a time when she was four, having been surrounded by a group of young 20-something women, when she said, “My thighs are so fat.”
When I finally became a parent four years ago, I became hyper-aware of the messages I send to children, both verbal and nonverbal. In spite of this fact, and what I know of this girl, I still fat-shaming myself in front of her.
I was weak that day. I just wanted to let it all fly and I was being selfish. I wanted to hear my friends (whom I don’t get to sit and talk with very often) tell me I was being too hard on myself. I needed help shutting up that 15-year-old girl inside my head and I didn’t care that this 15-year-old girl was listening. That poor, gorgeous girl sat there listening to me go on about how I hate being FAT! As I said those words they stung twice as hard when I looked at her. They still do when I think about it and now I am more ashamed of fat-shaming myself in front of her than I was of the original picture.
That day I gave her an anthropological lesson in the Generation X thin-obsessed culture, but I wished I’d given her a physics lesson instead. I wish I had told her that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I wish I’d told her that the depth of pain I felt as a self-loathing teenager is equal to the amount of love I’m able to feel for myself as a confident 30-something woman, which is actually quite a lot when I don’t look an unflattering pictures of me next to my friends.
I wish I told that bright, talented, 15-year-old girl, that from all the mirrors I hated when I was her age, I learned the real value of appearances. That because of my fat reflection, I’m can clearly see true beauty, and that kind of beauty is not something you can find in a mirror… or a picture.
I wish I would have told her that my muffin top taught me important things about life; things about suffering and grace and self-worth and what it means to overcome, and the healing power of good friends.
I wish I told her that everyone has their Thing. That Thing that makes them feel different and weird and unloveable. But that Thing is really a giant lesson in being human. A benevolent gift of learned compassion. Being a fat teen was my Thing and now that I’m older, I love my Thing for what it taught me about life. Because often our biggest curses become our equally big blessings.
But I didn’t do that. I failed her in that moment. I failed me in that moment. And I won’t do it again. That much I have learned. That is why I’m writing this… because for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. May this post serve as my amends.