The first time I remember be concerned with my weight I was four years old. I was an average sized kid but was never stick thin like a lot of kids are during growth spurts. I wanted more than anything to be a ballerina but didn’t feel like I measured up to the other girls in my ballet class. Their thighs didn’t wiggle when we leaped across the room, they weren’t panicked about the teacher picking us up at the end of class and they laughed at me. At such a tender age, I was already feeling that my size was the measure of who I was and mine would make me less worthy of good things.
In elementary school I took solace in being the teacher’s pet as the kids mocked me. Of course not all of the kids mocked me and I had friends, but even now criticism has a way of always seeming so much louder than support. I remember the taunting vividly, the “boom bada boom bada” chants when I walked across the classroom and all the awful name calling.
Throughout my school years my weight issues and suffering self-esteem affected every part of my life. By the time I got to college my entire identity was wrapped up in being the “big girl.”I had found ways to cope; I could try to be the “funny” girl, or the smart girl or just about anything that, in my mind, would somehow make up for being the fat girl.
I definitely struggled with overeating but had several times when I would get fed up and purge after eating for weeks at a time or go days without eating. These ill-advised plans resulted in dramatic yo-yoing of my weight, but it seemed every time I would lose weight I would gain even more back. This process of self hate leading to weight loss leading to weight gain clearly did not lead to a very healthy me. I also struggled to with unhealthy relationship patterns and depression.
Before finishing college I hit rock bottom in my personal life.I felt alone, deeply saddened and desperate for a change. Having already tried and hated anti-depressant medication I thought I would give exercise a “go.” I lost a good deal of weight and for the first time noticed a difference in my mental health as well as my body. Around this time I met my husband and moved to Kansas City.
The move brought with it a lot of growing pains. This coupled with the “happy weight” that so often accompanies the comfort of a steady relationship I gained every pound back . . . and then some. I was completely devastated and disappointed in myself, but also in complete shock that my boyfriend (now husband) was still there. We got married and had a baby. This man didn’t just “do me a solid” and forgive my weight gain. He made very clear he loved every part of me. I remember watching him look at me when I was pregnant, marveling at the size of my belly and telling me how beautiful I was.
By loving me unconditionally my husband had annihilated a belief I had carried with me my whole life; that I would never be worthy of love — not as long as I believed I was “fat.”
These are things are not easy to own. But I hardly see the point in telling you how I got to where I am if I’m not willing to explain where I came from; and we are all only as healthy as our secrets.
When I found out I was having a girl I was completely terrified. I know that men struggle with many of the same body image and self-esteem issues as woman do. While I don’t mean to undermine anyone else’s suffering; women get slammed harder from the start. Every facet of media and even well-meaning friends and family send a clear message to girls and women: they will never be quite good enough until they are thin. I was never worried about what size my unborn child might be, I would never be the parent who questioned my child’s decision for seconds or discuss her body shape. I simply wanted to give her everything; including a fair shot at a healthy self-esteem.
The first promise I made to myself was to never speak ill of my body in front of her. Our primary influence is our same-sex parent and I did not want to pass on any negative feelings I carried with me. I also decided I would do anything I could to become more healthy and be a positive role model.
Nothing changed overnight. I did not take any diet pills or subject myself to any weird eating rules. I started small, taking walks around the neighborhood a few days a week. I set small goals. I kept going.
I embarked on this journey to be a positive role model by loving myself and being healthy. But it was a journey back to myself. This story was once about weight loss, now it has nothing to do with that at all…
From there my journey has evolved. I have taken the same courage I used to address my body image to address other things I didn’t realize I had to deal with. Including a lot of time and energy invested into healing from the PTSD from my sexual assault history. Stories and scars I thought I’d buried, but that came quickly to the surface once I stopped numbing myself with hatred and damaging habits.
I’ve learned to make friends with “difficult” emotions and see what my body is telling me. I now seek healing in all areas of my life and take great care of my emotional, physical and spiritual self. It turns out, being the role model I want my daughter to have only began with body image and has become an all encompassing quest to own my shit. I happen to do so publicly. My hope is that in sharing my own stories that I can play a small part in helping others to do the same.
Our stories are so shared, I’m done with pretending and silence.