I don’t hate the way I look today, which for me is a huge accomplishment. Even bigger, I am not judging myself as good bad or ugly based on the way I look today. Why? Well, I’m actively in the process of losing some weight, I eat clean and vegan 99% of the time. I am getting more exercise and I belong to an incredible emotional eating (EE) group that is teaching me how to understand that feelings and urges are feelings and urges. They pass, I can separate myself from them. I can observe them. They are not me. But even if I wasn’t doing all that, I am learning to love myself, no matter what my size is. It’s a strange, but delightful feeling to reconnect with my body. We’ve been so distant from each other for so many years.
Here’s the part where I could tell you all kinds of stories. Stories about feeling like a fat person since the first time some older neighbor boy burst my innocent bubble and announced to me, when I was 5, that I was fat and ugly. I had no idea at the time. Or I can joke about how my grandmother’s nickname for me was Butterball and I thought she meant I was a turkey, not a chubbo. I could explain to you that there are an awful lot of people in the world (in my world, where I grew up) that confuse tall with fat, because they are both ways to describe large people. How I was always the tallest or next tallest girl in every grade until 7th, when I finally stopped growing and everyone caught up, and most went well past me in height in the years to come. How I always felt bigger than a Macy’s Day float around my friends. How in 8th grade I had a teacher, who I adored up to that time by the way, but who wrote out and planned to deliver a “Deficiency for Ugliness” to me, and was getting ready to announce it to the entire class until he realized I had seen it on his desk, read it, and sat whimpering at my desk, bracing myself and trying to hold back the tears. (Aside: for those of you who are too young to remember or did not attend sadistic public schools, during the 70’s and 80’s, Deficiencies were given out in the middle of each academic quarter to those students who were failing at any given subject. The teachers would stand at the front of the class with little rectangle pieces of paper folded over, little degrading love notes, and merrily announce the names of the students who were receiving Deficiencies. The humiliated children took the little horror stories home to their disappointed or uncaring parents to sign and return. Just to keep the jolly festivities going, the teachers would chirp out each morning for the next 3 or 4 days “Who has their signed Deficiencies?” like it was nothing.) I was a straight A student for the most part and never got an academic deficiency, so you can imagine my curiosity seeing such a little folded paper sitting on my 8th grade teachers desk with my name on it. It was after lunch and my teacher was no doubt sucking in a few last drags on his smoke, much like the rest of the stressed out faculty in the foggy teacher’s lounge. My friend Michael read it for me (he was always braver than me) and then showed me, and my brain spiraled out of control. I thought he liked me? I thought I was one of his favorite students? That’s how he always treated me. (He was my home room teacher and my English teacher so I felt I knew him better than the average student). Me, a pubescent girl who was too tall and too big and just wanted to blend into the walls worse than James Comey. I have other stories too, like how my first boyfriend, my first “love”, who was my obsession to the point of dismissing all other aspects of my life, told me if I gained weight he’d break up with me. And on and on.
Many women, and men, have stories like mine, believing at that time that something was wrong with them. That something is still wrong with them. But the good news is that some of us, a few of us, are finally learning to love ourselves.
I have been many sizes, bigger than I am today, smaller than I am today, more muscular, more in shape. I’ve looked good, I know, some years. In the past, when I’ve looked back at myself 100 pounds ago and remember thinking then that I was fat, I felt sad, sorry for myself, a victim of my own loathing. And then I went through my angry fat phase, realizing that I’m just as good as the skinny “normal” people. Now , I try to focus my energy on more positive endeavors.
I’ve always told my daughter, my beautiful, athletic, terrific person of a daughter that I accepted my fatness. I thought that by admitting it to her, she’d see what was lacking in me and make sure she didn’t make the same mistakes. Then one day, when this gorgeous attractive teenager told me she thought she was fat and ugly, I had another one of those brain spirals like I did in 8th grade. This must be another nightmare. I thought I was working hard to make her understand that I was totally honest about my deficient body. Unfortunately, I learned that all I was doing was drilling into her innocent skull that I thought I was a failure, and therefore she too, was a failure, when it came to physical beauty.
The lesson was reinforced when a woman in my EE class told a similar story of her mother, who always admitted to her that she, her mom, was fat. So she believed her mother was fat and told her friends her mother was fat. Then her friends met her mother and corrected their friend. “She’s normal,” they would say. But this woman couldn’t see past what her mother told her all her life. And she now found herself overweight and despising her own body.
After I beat myself up about ruining my daughter’s life, I realized that hating myself was only making things worse. I had to learn to love my body in order for her to do the same, or so I hoped. So I looked at myself, naked, at every bump, bulge and blemish, and said to myself “I love you.” I didn’t’ believe it but it was a start.
I do this every day now, smile at myself, take selfies while I’m working or when I’m at home with no makeup on, and focus on what’s good. Speaking of which, I’m not totally ashamed of being in pictures anymore either, which has been a huge obstacle to overcome. There are years of my daughter’s life where there are pictures of her with everyone but me. I just assumed she wouldn’t want a picture of me. Scary, isn’t it?
Why am I sharing all of this? I see so many people, girls and boys, young and old, who are ashamed of their bodies, because someone told them at some point that they were not good enough, didn’t look good enough to be popular, or attractive, or successful beyond book smarts. I don’t like it, and I want to let those people know that they are the only ones who can make the self-loathing and body shaming stop. And there are ways to stop. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s the reason I’m writing my adolescent novel “Goodbye Pound Cake” (working title). As I write, I think about all of the injustices and how they now make me stronger. Strong enough to help others understand that there is a way out. Strong enough to find the way out myself.
I can’t wait to share this book with everyone. I hope I can make a small difference, even if it’s only 1 person who learns to fall in love with herself. More to come.