I can pinpoint the exact moment that began my struggle with a crippling lack of self-esteem that has followed me through life like a shadow.
“Do you know what Billy said about you?”
“He said that you’re cool but you’re fat.”
It was the moment of realization that this was what others saw when they looked at me. When you’re a little kid, you don’t have time to think about stuff like that. Before that day in fourth grade, I just thought fat was something that Disney villains were, like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. My view of myself didn’t extend beyond what I was wearing and what my hair looked like. I hadn’t progressed into further physical self-analysis beyond that.
There were things that I knew I was: artistic, that I loved to write, I loved to sing, loved making up stories with my brother. But, fat was not a part of the equation.
My reaction to hearing what Billy supposedly said about me? I strode up to him in the middle of our busy map-making classroom activity, grabbed him by his shirt collar, glared in his face while saying, “I’ll see you on the playground.”
An empty threat but, he stayed away from me after that. Because of his short-sighted opinion of me, he lost a friend. And sadly, before that we had been pretty good chums.
I wish I could say that was my first and last brush with the “f” word. But, if it was this would be a rather short piece.
Throughout my childhood, from that point on, my life was lived in between fat insults. And, I pretty much remember every one. I remember the sting of their words and it’s upsetting to know that I’m the only one that will remember it. The only person that their words made a mark on was me. And I can trace and see each one like scarred flesh.
Fat. Elephant. Water Buffalo. Pregnant. Lard Ass. Fat Ass. Mooooo.
Moo. I remember that one almost fondly.
One of my favorite classes in middle school was Language Arts and Reading and one day I was doing a presentation on a board game I created for our class assignment. Mine was the prettiest one in the classroom and I was quite fond of my witty little game. As I explained the rules and held it up for the class to see, a “Moo” irrupted from the second row.
It came from Melissa. Melissa with cute freckles, a carefree attitude the boys enjoyed, and who was also a cheerleader.
I don’t even remember if the teacher heard or made her stop because I was so horrified by being called out for being fat in front of the class (as if they wouldn’t have noticed without her astute observation). I was especially embarrassed because the boy whom I had a huge crush on had obviously heard the crude commentary on my physical condition.
I remember I cried to my mom about it later and received some good advice about how to deal with my Melissa problem.
The next day in the hallway between classes Melissa was shoved violently into a locker and left to pick up her scattered books and papers on the tiled floor while I snidely smiled and said, “Oops, I’m so sorry.” Yeah, not the best way to deal with it but sometimes you have to fight fire with a blowtorch. She must’ve been burned badly because she never said anything to me after that.
These comments from strangers on how my body should look helped shape my ill opinion of myself. From the first instance it was no longer just Billy or Melissa picking apart my body, my biggest critic became myself. And self-hatred has never gotten me anywhere. I’ve even made my own comments on how other people should look, “Oh, she shouldn’t be wearing that!” “I would never go out like that!” I’ve tried to stop myself from perpetuating the body-hate but it’s something I’m still working on.
I read a quote about a year ago that I think about every now and then, “Hating my body has gotten me here, so let’s see where loving my body can get me.” I think that quote is very poignant and very true. I’d like to say that since reading it my life has changed and my ill opinion of my body has magically vanished, but I can’t. It’s still a struggle, especially having gained back nearly the 35 lbs I lost before our move to Washington. I still think in terms of what events I have to look forward to and how much weight I could possibly lose before then.
And when I think back to all the rotten things people have said to me over the years, my feminist-with-attitude side comes out and rudely snaps back, “How dare you tell me what my body should look like?!” But, isn’t that true? Why is it anyone’s business what my body looks like? It’s mine and I think that my opinion on it should be the one that ultimately matters the most. From fat women to female body builders women’s bodies are critiqued. “Too much muscle!” “Too much fat!” Either way it’s other people telling you how your body should look, feel, and be.
There is no real end to this piece- there’s no advice I can give to others who are struggling with body or self-acceptance. I'm lucky I have a man who loves me no matter what I look like but it's also difficult for him to understand why his unconditional and loving opinion can't make me like my body. I know it needs to come from within and it sucks that I've spent over fifteen years of my life hating it. I’m in no place to offer any advice but I just felt the need to get these words out of me and into the world.
Still working on it.