For most of my life I’ve played hostess to a loop of ugly, self-depreciating thoughts which set up shop in my head sometime in middle school.
I wasn’t particularly pretty and my grades where certainly nothing to get excited about. I was teased relentless about my big nose and my large boobs. So, as kids often do, I found identity in the one thing that people complimented me on: how thin I was.
Not long ago I was at a get together with a few friends and some people I had met just that afternoon. We were all chit chatting when the subject turned to dieting and weight, as unfortunately it so often does for us women. I admit, I hate these conversations. I hate the way otherwise rational woman eagerly start throwing themselves under the bus by “confessing” personal details about their body in some sort of martyr like fashion. I hate how disparagingly we describe ourselves as numbers, sizes and weights. I hate how we verbally accost ourselves for that extra cupcake that extra bite of ice cream we ate.
I hate it because even though I’ve spent most of my adult life doing it, I still don’t know the best way to respond anymore than I know what I am hoping to get out of these self-loathing kvetch fests myself.
Taking part in these conversations always leaves me feeling icky, bare and exposed–wishing I’d just kept my mouth shut. Wishing I hadn’t just confessed my most inner fears and frustrations about my body to a group of people. Regretting my impulse to publicly apologize for how imperfect a person I am.
However, this conversation was tame and I knew the other party well, so I felt safe to indulge a little in this body-conscious discussion. We sat talking about her goals. My goals. What types of exercise we prefer. Foods that make us feel our best and our worst. It was all on the up and up.
But, like with any conversation had in public, at any moment a bystander can jump in and take the conversation in a new direction.
Soon body types were being compared and body parts scrutinized. Numbers were mentioned. Secrets were spilled. Imperfections flaunted. I even had the pleasure of being referred to as “big-boned” by someone I just met. The conversation just took on a life of it’s own.
The fact that I feel the need to somehow prove to you all that I am not “big-boned”really bothers me. I have typed, erased and retyped my actual height and weight several times, trying to decide what my motive is. And that’s exactly my point. It’s not necessary because the labels we assign ourselves or which are at times assigned to us aren’t always reflective of who we actually are.
After four babies and struggling with my health because of the damage celiac disease has caused my body, it has been a really hard thing to reckon with the fact that I am no longer the skinny girl.
For years I had it in my head that my non-skinniness was temporary and that inside me was the body of a 17 year old. One without stretch marks, that pestering loose skin around her upper arms, and that huge ugly scar from her cesarean. The body that made me feel worthwhile and pretty. And to be even more honest, a little hot.
After my first baby I went on a strict diet and exercise regime and lost of lot of my baby weight, only to find that I was left with nothing better than a thinner version of my newly postpartum body. So I did what any other sane woman would do–I cried angrily.
When I gained even more weight during my battle with celiac disease, I finally stopped looking in the mirror.
I hated everything I saw, so what was the point?
In 2005, after years of slinging insults and muttering curses to the reflection that so disgusted me, I decided the only way out was to go under the knife.
So one early spring evening when my husband got home from work, I went to see a plastic surgeon. I’m fairly certain my husband thought I was losing my mind, but he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. I sat in the waiting room, pretending to read magazines but instead trying to figure out what procedures the others in the room had done or were recovering from. My heart raced when my name was called. A drop-dead gorgeous nurse walked me back to the examination room and handed me a paper gown. Clearly, they new how to market. “The doctor will be in momentarily”, she said before closing the door on her way out, leaving me standing there, all alone with my thoughts.
There was a table and a chair on one side facing a floor-length mirror on the opposite wall in the chilly, dark brown room. I hopped between the chair and the table trying to find something comfortable, but I was shivering from cold and from the realization of how far down this road of self-hatred I had gone.
Later, I followed the doctor into his office. As we sat facing one another from opposite sides of his desk, he wrote down a plan of action on a pad of paper for me, explaining in detail what it all meant; a cut here, a snip there and just like that I’d be perfect. Or nearly perfect anyhow–because it would be a lot better if I could throw in for that lipo around the hips; an extra $2000.00 per side, of course.
I flashed the smile of a person who didn’t think $4,000.00 was a lot of money. Then I walked out the door and drove back home determined to make this work.
It had been a long time since someone called me skinny. A long time since I felt beautiful. A long time since I didn’t cry at the thought of having to be seen in a swimming suit. And at the moment, I would have given him every thing I owned in this world just to feel worthwhile again. Just to stop hating that monster I saw in the mirror.
I was desperate.
Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that an $8,000 elective procedure was so far out of the realm of possibilities that I’d as soon fly to the moon. And ultimately, I came to be thankful for that.
This isn’t a debate about plastic surgery. Who am I to decide if it’s the right thing for another person or not? What I do know is that I was looking for was permission to feel beautiful. And that, I realized, just wasn’t going to come by way of trying to carve out my inner skinny girl with a scalpel.
I admit, I was very upset with myself for participating in the conversation. It goes against one of the rules I have had set for myself to help me stay in a healthy head-space. But I slipped up and when things went out of my comfort zone, it was too late for me to jump ship. I just had to ride it out and hope for the best.
And for just a moment I became that self-conscious, self-loathing girl of 25 again. I wanted to shrink back into my shell and hide from my rising insecurities. But, then I remembered that just three hours ago I had left the house feeling good about myself. I was wearing a skirt that I felt played up my curvy features and a sweater I felt complimented my skin tone. I had truly felt good about what I’d seen in the mirror, and I grounded myself once more with that thought.
I realize this was actually necessary to show me how far I’ve come. There was a time when this really would have destroyed me. I would have heard that remark and it would have chipped away at what little self-esteem I had. I would have incorporated it into my personal ritual of self-bashing.
But, I no longer think of myself as the fat skinny girl. Yes, I have days where I feel like a bloated, big-nosed, stringy-haired hot mess, but I make a point to now see myself as a sum of all my parts instead of only individual short-comings.
I’ve worked hard to tear down my unhealthy habit of self-hatred and replaced it with a healthy self-image, and I don’t ever intend to go back to thinking of myself as the ugly duckling. Because when it’s all said and done, we are the only ones who hold the keys to deciding just who is staring us back in the mirror every morning.