WARNING! This post is a long one. Take your bathroom break, get a snack, settle in. It also might not be recommended reading if 1) you wish to have a lighthearted evening or day, 2) you've been feeling down lately, or 3) you've recently gone off your Prozac.
Still here? Bit of a masochist, are you?
Okay, then. I'm off to watch the 2nd DVD of Lost and try to pretend I didn't just post this.
When did I first become aware that my body wasn’t all that it should be? No, that’s not right…that my body was more than it should be?
I don’t know the exact age, but I was young…maybe 4 or 5 years old. My next door neighbor and de facto best friend, BabyJehovahWitness, had a blow up pool in her backyard. She and I spent many a day lounging, and jumping, and splashing in the heat and humidity of a Minnesota summer. I don’t know why I first realized it, but one day I noticed that my belly stuck out in front of me in a way that BJW’s did not. I didn’t like it – somehow knew this was not a good thing. I remember wrapping a towel around my body when I had to walk home.
I had a different body shape than the women in my immediate family. It’s evident from even young pictures of me with them. I was rounder than my sister who was stretched out and lanky, even when a child. And my mother, well my mother was underweight for much of my early childhood. She tells me she weighed 135 when she was at her heaviest pregnant, and she’s at least 5’7”. She really does not look healthy in many pictures I have of her, but she never dieted. She just smoked like a fiend, and had a “dainty” appetite.
I was a cute kid, who turned into an awkward, chubby kid in grade school. And it’s here that I first learned that this discomfort that I’d felt about my body could get translated into something more. I think the first incident was a playground cruelty. I was sitting outside during recess. I didn’t realize that anyone was behind me – until I heard the snickering. I turned and the two boys (I didn’t even know who they were…maybe they were in a later grade) ran away, leaving an awful drawing of my arse – a charicature meant to capture size. I was humiliated. I tore up the picture into little bits and threw it in the public trashcan, so no one could find it.
A couple of years later, I came back into class after lunch to find a note on my desk. It was triangular. The side facing up had a crude pig drawn on it…the back had the word fatso printed in caps. I don’t know who decided to torture me that day, although my guess is that it was a kid I now know was pretty disturbed. I didn’t tell my teacher, parents, or my friends about this.
It was around the same time that I started to notice boys, and, even at 11 and 12, some kids were playing boyfriend-girlfriend. I was game…I thought…but shy. My friend ChaosGirl, was my conduit to whatever boy I thought caught my fancy. She wrote him a note to tell him I liked him, and did he want to be my boyfriend. The note came back, via his friend, that he would be my boyfriend, if CG would agree to dance naked for him. I remember again the humiliation, but just once in my childhood, I didn’t hide. I told CG I wanted him to come tell me this to my face. And, yes, it does get worse, because rather than be shamed by this, he thought it a great joke.
These childish pranks hurt worse than, but were strongly reinforced by the comments of my elders…Sister telling me that, at 12, I should lose weight or I wouldn’t have any friends in middle school. CrazyMom (a neighborhood mother), again when I was about 11 or 12, feeling the need to point out that I had an ass, and suggesting that I should start jogging.
And then there was my father, who when I went to middle school started to get freaked out about my body as well – I don’t think he’s ever dealt with his daughters being sexual beings. I was told, when experimenting with my mother’s makeup that I looked like a whore, and he didn’t want to see me wearing make-up again. And then, when showing off a stylish outfit (a mini skirt and tank top which, in comparison with today’s fashions, was completely modest), I was told, I looked like a prostitute, and I couldn’t leave the house dressed like that.
And do I count the nutrition class that my doctor assigned me to…where it turned out that I was actually the thinnest kid there, but where I began to believe I was bigger. Or how I had to start shopping in the adult sizes once I hit puberty – never a Junior’s size for me – and the tears which often accompanied the ride home from clothes shopping.
I can look at all this and understand why it was that I wouldn’t wear shorts from the time I was about 12 until 15 – even in the awful heat of summer. I understand now why the clothing I preferred in high school caused my parents to comment that I was a bag lady…they were huge and baggy. I would even raid my father’s closet for his sweaters…and my favorite was an old overcoat he had worn to death. I just wanted to hide my body.
I thought there was little good about my body…and given that I hid myself, I never got positive reinforcement from my peers, either. I was never asked out on a date. Even my high school prom date I asked. My first kiss was from a boy, Eyes, who had just 5 minutes previously been making out with my then best friend…only transferring his affections when she had to leave.
I remember when someone first suggested that I needed to learn to love myself. I was completely bewildered. How did one learn to do that? How could I not hate my body? It was easier that no one see it.
I was 23 when I wore a bathing suit on a public beach for the first time since puberty without either shorts or a t-shirt covering it. I’ve come a long way since then, obviously, but I still struggle with those kernels of hate and self-doubt.
There is a poem called “Imagine a Woman.” The first 2 lines of the third stanza reads: “Imagine a woman in love with her own body. A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is.” I spent many years where I couldn’t imagine this woman as me, but I’m getting there. I’m getting there.