I was always an overweight child. I remember being at my communion celebration and taking a piece of cheese from a platter and my uncle telling my mother that she needed to put me on a diet. I was maybe eight years old. By the time I was ten I was being taken to a nutritionist every week to get “weighed in.” My mother, as amazing as she was, was hyper-focused on my weight. Probably because she was an overweight child herself and didn’t want me to go thru what she did. I remember being on such a strict diet that I was starving all the time. I remember sneaking crackers, cookies, and anything easily accessible when my mother wasn’t looking and arranging them just so perfectly that she wouldn’t know they were missing. Weigh-ins were brutal. If I gained even 1/4 oz I was lectured. Please know my mother, a single mother, had my best interests at heart and did the best she could with what she had and what she knew.
I remember going to summer camp and the kids asking why I wore bigger clothes (I wore bigger sizes to hide my weight). I remember being in the lowest swimming class and being laughed at because I couldn’t swim as well. I didn’t have many friends. I had curly, frizzy hair, a horrible hair style and was overweight. I was never the child dreaming of being a princess. I was never the teenager dreaming of celebrity crushes. I was dreaming of fitting in, looking different and being anyone other than myself. I had friends in middle school blatantly tell me they were just being my friend because I was good in a certain subject and they needed better grades. My later teen years were just as luxurious. I never felt comfortable in my skin (that started long before my teen years to be honest) so I yo-yo dieted and was on a continual mission for superficial happiness. I never felt as if I had true, long-lasting friendships because I never truly liked myself on the outside so how could anyone else? All I wanted was to be outwardly accepted. I manifested in my mind that if I was “skinny” I would have friends and be well-liked. I convinced myself that appearances determined your self-worth. Little did I know this would continue to one of the most pivotal times of my life. During high school I had gum thrown in my hair at rallies more times than I could count, I had butter thrown in my face at my senior prom and crushes that would never in a million years give me the time of day. I naturally attributed this to my appearance. In college I was still on my quest for superficial fulfillment. One night junior year when all of the girls were exchanging jeans and trying on each other’s clothes getting ready for a night out I ran off and left. I was heavier than they were and I knew I didn’t fit in anything they had and the emotional toll was a lot to bear. By this time I had been on and off diets most of my life and my self-esteem pretty much flat lined most days. I spent so much time obsessing about my appearance and wishing I was someone else I never cared about being liked for who I was. Mind you this was before social media.
Now it’s not uncommon for teens and young adults to struggle with self-esteem issues and the need to fit in. Most of the time, and it’s true, we grow thru it as we move thru adulthood. For me, yes it subsided, but only slightly. I didn’t know any other life other than checking the mirror 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 times, pulling on those pants just one more time to stretch them a little bit, and doing 360’s in the mirror to the point of getting dizzy to make sure any “less than optimal” areas were properly hidden. Unfortunately at one point in my twenties this all caught up with me and morphed into a serious issue with food and that coupled with losing my mother sent me right to a counselor which helped immensely. I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to look, in my mind, socially acceptable. To look like what I thought others wanted me to look like. To look like the people of the “in” crowd. There was an “in” crowd at every stage and every age and I would instantaneously lessen myself telling myself I didn’t “look the part.” Again most of this was before the pressures of social media worked their way in like they do today and as a mom this terrifies me.
Before you say to yourself, “my heart breaks for her,” or, “I’m so sorry this happened to her,” I ask that you please don’t because there is a much bigger message that I’m getting to. Please keep reading.
As I moved thru my thirties my quest for superficial happiness/fulfillment started to morph into more of a personal happiness. I had finally had enough of being a prisoner in my own body and mind. It was time to focus on me and do what I wanted to do for my own happiness and self-acceptance. Then I became pregnant…with twins. I won’t get into the physical discomfort of actually going thru IVF because of all the hormones you are intentionally putting in your body to hopefully create this beautiful miracle, but I have never, despite everything that I went thru between personal and family pressure and social angst and bullying during my childhood and teen years, ever encountered more insults, bullying and rudeness than I did when I was pregnant. The stares, the points, the looks of horror, the comments, and the questions were brutal. Here is me about one month before I had the boys. I was growing two humans, not one, but two, who were actually 13 pounds between the two of them at birth. The almost daily comments about how big I was, the constant stares and mutters, the pointing by others, the faces of OMG as I would walk by found me repeatedly explaining that I was expecting multiples and making desperate attempts to win opinions over. The saddest part is I felt like I had to. I felt like I had to continually justify myself to strangers.
Forgive me but I must ask, what has this world come to? Have we evolved into a society that we now cannot even be pregnant without getting bullied or shamed? And it doesn’t end there! We are continually hearing about the “mombod,” and the “dadbod.” We hear about significant others putting on “sympathy weight,” and realistically has anyone ever put on weight from having sympathy? We throw around the term “baby weight” when the true weight is in the expression itself. Our bodies have to put on weight to support this amazing miracle, or in many cases miracles, we are growing inside of us so why must we personify this term? This term also carries with it an entire conversation about gaining baby weight, losing baby weight, How long it took to lose the baby weight and so on. We body shame and body blame, but I think the shame and blame is on us. We glamorize celebrities who push out humans and are back to their pre-baby weight in six weeks or who get back in the gym right after having a baby. We cannot check-out at the grocery store without seeing at least a half dozen magazines that talk about the latest diet, how to lose 9 pounds in three days, the magic pill that was discovered by some plant that we can’t pronounce in some remote location that probably no one has ever been to, or see the face of some celebrity who social media, society or some higher power has deemed more beautiful than the rest of us. We put so much emphasis on weight and outward appearances as if that takes precedence over all of the incredible aspects about us that actually matter. We are also contributing to mental illness by doing this. Can we not see that? This is the part that causes a lump in my throat. We are telling our children, our teens and our young adults, like my younger self, that the judgement and bullying continues well into adulthood and that one of the most incredible and life changing times of their lives, having their children, will be overshadowed by the continuous pressure to get their bodies back to what the world thinks they should be. We are telling them that their journey to feel good about themselves and accept themselves will be a journey without a destination. What scares me most today is there is this whole other element of pressure that comes from social media. We need to shatter this box we are put in once and for all. There is no such thing as the, or a, “bod.” We are not “bods.” We are not “baby weight.” We are not superficial beings. We are people. We are people made up of all things perfectly imperfect.
Let’s teach our children about self-love, acceptance, kindness and courage. Let’s teach our children that they are perfect just the way they are and there isn’t a box they need to fit into, ever, because what makes them unique makes them extraordinary and they are the popular crowd because of it. We must work together, all of us, to evoke change and make progress. We owe this to our children, our grandchildren and our future generations. #shatterthebox