Writing this essay has proven to be harder than I thought. There are so many aspects of this story that are profoundly upsetting to me, but I truly believe that sharing our experiences is the beginning of eradicating these problems for good.
The problems I mean are the same problems that inspired the creation of this blog: how women are portrayed in media, the unrealistic standard of beauty set forth by media and celebrity, and how these images affect the women and girls who are bombarded with them every day.
Naturally, I am one of those women. Once upon a time, I was one of those girls. It isn’t my older sister’s fault that she was always thinner and prettier than me. She didn’t ask for that any more than I asked to be a kind of chubby, average looking girl. It truly was the girls I saw in the magazines who distorted my self-image. My sister looked so much more like them than I did, but I was the one who wanted to be an actress and a singer, to see myself in magazines someday. Rather than determine to shape myself into one of those magazine girls, I instead became overwhelmingly depressed about my lot in life, and saw no way out of the hand I’d been dealt. And so began my wildly unhealthy relationship with food and mirrors.
I’ve always had a strong aversion to vomiting, so my plan was a little more convoluted than most eating disorders. It started innocently enough – sneaking extra dessert for comfort, then feeling guilty and trying to find a way to skip a meal the next day. I don’t remember the point when things started feeling out of control, I just know that my behavior became more and more extreme. I would sneak Lots of extra dessert, hide in the bathroom and gorge myself. I would steal money from my parents to go down to the gas station and buy candy. It began to feel convenient that my poor nutrition would lead to frequent bouts of illness, because then I could spend a few days not eating anything, which somehow made up for all the bingeing.
I wish I could say that all of this was happening in high school, the breeding ground for poor self-image and destructive psychology, but this battle with myself started when I was nine years old. It truly breaks my heart to see that in print. Nine years old. What the hell was I doing obsessing about my weight at nine years old? Why wasn’t I more consumed by playing with my friends and how successful I was at school?
Unfortunately it was at school that I first became aware of my less than appealing status. One day my class was walking down the stairs, and my sister’s class was walking up it. A boy in her class hissed one simple, scathing word at me as he passed by. Fat. Without thinking I grabbed his wrist and scratched up the inside of his forearm, making him bleed. As far as I can remember, there were no repercussions for either his cruelty or my violence. I’m not sure anyone even noticed, but I have never forgotten.
While it was my first traumatic incident concerning my weight, it was not an isolated one. My older sister did her share of defending me against insensitive taunts on the playground, and bless her heart, to this day she maintains I was never overweight. What’s interesting about her insistence is its truth – I really wasn’t a very big girl. I was just big enough. At Catholic school, in our matching uniforms, it was painfully obvious that my figure did not cut the same slight, shapeless form of most fourth and fifth grade girls. My uniform stretched and protruded, a sign of the curves that were to come. I can look back and say that I honestly agree with my sister – I don’t think I was overweight. But that didn’t stop other kids from hurling insults that scarred me for most of my adolescent life.
It wasn’t until my later years in high school, oddly enough, that I began to feel better about my physique. I played sports and lost my baby fat, and while I wasn’t the tiniest girl I was no longer a subject of ridicule. It became rather disturbing for me to look back on my formative years and realize how damaging I had been to myself. I vowed to maintain my new healthy outlook and to embrace a positive relationship with food.
Luckily this wasn’t an impossible feat for me, because my family has always been an incredible and natural source of support. Our family meals helped me to see food as a daily celebration of the relationships we have with family, friends and community. I learned about healthy, organic cooking from my mother, and the benefits of homemade bread and baked goods from my father. I watched myself grow into a young woman who loves nothing more than throwing fabulous dinner parties for her loved ones, replete with exquisite, delicious food – and a reasonable helping of dessert.
When this blog first launched, I cited my inspiration as the article I read in Glamour that disclosed a staggering 97% of women have *thirteen* or more negative thoughts about themselves every single day. Of course, the primary reason I find those figures so disturbing is because I used to have all of those awful thoughts, and it all started when I was far too young of a girl.
I’m not immune to negative musings about my appearance, but they usually appear once a month for a brief, bloated handful of days, and even then I am able to maintain focus on my health, exercise, and my love of a great meal. I can honestly and happily say I have become a woman who feels great about herself at almost every turn. Today I am not only living my childhood dream of being an actress and a singer, I don’t need to be in magazines to see that I am beautiful, that I have killer curves, and that my intellect, creativity, kindness and wit are the real gems that I have to offer. This confidence was hard-won, but I am fueled by a strong determination to keep little girls from ever having to experience the self-loathing and self-destruction that I went through. I believe the best place to start is living by example. The simplest thing any of us can do – note that I used the word simple, not easy – is to embrace our individuality and live the lives that we want for the girls and women we love. A life full of confidence, self-worth, and an unabashed love for the woman they see in the mirror.
Chubby little me, with my younger siblings (who love me no matter how I look)
Me today, in all my curvy glory.