“I want to be a model!” I proclaimed proudly, hair tied up and clipped with a perfectly glued bow, bangs in tightly manicured curls.
“Yeah right, you can’t be a model.”
It was Mikey Dominguez. Fourth grade, Mrs. Stowe’s Social Studies. Mrs. Stowe had just asked the class what everyone wanted to be when we grew up. Mikey wanted to be a pro-basketball player, and yes, I wanted to be a model. It made sense, I was a cute girl after all. And though I was a great student, I was given most praise for my dimples and my resemblance to my beautiful mother. Beauty was valuable in my fourth-grade world. If I learned anything during my nine years of life thus far, that was it. And, what better career could I aspire to than that of a beautiful woman who is paid to be admired.
Mrs. Stowe made Mikey apologize, of course. He hung his head and grumbled the apology, obviously insincere and while the rest of the class was giggling. That was my first moment of being judged harshly for my beauty, or lack thereof. Although I still wanted to be a model, I was suddenly ashamed of myself for thinking that I possessed the beauty that could take me there. Although I had thought of myself as beautiful, it never occurred to me to think that others might not agree. My definition of beauty changed at that moment -- it was no longer enough to think of myself as beautiful, the judgment of others was what mattered.
Thus began my years of self-judgment and my quest to become perfect (i.e. beautiful). Here is a summary of the inner-workings of my middle-school emotional self: constantly comparing myself to girls around me, obsessing about how much prettier they were than me, or how relieved I was to be prettier than them, keeping track of how many boys liked me, how many compliments I received during any particular day. Insults held considerable weight, of course (“your arms look flabby.” “I can see your stomach through that shirt,” “your legs are big and jiggly,” “your cheeks are chubby”) and I believed each one as if it were gospel while ignoring any positive comments. I saw each one as a problem I could fix and control. They weren't judging me, they were helping me out.
The issue of my weight was a particularly sore subject, as it is with many young girls. I was told inheritated my body shape from my father -- strong, sturdy, tall, agile and fast, but certainly not slender. I was a superb athlete, also like my father. I made it to nationals in the junior Olympics three times placing in the 100 meter dash and the shotput throw. I excelled because of my body, was blessed in fact. BUT, I could never see past the big bones. I could never see the benefit of having muscles that easily show their strength. I could never see the benefits of being tall, or being able to beat the boys in my grade at arm-wrestling. I wanted desperately to be like those petite girls in my grade, small and dainty and feminine.
So, I began my first diet. It started out like any other experiment of a 13 year old girl. I was just getting to know my body and I wanted to see what would happen if I only ate a cup of sugar-free jello for lunch. I quickly found out that eating a jello cup for lunch resulted in quick weight loss. I saw my body begin to change, I was losing weight, people were noticing, my clothes became looser, and I became somewhat addicted to the attention to my newfound "beauty." I cut out dinner, and focused all of my energy on distracting myself from my hunger. I ran the bleachers at the local high school. I chewed sugar free gum, went to sleep at 8pm so I didn’t have to smell the tacos and hear my family sitting around the table laughing. My mother supported me in my diet experiment, although I admit she was not aware of the extent of my calorie restriction. I soon stopped having my period, I became moody, unhappy, but I was thin and that was what counted. Here was my final tally: beginning weight – 164lbs (i.e. fat cow), ending weight – 129lbs (i.e. finally normal).
My pseudo-eating disorder didn’t last, fortunately. I realized that my behaviors were unhealthy, and I began eating again. My weight, of course, slowly crept back up. And, it remained a fixed shame in my life – something that I couldn’t control, a barometer for my weakness in will power, a foul mark on my otherwise lovely life. I used to say to myself that I would be perfect if I could just manage my weight. I would have a perfect life, perfect boyfriend, perfect future, if I could just reach 145lbs. I was waiting for my life to finally start, if only I could reach that number that seemed like such an insurmountable obstacle to climb.
The issue of my body grew more complex during college. Again, I spent my time and energy dieting – a healthier diet this time (or so I thought at the time) - weight watchers. I learned how to count points, I learned portion control, I learned the importance of water and I became aware of my habits in eating – and I successfully lost over eighty pounds within a few years. However, I was still not satisfied with my body. Now that I was older and wiser in the world of beauty, I realized it was not simply my weight that dictated my attractiveness and worth in the world, but it was also the shape of my body. I finally reached a size 8, but my breasts were a little saggy. I had stretch marks on my stomach and extra skin on my love handles. My legs were still too big, my cheeks were still too round, my behind was certainly not round enough, and I still did not match the vision of beauty I carried around in my mind for all those years.
I started researching on the web at first. I ran across a few websites that talked about learning to see your body apart from it's shape. I began learning to appreciate my body for the specific qualities it possessed -- how strong my legs are. How flexible I am. How my body is patient with me even after years of my berating it. How my body quickly recoversfrom sickness. How it communicates with me whenever I'm treating it badly, even if I won't listen. My body is remarkable in spite of (or in some cases, because of) my size.
I began looking at myself in the mirror, really looking, without judgment, for the first time in my entire life. I started dancing and learning how to listen to my body's natural rythym. I taught myself about HAES and started trusting my intuition. I began researching obesity, fat acceptance, the supposed health risks of being overweight, and I learned of the various conspiracies surrounding the media coverage of obesity and fat hatred.
And, I rid myself of people who echoed negative judgments about my body and about body types in general. I realized that having such a negative voice around in my life was unfair to myself and unfair to my body. I realized that his issues were his own issues and had nothing to do with me and my body. And, most importantly, I realized that I am in fact beautiful, I always have been, and I deserve someone who can see that.