I have had a long struggle with my self-image! I think it’s time for a truce between my body, mind and spirit.
When I was in first grade another girl called me string bean. I don’t recall that moniker bothering me because I was too young to care about labels and how skinny or chubby I was. I was tall for my age so I took her comment as a weird comment on my height.
Once while I was 9-12 years old, my mother took me shopping for clothes for school. Imagine how I felt when the saleslady told me that we should look for my clothes in the “Chubby” section!
At that time, again, I was too young to think much about being overweight. But that word “chubby” did feel awkward and somewhat embarrassed. But my parents and siblings loved me and that at the time was what was most important to my self-acceptance.
When I was in the 5th grade I suddenly had the strange realization that I was the tallest kid in the class. I was still a bit chubby but my body was beginning its metamorphosis. My good grades and friends helped lessen the feelings of being “different.”
In the 6th grade I discovered the boys were as tall as I was. I don’t remember worrying so much about my weight then. But I do remember that was the year that our President declared that we should all be assessed for good health.
I was an active kid who loved to: swim when given the opportunity (or when on a trip with my family to the beach), play badminton, roller skate, and enjoy trail hikes with my family. In short we were not a sports or athletic minded family but we were active.
So imagine my horror when I was asked to do as many sit-ups as I could in a minute. I had never even heard of sit-ups! (This was in 1963.) I was still a bit chubby but tall. As I tried to figure out how to do them and strained to get three sit-ups in in a minute, I looked over and saw the “cute”, athletic girl doing what seemed a hundred a minute!! I always thought she was so pretty and longed to look like her.
I won’t go into the other tests of strength and stamina. It only got worse after the sit-ups! I felt so ugly and fat.
In 7-11 grades, I, of course, had to take gym classes. I never will forget the dumb song we exercised to in junior high: “Run, Chicken Fat, Run!” Here for your listening “pleasure” is the very song we suffered to! https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=IeA2OBEApnM.
By the 9th grade I knew I was definitely looking like a teenager. I gained a little more height too, which redistributed the fat so I didn’t look as chubby any more.
From then on the stigma of being “overweight” led me to believe that I was fat. Below is a picture of me at about 17 years old. I was not fat!
Then I started dating my future husband in the middle of the 9th grade. Once the relationship was off the ground, I felt like I was beautiful or at least nice looking. After all: why would a guy be interested in a “fat” girl? (The truth was I was basing my opinion of myself only on his responses to me.)
I learned these feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem partly from my mother. She was really beautiful but her first husband left her which devastated her self-esteem. These self- image and confidence problems leaked down to me.
My father helped my mother’s confidence a lot. He took many photos of her because he saw her as beautiful. I think he finally convinced her; but it took years! See for yourself. She was beautiful but never quite believed she was.
So my husband and I married and I supported him through his Master’s Degree and Doctor’s degree. All the while thinking I was fat at 5’7″ and I think I weighed between 135 and 145 pounds.
As the years passed including major stressors in our marriage, finances, working night shift, my husband’s job situations, and having a baby who grew into a teenager, and my own issues, including sleeping poorly sometimes while working night shift, 8 hours and later 12 hours. I found some sort of “support” through eating and chocolate. Obviously I also had little time or inclination to exercise, except during several periods of my life. But I did evolve my eating habits into more healthy ones.
Finally I had an epiphany! I am a 67 year old woman with a loving heart, kind nature, intelligent mind, and helping hands. I have a lot to offer this world as an individual.
I smile at and speak to strangers especially if they seem depressed or sad. Children, even little babies, smile at me over their parents’ shoulders. When I smile at most people, they smile back genuinely.
The epiphany, you may be wondering, is that our bodies are not the important thing people see. What do you notice first about someone who is walking towards you? I look at their face, their eyes, and their smile.
Yes, sometimes the outward appearance of someone’s body may be the first thing we see. But when we can look into their eyes and see what they tells us, we just may see the real beauty of a person.
Personally I love a kind face with smile lines around the eyes and mouth. To me a face that has these is much more appealing and beautiful than a face who is made up with all kinds of unrealistic, model style makeup.
Another attitude I am learning is that I do not care as much about what people think about my appearance, clothing styles, or my body. My goal as a woman who is “past all that” is now to accept and love my body, my brain, my personality (the whole package) as it is.
I am thankful that my body has held up so well in spite of the challenges I brought it through as a wife, mother, nurse, independent woman, and as a stubborn human who often tried to do things she shouldn’t do sometimes. (I know my limits much better now!)
So here’s a bit of advice to everyone. Appreciate your body as it is. Fighting with, belittling and insulting it is not going to help. Someday you may look back at your pictures when you were younger and think, “Wow, I thought I was fat! But I really looked good for my age!”
Appreciate your “whole package” now instead of waiting until you are “old” to discover how beautiful you are inside and out.