Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When I Stopped Being Skinny and the World Fell Apart.


The first time I was called fat I was actually told I wasn't fat. That may be a strange way to begin a blog post about the first time I was called fat, but there it is. It was a boy who said it and I had a major crush on him. I was 14 years old, tall and still reasonably thin despite the onset of puberty.

"You're not fat," he said, answering a question I hadn't asked. "You just need to tone up."

I stood in my first bikini at the lake's edge and froze. I felt naked and exposed. I wished I could sink into the sand and never re-emerge.

Having been skinny my whole life, the observation was in itself shocking. I'd always been the tall skinny girl who ran through the neighborhood in short shorts, legs and arms windmilling down the street without a care in the world.

Adults often commented on my appearance. I got a lot of praise for being tall, skinny and blond. Grown women would grab my chin and turn my face back and forth in their hands, admiring me.

"Such gorgeous cheekbones," they said.

"Do you know women pay a lot of money to have blond highlights like those?"

"When you get older, you'll love being so tall and thin. You'll look like a model."

I was Tall and Skinny. Long and Lean. It became my identity more than I realized. In fact, I didn't realize how important it was until I lost it.

I stopped wearing shorts after The Crush told me I needed to tone up. Sure I wore the polyester uniform basketball shorts when I played on a team, but I tugged at them during the game and ran to the locker room afterwards to put on sweats to cover how my body was changing. My once stick-like legs were becoming curvy and strong.

"You could be a plus-size model," a girl told me at lunch one day.

By then I was still tall and fit, but I had developed more of an athletic build rather than a slight willowy one ... which is a perfectly acceptable thing to be. But I was surrounded by tiny girls who talked about weighing tiny petite girly numbers. Wearing tiny petite clothing sizes. Inhabiting bodies with such tiny petite bones. I was starting to feel like a linebacker. I'm sure the girl was trying to say I was pretty … but all I heard was that I was fat. She had no way of knowing that I was descending into an eating disorder that would hold me in its grip for decades.

You see, being imperfect was unacceptable. If I wasn't perfect, no one would love me. If I could just attain perfection, then everything would get better. My mother wouldn't drink. My dad wouldn't leave. My brother and sister would move back home. A boy might even like me! I'd make more friends. Get better grades. Everyone would love me and no one would criticize me. The kids down the street wouldn't yell, "Your mother's a drunk!"every time I walked past their house. If I could only be perfect enough, then everything would be okay. I just knew it.

And so the refrain played over and over again in my brain. Look perfect. Feel perfect. Be perfect. Anything less means you're trash. A loser. A disgusting piece of filth that no one will love. If you  allow yourself to eat, if you eat your feelings and shove food down your throat like the love you crave, then you've ruined everything.

It became a vicious cycle of trying to starve myself thin so I could be lovable, binging on the food/love I so desperately craved, and then trying to erase the whole messy affair by vomiting. It was a brutal cycle of failure and disappointment. Which left me alone in the darkest hours of the night when I was at my loneliest … and then I'd do it all over again. I knew with 100% certainty that I was a disgusting beast who no one would ever love. I believed I deserved everything that I got, which was loneliness and despair.

The irony is, 30 years later, I don't think I'm fat but do think I need to tone up. But it's not the end of the world. I know you love me anyway. And I sorta love me too.

Of course I have therapy to thank for that. It took a lot a lot of work and a bit of courage too. For so long I was imprisoned by the shame of admitting I had this problem. That's another great irony of this disease. The shame of it keeps you silent, but the silence keeps you sick. What I learned in therapy was that when I was finally able to let go of the shame, I was able to let go of the disorder too.

I've been in recovery for over ten years and yet I rarely talk about it. Shame is a funny thing. It sticks and clings to us like a dirty scent we're afraid other people will notice. I still battle with trying to appear perfect. I'm afraid that by admitting that I have struggled with an eating disorder, you'll find me disgusting and unlovable.

But I know that's not true.

Nobody ever loved perfect things. Perfect things are scary. You're always afraid you'll drop them or break them or scratch them. We're so much more comfortable with worn things. The chipped glass. The stuffed toy with the missing ear. The girl with the imperfect past.

We can relate to imperfection.

Perfect is a mirage. You can chase it, but you'll never attain it. And if you think you have to wait to be perfect to be loved, you'll spend your entire life alone. It's funny, the more imperfect I've allowed myself to be, the more full my life has become. Now when I sit down, I instantly have two kids, a cat and a grown man all vying for space to get the closest to me on the couch.

"You know what," my husband commented the other day, looking at me with a kid sitting on each side and a cat on my lap. "You have the thing you always wanted. To not be alone."

I may never have attained perfection, but I did attain love.





This is a response to a writing prompt hosted by the indomitable Brittany, Herself. To participate in the August Writing Prompts, click here.



27 comments:

  1. Mandy, yes. That quest for physical perfection. It consumed me for so long. With my first child, I had to let it go. I was lucky, it disappeared because of my business, with two more children following. But my entire life up until motherhood was about having every inch of me perfect. Impossible standards I know realize.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Being pregnant with my son was an incredibly healing experience. It was the first time I really loved my body and allowed myself to let go of the need to be perfect.

      Delete
  2. Women battle body image issues well into their 80s. The echoes of off-hand remarks and snide comments resonate within long past their natural shelf lives. We continue to artificially resuscitate them through our memories, giving them energy when they should have stilled long ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Into our 80s? Aw hell no. This shit has got to stop. I already feel too old for it at 43!

      Delete
  3. I dated a guy who mentioned that I needed to tone up a bit. (He also thought I was big boned. I dispute that as I was about a size 6). I'd give ANYTHING to have that "maybe I need toning but I'm thin and healthy body" today. I don't begrudge my kids the pooch that resulted from two c-sections but a recent weight gain has me despairing. The most difficult part is keeping my frustrations to myself and out of the ears of my children, in particular my 8yo as I don't want her even thinking about body image negatively.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agree with this 100%. I have a 4-year-old daughter and I don't want her to see herself the way I see myself.

      Delete
    2. It's so interesting...my mom HATED her body when I was little. Yes, I've probably internalized a bit of that (you know, from her and society in general)

      Delete
  4. Mandy, I had no idea you went through all that. You poor, poor thing. Kids can be such assholes! I always thought you were beautiful - I'd often look at you during orchestra and envied your beautiful skin. No wonder why you were so quiet. :( Well, you morphed into something so much more beautiful and you're a woman with substance - something that is rare and not often seen or experienced. MILF! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn you, Helen. You just made me tear up.

      Delete
  5. The worst thing is that one negative comment can hurt us for a lifetime. I'm trying to figure that out for myself--why do I still hear the echoes of the upperclassmen boys barking at me as I walked through the school hallway. Why do I still remember the one bitchy girl who said I sang off key? And not the chorus teacher who gave me the solo? Why do I remember how my evil aunt pointed at stretch marks on my thighs and said that she thought I of all people would be skinny my whole life. Or my husband's senile grandma who said she was surprised Joey would date a fat girl? Why is all that filed away for easy accessibility and not the thousands of compliments and accomplishments?

    I am really trying to crack the code on this because my own daughters are entering puberty age. I am hoping that sharing stories with them will give them thicker armor than I ever had.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's interesting. I asked my therapist about why it had affected me so profoundly. She said that if I had developed a secure sense of self, it would not have impacted me as it did. That's a really good point. I'm hoping my daughter is more secure because I'm more present in her life. But who knows?

      Delete
  6. I couldn't help but think of my parents china when you spoke of "perfect" being scary...do you know, the handpainted set by my semi-famous artist grandmother during her tour of Germany, edged with REAL gold.....and all three of us daughters are fighting NOT to inherit it! lol Every Christmas memory is etched with the agonizing stress of eating off those plates, sipping terrified tiny sips from those glasses...shaking hands passing the gravy bowl. You have said this so well, reminded me of something I needed to remember today.

    Thank you; you make a smashing mother, Mandy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The china is a good analogy. Human beings are not china.

      Delete
  7. What spoke to me more than anything is what you said about feeling shame and letting go of it. Shame has kept me in some dark places for a very long time. I talk about things that are embarrassing for me but the shameful things are so hard to let out. You are so beautiful but your words and just who you are inspire me so much thank you for writing this <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shame is a cancer. I'm glad you are learning to let go.

      :-)

      Delete
  8. It is sad how we women pick up other people's issues with us, and put them on, and wear them like a cloak that hides the real honest beauty of who and what we are.
    I am proud of you for writing this. I hope that you truly know and believe that we do not think you unlovable or disgusting I think you are brave and brilliant and perfect in all of your imperfect glory and beauty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are awfully nice and I appreciate that a lot. Thank you!

      Delete
  9. What a shallow town in which we grew. How else to explain all the rhinoplasties at 16 years of age? Sorry that you had to hear that crap, and deal with an eating disorder. Know that everything you went through, brought you to this strong, beautiful, insightful woman today. You are loved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was quite a culture of perfectionism, wasn't it?

      Delete
  10. I'm rom CGG too (I don't post much) and I too had an eating disorder. Still struggle with overeating now. I knew I never wanted to starve myself again and instead when my marriage failed I went the opposite direction. It's tough, but you wrote about it beautifully. Thank you for having the courage to share your story, it will help someone else to see your strength.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You have this amazing ability to break my heart and repair it with your writing. On some level, I feel like every single woman has had to deal with that perfection struggle and peacemaking quest with our bodies. If it's not weight, it's aging. I still have moments where I look at my body and can't believe it's mine - and not the springy little one I had in junior high.

    I'm going to share this post on my coaching FB page. It's so honest and beautiful - and hopeful for other people who are struggling.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Mandy, thank you for sharing. Sharing is brave. You are both beautiful and wise, and of these two, being wise is far more important.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post, Mandy. You are very inspiring with what you write. LOVE. :o)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I couldn't figure out how to put into words what I was feeling so I started reading comments. Mel Heath said it perfectly.

    "You have this amazing ability to break my heart and repair it with your writing."

    I truly loved reading your posts.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I hate to delete my comments, but when I came back and reread I didn't really think what I said made much sense with how it related to what you said. Or at least, I didn't explain it very well. Anyway, you're a much better writer than I am. Perhaps all the pains you've endured have helped to make you a great artist, a talented writer who can express things that most people only vaguely understand?

    ReplyDelete