18 June 2013

Body Talk, pt. 1


In the fourth grade, my mom and sister and I moved from Connecticut to Ohio. I went to a (very) tiny private Catholic school in Northern Kentucky. It was a leap for me in the sense of what I learned about people and what I learned about myself. Every year prior had been about my friendships had been only about our common interests and having fun. It's no surprise to anyone that a lot of that probably involved pretending to be a cat or something. 

One afternoon in the bathroom at school, my new friends were talking about how much they weighed. I’d never known it to be a topic of discussion before that day. Initially I only thought it to be a playful banter of numbers, but I quickly realized that my number was the highest. I immediately knew that it was not considered a good thing, and I now know it as a turning point for me. It was that moment when I realized I had a body and I looked a certain way, and the world had a lot to try to tell me about how I should be. I had just never been aware of it until that time when we were supposed to just wash our hands and get back to our classrooms.

The interaction left me a little bewildered, but I was able to move on from it pretty quickly and not think much of it until the next year.

There was a sleepover in which most of my friends had attended and that I was not able to. If I had to guess, I probably hadn’t cleaned my room in time and lost fun privileges since most of my childhood my mom was like, “PLEASE, CLEAN YOUR ROOM.” It always took me weeks to do such a simple task because I had perfected the art of distraction. I remember my friend called me the next afternoon and I sat on the front porch, enjoying a pretty day and feeling grown up for having important phone calls to take. In what started out as a seemingly benign recap of the evening and the fun I’d missed, my “friend” turned the conversation into a dramatic retelling of how everyone talked about how fat I was. Our class had just recently had an end of the year pool party, and I’d considered myself brave to try to wear a modest two piece. I didn’t feel like myself, but I wanted to fit in with my friends in spite of my aversion to letting anyone see my stomach. 

My mind was reeling -- trying to figure out if I had said anything to provoke her hurtful words, and trying to remember that my mom had said that only sticks and stones would break my bones. But all I could think about was that this girl's words were killing me. I tried to hold the hot tears in my eyes and not let her hear my voice ready to break. I don’t know why I didn’t hang up the phone. I don’t know why much of the cruelty of middle school ever happens. I just know that she destroyed me. I felt betrayed by my friends and by my body for looking so offensive. I didn’t tell my mom because I knew how protective she was of me and how the other moms would be hearing from her. She loved me fiercely but I felt like I just needed to battle it alone. Only a few weeks later I encountered a mean boy at summer camp that flung derisive words about my body at me in front of his and my friends, and that same “friend” that called me to tell me about the sleepover went to the dance with him that week. 

I decided a few things then. 

I needed to stop crying in front of people, I needed to not be friends with that girl anymore, and I needed to be the only one that got a say in anything that had to do with my body. 

That summer started my war against my body. It started my years of battling with food, of sometimes starving myself or going to whatever lengths necessary to rid my body of anything ingested. It was when I started scanning the room for a pillow to make sure when I sat on someone's couch I had something to cover my midsection with so I could be comfortable. 

It was the beginning of public self-deprecation. If I could make a joke about my weight before anyone could think it themselves, I felt I had control over someone else's perception of me. It was a beginning of a lot of seasons of trying to figure out why food had such power over me and why I believed that it could help me or fulfill me in some way even though I knew it was a lie.

There always seems to be a flurry of excitement when summer approaches, and as much as I enjoy all the season has to offer -- I often dread it. It means a lot of barbecues (read: lots of food), a lot of bathing suits, and generally speaking -- it means everyone is wearing less clothes, and I don't ever have enough courage to follow suit.

Unfortunately, my experience is really common for girls and women. It's been a thorn in my side for most of my life, and it might be for the rest of it.

But I have tremendous hope, and I feel like God has been teaching me a lot about this. There's much to be said in the unlearning of the damaging words of others, and I want to talk about it. It's personal and important to me, and I felt like I would be completely remiss if I didn't share my story with others. Because it's something that my closest loved ones know about me. I hope you'll join the conversation (is this The View? No. Whatever, just go with it). I'll be sharing more soon.

I really love that you take the time to read my words. I've said that before, but I mean it every time.

27 comments:

  1. You are wonderful and I just love you! Can't wait to hear more about your journey.

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  2. You are so beautiful, inside and out.

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  3. Girl I've lived this. I feel you with my whole heart. Keep on keeping on. This is brave territory.

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  4. You are right...had I known that happened I would not have been nice. I still don't want to be nice. I had a similar thing happen to me, mean words from a "friend".

    My sweet girl, what I see and what everyone else sees is a glorious creation made in His perfect image. You are amazing! I love you so much and am so proud of you everyday!

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  5. Fran, I don't know why but my first instinct was to reach for my phone and text you and say girl, I wish we could hug. This is awkward on several accounts, maybe mostly because I think I know you well enough that I would have your number?

    Seriously, though, I know this all too well. There are moments where I tell myself that I don't give a shit - that I will eat what I want and wear what I want and I AM A FREE WOMAN IN 2013, but there are those other moments where I am so aware and so OBSESSED with wanting to look perfect and be in total, restrictive control of my body. Having a daughter has magnified this in me because I realize that I don't want her to be like that, and that starts with not being that way myself.

    I'm rambling. Long story short - thanks for sharing this. A toot in the face of all of the mean middle school kids out there. You are a gem.

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    1. Oh my gosh! I love the sentence, "A toot in the face of all of the mean middle school kids out there."

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  6. You are a world changer because you are a truth teller, my dear sweet Frances

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  7. I can't wait to read what you have to say about this, because I know you will have an amazing perspective. I didn't have weight issues as a child, but other parts of my body were teased mercilessly, so I know the body shame. My weight struggles didn't start until college, so I'm newer to this battle but man does it suck (I've learned to hate summer for all the same reasons). I hear you loud and clear. I hate to echo everyone else, but you really are a gem.

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  8. Oh Fran, another reason why I love you. Everything about this post is me. I don't want you struggling with this though because you're so, so beautiful! Thanks for sharing. You're wonderful!

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  9. Wow, you're reading my mail, girl. Bless you for sharing your heart with us

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  10. Oh Fran, this is a lovely, wondrous post that resonates in every part of my being. I started fighting with myself about the shape, size, and weight of my body when I graduated from high school. Without the protection of home (as I moved into a dorm) and the nutrition (or lack thereof) of college cafeteria food, I found myself in a constant state of war between food and weight.

    I thought losing weight would fix it... Nope. Then graduating... Nada. Then marriage... Still no. Turns out the fight's as much a part of my personality as my dry sense of humor. Ugh. Now it's about choices. Choosing healthy when I can, choosing grace when I don't, choosing to celebrate with food and drink as the times call for it!

    Bless you for the lessons learned. And for sharing them! (Can't wait to read more!)

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  11. Oh Fran, I hate that people treated you like this. You are such a wonderful and beautiful lady. Thank you for sharing this though and I'll be praying for you! ♥

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  12. This just made me tear up Fran. I have battled with my body ever since I realized that it was different from other girls in my classes. I have abused it, hated it, and prayed for change. I am so happy that you are journeying through this topic. Thank you for this.

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  13. I'm a new reader, but I just have to say this hits so close to home. I think it's definitely something that needs to be talked about, and I'm so glad you're doing that. I'm excited to read more. Thank you!

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  14. Hits close to home for me too!

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  15. This is so powerful. Thank you for sharing! It's funny, but I remember always feeling so much bigger than my friends and fat, and I look back at pictures and I absolutely was not. So why did I feel that way? I try to remind myself of that now when I let those negative feelings overcome, but it doesn't always work. I remember once in high school as a cheerleader who always tumbled or was the "base" of the mounts, my friends wanted me make me climb/fly. There was no way because I didn't want them to srtuggle under my weight. My mom, who was one of the coaches, later told me that they didn't realize how stocky I was. She didn't mean anything by it. I think she actually wanted to support my decision. But of all the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful things my mom has said to me in my life, why do I remember that one little negative one? Words and body image are so powerful.

    You are such a lovely writer!

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  16. Beautifully written, Fran.

    We all struggle with body image issues, but when we are "at war" with our bodies, we are really starting a fight that need not be there in the first place. I started to change my mind about my body image when I started to be grateful for my body. It is the vessel that has carried me this far, even after I've abused it with bad food choices. IT still loves me, and carries me through life, with few complaints. When you learn to worship the body you were given, you see it differently. Thank it, not begrudge it. It will change your life. We were not all meant to be the same.

    Also, summer for me, was never fun. But I'm finally to the point where I say "eff you" to those who judge me for what I look like, or eat. Judgement is quite simply, their problem. Not mine.

    I want to enjoy life, and all the delicious treats it has to offer. I don't have to gorge, but I can indulge. There is a balance to be found there. But I also realize I will never have a size 2 super model physique, so why burden myself with it?

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  17. I'm not sure what tore me apart more - the thought of adolescents having the ability to damage your self image for the rest of your life - or your mom's comment! In middle school, I let a group of "friends" change the way I saw myself as an athlete and a physical being. Because I never made the team, I decided that fitness, sports and athletic adventures were out of my league. It has taken almost a decade to gain confidence in this area and I still get extremely insecure in athletic settings. Though it's different, I can relate. I just want you to know how beautiful and strong I think you are, not only for sharing, but for who you are anyway.

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  18. Fran, this breaks my heart! I hate that weight, and how we look are such big deals, especially as women. As someone who has always been tall and relatively thin (not by anything I've done, just genetics) I was lucky enough to usually fit into what has been deemed by our society as a respectable size, but that doesn't mean that it's not easy to find other things about yourself to dislike. I hate that there are billions of dollars spent by companies to try and make us feel like we aren't enough.

    I know you didn't write this to fish for complements, but I want you to know I think you're gorgeous. I can't wait to hear what else you have to say abou tthis.

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  19. It's like reading my own thoughts. To this day, at almost 30-years-old, I still search for a pillow to hide the fluffiness when I sit. I am so self-conscious about myself.

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  20. This makes me miss you so much. Thank you for always being so real and authentic. You and Hanna were so instrumental in my beginning years of college for that alone. Love you :) thanks for being so awesome! Very thankful you came into my life at a key time!

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  21. fran, this is such a good post. go you for writing it.

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  22. and dammit, middle school is a bitch. (putting it very lightly)

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  23. Sweet Fran, I love you so. Thank you for these words.

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  24. Soul sister. So much of your story in my own. You are brave & lovely & the opposite of every cruel word ever spoken over you. Love love love you.

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  25. As sad as your story is, I think it's beautiful that you're sharing. I, too, can relate to having a similar experience and understand how having something like that happen at such a young age only becomes the foundation for body issues as you grow. I look forward to reading more!

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  26. Thank you so much for your transparency and willingness to share a struggle that tend to make people feel alone.

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Don't go chasing waterfalls. Please - stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.