Body Talk, pt. 1

6.18.2013


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.