I hate to think about the way it all used to be. I hate to think about it because it’s hard to acknowledge the way I used to speak to and treat my body. It’s hard to acknowledge the way I rationalized all of those false truths I would tell myself day after day after day.
I’m fourteen years old on the last day I can remember putting on a swimsuit and not questioning myself. I’m at the lake with my brothers and some of their friends. My swimsuit is a purple two piece with white polka dots, it’s from Target, and I think it’s just about the coolest thing.
Two words, “jelly rolls”.
If you’re at brunch and hear this, it’s a total win. If you’re an eighth grader in your swimsuit with no pastries in visible sight, it’s a middle school nightmare.
It’s not that I believe this was a rational jumping off point for a five-year-long battle with food and body image. In fact, the feminist in me really struggles with the reality that I let a stupid comment take complete control of my life. But regardless of how irrational it was, it was my reality. And I’ve learned that the trouble with the words we hear is that we simply can’t control them. Yes, we can control how we react to them. But, that initial, unshakable sting is something that can’t be ignored or erased. You find their words scribbled across bathroom mirrors, printed on scales, and at the bottom of your $4 brownie sundae from the Monteagle Sonic.
They are tattooed onto the most destructive corners of your mind, as if a small bomb were placed with the sole purpose of decimating your self-esteem in one unblinkingly effortless “boom”.
I spent a lot of breakfasts after that afternoon with a cup of coffee and not much else. At first it’s the bread that screams “fat” but it doesn’t take long before you have an entire chorus of foods shaming you into leaving entire meals untouched.
At a certain point, I stopped blaming this boy for saying those words to me and started blaming myself for making my body a target. If I were thinner he wouldn’t have said those things. A thigh gap and a six pack would have been my impenetrable defense.
And it took me a long time to forgive myself. The lies, the deceit, the havoc I wreaked on my body. I abused it by both the things I took from it and the words I said to it. I damaged it to such a degree that I often wonder why it has stuck with me after all those roller coaster years.
And I wish I could tell you the defining moment that I broke this vicious cycle of lies, restriction, and dissatisfaction. But it’s been a journey – one that has a definitive beginning but no real end. It was a combination of acknowledging that there was a difference between real truth and the “truths” I told myself. I had to admit that I was untrustworthy when I spoke to myself, and this made most everything I told to myself unreliable.
There are so many times I have stumbled and fallen and made a complete and total fool of myself. Would I change anything? Of course. I’ve made countless mistakes I wish I could change. I wish I could take back the words I screamed at myself in the mirror after I broke a diet or thought I didn’t look good in a dress. I wish I could have let the people who tried to get close to me in instead of alienating and stringing them along with a curt “I’m fine”. And most of all, I wish I would have let my mom tell me she thinks I’m beautiful without calling her a liar. Because through my pain I also hurt others, and feeling badly about myself was no excuse for treating others poorly.
It’s easy for others to be cruel to us, but it’s even easier for us to carry these words with us and morph them into nasty lies. We can torture ourselves for years with negative thoughts and damaging perceptions of our mind, body, and soul. But our stories don’t just end here.
We don’t need to take the fall for the words of others. It’s not our job to be martyrs. Lead by example. Own your words, own your lies, own your flaws, own your journey and others will follow.
Be kind to yourself, listen to those who are kind to you. Believe them, trust them, because they have nothing to gain by deceiving us. Know your truths from your lies, and above else love as loudly as you possibly can because you need it, I need it, we all need it.