On my weight and image: those who commented on it, to shame me, to point it out, to “be helpful,” always only ever did more damage than good. I wish they knew that. An 8-year-old shouldn’t hear that they’re fat and should join a soccer team to become skinny like their own daughter. An 18-year-old shouldn’t hear that they’d be better off giving half of their body weight to their younger sister so that we could balance each other out. A 22-year-old shouldn’t be approached, after pouring herself a cup of soda, by a guest at a dinner party detailing at length the weight gains associated with soda consumption. Memories of family – of aunts, uncles, cousins – reconnecting after years, shouldn’t be marred by such last ditch farewell messages before departing airplane flights of: “By the way, I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight. You really need to watch it. You’re getting fat.”
Should, should, should. I wish, I wish, I wish. I am learning as a 23-year-old how to take as much responsibility for my life as I possibly can from here on out – it’s been a scary, slowly unfolding process. I’ve since learned to confront how much I’ve let others’ comments and perceptions of me affect the way I treat and care for myself. I have learned and continue to practice having utmost patience and love for myself throughout. I’ve since formulated statements that I will say, with full confidence and assuredness in myself, when my weight is brought up again (e.g. “I won’t be discussing my weight or my health with you all today,” “That’s an incredibly personal subject, and it’s not your place to make comments on it,” “I will only be discussing such personal matters as my health with my doctor,” “I can assure you that any comments you make on the subject have only ever done more damage than good, and I encourage you to keep those thoughts to yourself from now on…”).
I remember seeing a short TikTok sometime within the past few months, which, paraphrased, shared: “Your struggles did not make you stronger. You made you stronger, by making use of those past experiences and transforming them into something else.” What I appreciate so much about this message is that it affirms how little any of us who’ve been targeted and shamed for our weight deserved to be treated in the ways we were, and that if we have healed since those past moments, that it was because we underwent such a transformative and painful process of taking full responsibility and accountability for our lives, including the parts of our lives in which others inflicted hurt.
Our outward treatment of others stems from no place but our own selves. I know that the more I grow confidence in making the statements I shared above, that I will only grow that much more confident in making those statements for the next 8-year-old, 18-year-old, 22-year-old, that I will be someone who doesn’t sit idly by when having disrespect spewed at her, who isn’t fearful of the consequences of speaking up.
If someone had encouraged 8-year-old me to join soccer because “I would fall love with the sport,” do you think I would have grown to hate soccer, P.E., and any physical activity I felt forced to perform in public? Do you think it would have taken a global pandemic where our local, small-town Planet Fitness tended to remain empty around the hours of 12-1 am, for a 23-year-old to finally feel comfortable enough going to a gym on a consistent basis?
If anything, I grow increasingly disgusted with the level of disrespect and gaslighting we adults direct towards children, how often we make them uncomfortable in their own bodies, how often we excuse adults by providing such empty assurances as “they meant well,” or, “they had your best interest in mind.” Who cares? Deep down, I didn’t, as an 8-year-old. I knew it was hurtful, I knew that hurt was coming from somewhere beyond myself, I knew it wasn’t for me. But when you are not in a position to verbalize feeling and to be aware of it and hold perspective of someone’s random comment in relation to who you actually are, those feelings of hurt materialize into a series of thoughts, and those thoughts become belief, whether you are intentional about this whole process or not (see image below). And the belief that took root and grew over the course of more than a decade? A belief that I wasn’t someone who exercised. I wasn’t someone who could dress well. I wasn’t someone who could feel comfortable with how I showed up in the world. I wasn’t someone who could be healthy. I wasn’t someone who could eat well. I wasn’t someone who could be thought of as physically attractive.
During this period of isolating more due to the pandemic, I’ve been able to more rawly address the toxic narratives I’ve been holding on to for so long. Who knew we sometimes grasp onto unhealthy ways of being because they feel in some way protective? I’ve had to confront the ways in which I used them as a reason that I wouldn’t have to change and address my hurt head-on. And I’ve since (I hope) taken substantial steps to strip myself of them, and let new responsibilities and narratives take their place.
Who knew that I would come to love lifting weights with my brother and walking? Who knew that I would rediscover an internal sense of fullness, of hunger, of thirst and use those intuitive cues to guide my eating and nutrition? Some part of me always knew, and I feel so lucky and blessed that I’ve been granted this return to myself. I hope to only cultivate it more, as it is my responsibility to, and fulfilling it brings me great peace.
I also feel especially lucky for my younger brother, who has exercised with me and made the experience of getting into a fitness routine feel less uncomfortable and icky, who has also consoled me after one experience in particular prompted old hurt, after which we still finished our workout. I feel lucky for my dad, who’s supported my journey towards health. I feel lucky for my sister, who’s also remained supportive. I feel lucky for my mother, someone who, I realize looking back now, struggled with the same issues outwardly and perhaps inwardly as I do and did.
I couldn’t do this alone, nor would I have wanted to. I am so lucky for my family’s support and love. And I wish it for anyone and everyone who seeks to improve their health, especially in places where they’ve been shamed, where they’ve been on the receiving end of someone else’s internalized hurt. What if I could be a person who showed up as that supportive figure in someone’s life, as their doc? That would be so damn cool.