I can pinpoint the exact moment when I began to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. It was in the first grade during PE. Back then, thankfully, the teachers selected your teams rather than the other kids deciding who they “liked” the best. At that time, I wasn’t really what most people would have considered to be ‘chubby’, though I did have a round face that adults loved to pinch. It was during this fateful PE class that one of my classmates, one of the popular boys, would refer to me as Ms. Piggy. Now, don’t get me wrong, these days I love that sassy, frog-loving swine… but all that my first grade brain registered was “piggy”.
By 5th grade, however, I had “blossomed”. I could definitely see the differences in my body versus the other girls my age. While the other girls still had slender athletic bodies I was starting to get rounder and squishier. My mother, bless her heart, would tell me that I was just developing more quickly and that I had a cute figure. I certainly didn’t feel that way.
Though I was struggling with my body image, I always managed to have a strong circle of friends. I wouldn’t say that I was popular by any means in school but most everyone either knew me or knew of me. I wasn’t the girl that everyone wanted to invite to their birthday party, but I also wasn’t the girl who received negative ratings in the many “Slam Books” that were spread around. (Incase you don’t know what a “Slam Book” was, it was an awful notebook that listed the names of your classmates. You would then rate each of the classmates on a scale of 1-10 on how attractive they were or if you liked them. There were an unfortunate few who were brutally rated by their peers, I can only imagine how that would have felt.) I was just there.
As puberty began to hit most of my girlfriends and I in 7th grade, boys were becoming much more interesting and interested… well, in some of us. We all had our crushes as most young adults do. I sat by and watched as friend after friend began having their first “boyfriend”, their first kiss, their first “date”. As it became clear that no boys were going to be interested in me, I began to devote my crush energy to unobtainable boys; my older brother’s friends, out of state boys and anyone I could convince myself (and others) had my affection. I made it to only one middle school dance, and that was accompanied by a group of girlfriends. The idea of going dateless to a dance even in middle school was far too uncomfortable and embarrassing to me.
The summer before high school a couple of my closest friends and I went to Adventure Island, a water park here in Tampa Bay. I had purchased a new swimsuit for the occasion… one that looking back I can say was probably better suited for an adult woman with a nice figure rather than a squishy teenage girl. It was a one piece bathing suit though looked like a bikini with the stomach area being a black see-through mesh and I thought it looked pretty decent. We were all having a great time and then I heard it. It came from another girl… one who was quite a bit older than me, I’m guessing in her late teens-early 20s, and who looked great in her 2-Piece. “She should NOT be wearing that!” I didn’t need to acknowledge her to know she was referring to me. I don’t think any of my friends heard the remark so I quietly filed it away in my memory banks, put on a smile and vowed never to wear that swimsuit again. And I didn’t.
High school is awkward for a lot of people. Everyone is growing and changing by that point. As a freshman you are thrown into the mix with peers who are close to being adults. There are high school dances, boyfriends/girlfriends, football games, proms and scantily clad cheerleaders… all of which can either make the high school experience a great time or an incredible esteem damaging time. My social calendar didn’t improve much as I entered into high school. There were no boyfriends to be had, I never attended even one football game, no homecomings or proms and I wished to look as cute in a cheerleader uniform as many of my friends did. I tried out for color guard and didn’t make it. I still had an amazing group of friends but often I’d find myself becoming a little more withdrawn at school whenever they weren’t around to lift me up, to make me feel important. I did notice that though I didn’t seem to be turning any high school aged boys’ heads, I was getting a lot of attention from much older adult men. I even found myself dating someone 13 years my senior before graduating. I tried to convince myself that the high school boys were just that, boys, and that I was doing well by having “men” interested in me but I was never fully able to.
It’s been 16 years since my high school graduation. There have been many ups and downs in regards to how I feel about myself physically (more downs than I would say ups). Fortunately after high school I was no longer like kryptonite to men… I’ve been in my share of long term relationships and dated a bit as well. I have been on about every diet known to man, I’ve even tried seeing a doctor and getting B12 shots. One thing remains constant and that is that I’m almost never comfortable with my appearance. I’ve never felt confident being naked or even in a swimsuit. I don’t know the feeling of appreciating my curves. I feel the need to apologize to anyone who has to look at me. I don’t really know what it feels like to feel ‘pretty’. My poor fiance has to hear about how horrible I feel and has to see me cry more often than he ever should.
Please don’t take this post to be my saying that I don’t like myself as a person. I am not an unhappy person. Quite the opposite, really. I have spent a lot of my life, especially since I hit the milestone age of 30, focusing on emotionally and mentally getting myself in a state I feel completely comfortable with. The problem I have is that I have spent so much energy learning to be kind, compassionate and accepting of others that I have forgotten to learn how to be the same toward myself. Brian, my fiance, asked me recently after showing me some old photos of myself if I believed I looked good in the photos. I said that I did. He then asked me if I remembered how I felt about myself when those pictures were taken… the answer… I felt EXACTLY the same then as I do now. I felt exactly the same in highschool, in middle school and even back in elementary school… which teaches me that the problem is not my body it’s in my mind.
It’s time for me to start putting energy into learning to accept and forgive myself. This body is going to be with me for the rest of my life, though it may change in size, shape and color… it is still mine and I need to appreciate it. In some ways I feel this will be one of the most difficult lessons I’ve ever set out to learn. I’m afraid of failing… but in the words of the late Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” And that is exactly what I intend to do.