Thursday, March 1, 2012

Body Image

Recently, an old friend tagged me in some really old pictures from my youth. Looking back, I came to the realization that I didn't look quite as bad as I once imaged myself to be. You see, growing up, I always considered myself to be of the chubby variety, mostly in part of the way others treated me. My step dad used to ask me if it was necessary for me to be eating certain foods because I didn't want to be a fat kid. I always retaliated with,"Well, look at your belly." Of course, that usually got me in trouble, but now that I think about it, he was partly to blame for the foods I was putting into my mouth. Also, I was in the 4th grade! Thanks for the words of encouragement, "dad". I took his harsh criticism and instead of using it to make myself not turn into the kid he envisioned me, I ate Little Debbies as afternoon snacks, cookies and cake for breakfast, drank plenty of soda, even though my mom soon limited us to one per day, but my point is, I obviously became an emotional eater. No, I was not overweight, but I did have a problem.

I remember looking down at myself, many a time, and silently hating my stomach, which I was pretty much doomed for life to always tote around. To me, that was my body and I would always have to live with the rolls or the extra layer of flab that covered my pre-teen mid section. Boys didn't like me because I wasn't as thin or pretty as the other girls. Soon after, I developed the "I'm not good enough" mindset and settled on being the chubby girl. I wasn't raised to watch my figure or to exercise, although my mom did cook great meals for us growing up, making us eat all of our veggies yet I was the only kid who had body issues. My sister could eat an entire bag of Doritos and wash it down with a Pepsi and not gain a pound. My brother still eats like he's a Sumo wrestler and you wouldn't be able to tell because he has not one ounce of fat on his body. It was very frustrating for me, living in a house full of unhealthy foods and watching my siblings eat everything in sight without any repercussions. Nope, not me. I ate what they ate and it showed, in my face, my thighs, my stomach...I had the bad genes, apparently.

When you view yourself a certain way, regardless of what the mirror is bouncing back at you, that's how you look in your mind. Even now at 125lbs and the healthiest I've ever been, I still think of myself as that chubby girl. Only when I actually see myself do I remember that I'm not her anymore. I remember when I went off to college I actually lost 20 pounds instead of gaining the popular Freshman 10 or 15. My friends thought I was starving myself because they weren't used to seeing me sans meat on my bones. I'll be honest, I felt awesome! Sure, I wasn't entirely healthy, but I was skinny and that's all that mattered to me. Admittedly, I was mirroring the eating patterns of another student who was addicted to exercise and not properly fueling her body. She was the reason I grew to love pasta and salsa as a meal followed by many cigarettes. It was working for me, so I didn't see how damaging it was to her body until I watched her pass out, not once but 3 times in the same hour. I believe we stopped hanging out shortly after this event.

I've struggled with weight my whole life, that's a fact. At my heaviest, I was 192, with child. One of the reasons many will never see a pregnancy picture of me. I was a cow in an over-sized t-shirt. Seriously. Of course, I lost most of that weight after giving birth and breast feeding, but even after, I was still pretty puffy around the edges. I worked with some extremely skinny girls and that certainly didn't help because they ate the same crap I was eating, yet my body wasn't the size of an arm. Oh yeah, I compared the shit out of myself with these girls. I remember one of them getting me to go on walks with her a few times. I don't know if she was trying to help me out, but I appreciated the gesture. We would often go out to bars or clubs and I always felt inadequate dancing next to them. Like they were a part of some club that I'd never get into. It sucks when you feel that way about yourself. It's demoralizing. I didn't know how to be skinny without harming my body in the process and I wasn't about to go back down that road, so instead, we tried diet pills. Boy was that an awful idea. My husband had gained weight right along with me so we decided to diet together. The pills were some off brand of a popular new diet craze and we paired them with the ever so healthy Atkins Diet. We were like walking angry zombies on steroids. That diet didn't last long. Eating all meat zapped any and all energy from our bodies and made our breath smell like the inside of a cats butt that was scrounging around in a dumpster. I don't recommend it to anyone.

Now that I know what proper nutrition and exercise actually does for the body, I can look back and laugh at our attempts to be healthy. My body image may still need a little tweaking, but at least I can teach my daughter and other women how to feel better about themselves without the need to step on a scale everyday. It took me years to be able to know what I can and can't eat and to stay at a steady weight and to show others that it's possible to live your whole life not being that person you had stamped on your brain as a child. Being thin isn't the be all end all, it's about being healthy on the inside and letting that shine through to the parts others can see. It's about being grateful for the struggles and learning to be a better person despite our losses or mistakes. Body image is in our minds. It's in the way we are treated and in the way we treat ourselves. You don't have to be the chubby girl if you don't want to be the chubby girl. You simply have to want to change in order for change to happen. It seems hard to grasp when you get started, but I promise you, one day you will love what you see on the other side of that mirror if you just have the motivation to do so.