Last week, the Mental Health Community focused on Body Image for Mental Health. This was not the next blog entry I had planned to share, but it seems appropriate given the circumstances. Honestly, I needed a break from talking about my psychosis anyway. I’ll get back to it next time.
According to others, I’m an attractive person…but if you lived inside my head, you’d never believe it.
When I was 9 years old, the world began to tell me it was better to be flat, than fat. The messages came from a variety of sources, and all were damaging. At that young age, I began to dislike my round belly, chubby cheeks and double chin. I started a life-long process of hating my body. Not just hating my body but hating myself.
Throughout the years, my weight insecurities, have led to depression, suicidal thoughts, endless amounts of self-criticism and alternative life decisions. My body image has run havoc on my emotional well-being, relationships, and self-esteem.
As much as I hate to admit it, the negative perception I have of my body, has been allowed to dictate a good majority of my life. Slowly, I have managed to regain power from my body image, but it has not been an easy process.
My poor body image began to form when I was in elementary school. I started getting bullied by other kids for being bigger than average. Although there were many unkind things said about my weight, the nickname the other students would scream at me every time I left the school bus, is what I remember the most of all. “Twinkie Breath! Twinkie Breath!”
In case you are curious, here is a photo of me when I was that age.
Not too bad, right? I can see that now as an adult. Yet, when I was a child, it was a completely different story. I had a very different impression of myself based on comments directed towards me. I look back at this picture and it upsets me that I bought into all the negative things people said to me in regard to my weight. Perhaps if young me had not believed those negative words; my pudgy issues would not have developed later into a 300 pound problem.
I was young, and believed I was extremely overweight based on the information I was receiving from others. In the most counter-productive method possible, I began to self-medicate with food. This later led to more weight, food addiction, crash dieting, and a binge eating disorder. I still struggle with all of those things today, but since treating my bipolar disorder, it has gotten a lot better.
Although it’s clear to me now that I wasn’t as big as I thought I was, I still have vivid memories of the experiences that made me believe I was overweight.
One day, I went swimming at our local pool. I was embarrassed by my body, so I wore a T-shirt over my swimsuit. As I was finishing up a lap, a woman in the lane next to me asked, “When are you due?” I remember looking at her dumbfounded. I asked, “What?” She asked me again, “When are you due?” My heart fell into my stomach and with embarrassment, I looked down and whispered, “I’m only 12.” These were the only words I could think to mutter. I had never even been kissed, but it didn’t matter. This woman thought I was pregnant. I was mortified. She tried to explain that my t-shirt made me look bigger in the water, but the damage was done. This is just one of the many instances where someone made me feel ashamed of my weight as a child.
I began to think I was not good enough for people in this world because of my weight. I thought I would never have a boyfriend, never get married, or be anybody’s first choice. Having these horrible thoughts about myself, spiraled me into depression.
During my 7th grade school year, I reached the height of my childhood depression. I became reclusive and would not engage with others. I continued to be bullied, and I believed the world would be better off without me in it. I started thinking about suicide daily.
My parents saved my life. My parents were paying attention and they saw warning signs that I was not okay. They knew something had to change. They made the decision to put me in a private school. This new school took me away from my bullies, and it gave me a fresh start. It was the right choice. Aside from their constant love (which stopped me several times from harming myself), I believe the decision to switch my school, saved my life. It did not take long before I felt welcome there. The students got me to open up, and I became the person I am when I’m not suffering with depression. I began to exercise my talents, and I found myself through the performing arts.
For more opportunities in the performing arts, I decided to transfer back to public school my Sophomore year. This was the right move for my talents, but it came at a cost. My weight insecurities resurfaced. I started to see my weight as something that would hold me back. Again, this belief was enforced by other people.
In a class I wasn’t attending, a teacher told his students, “Anginet wants to go to New York and become an actress. She can do that. She has the talent, but she will need to lose weight.” Hearing this was a topic of conversation made me feel defeated. I had been trying to lose weight since I was 12. I didn’t think I could get it to change. This same teacher also told me I wouldn’t be cast in certain roles because of my size. Yeah, I actually knew that. Still, it was not a great thing to be reaffirmed.
I wish I had someone like Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson or Aidy Bryant to look up to back then. I wish even more, that I would have been strong enough to become a role model in the entertainment industry like they have, but I was weak and battling more than I could understand at that point in my life. I rolled over. I believed I wasn’t good enough, and I ended up sabotaging myself at every turn.
Throughout school, my paranoia that I’d never have a boyfriend, was off the chart. There seemed to be no prospects for me, and I attributed this to the fact that I was overweight. Having this belief, became a huge problem in multiple ways later.
First, as I got older, I would get male attention and it became like catnip to my soul. The attention of men would boost my self-esteem and make me believe I was wanted. I began to rest my self-worth in men because I was so incredibly worried about my size.
Next, I would settle in relationships because I thought the relationship I was in, would be my only option. I had several boyfriends who said horrible things about my weight. Including, “nobody else will want you because you’re too big…” and silly me, I believed them. To make matters worse, these men often cheated on me with thin women, reinforcing my belief, that I was not good enough because of my weight.
I also put myself in venerable positions. I didn’t have the self-esteem I needed, and bad men took advantage of that. They preyed on my weakness and caused further damage to my mind.
These things don’t even touch on how I managed to hurt other people while being concerned about my weight. I became a liar and I often said things to get the attention I craved. I became a cheater, because I cared more about validating my self-esteem than I thought about those I may hurt along the way. This behavior was inexcusable.
Luckily, I learned through guilt and shame that honesty and integrity are essential to my overall well-being. I carry guilt for things I did decades ago, but that guilt turned me into the incredibly honest person I am today, and I am grateful for that.
How I wish I could go back to my younger self and fix all these problems at the onset. So much pain could have been avoided if I had just known my worth. Instead, I lived in a paranoid state that I would never get what I wanted because of my size.
The thing I wanted more than anything, was to feel truly wanted. If only I knew then what I know now…
Unfortunately, I cannot go back and change the past. Besides, in doing so, I’d destroy the timeline and every superhero television show, tells me that’s a really bad idea.
All I can do, is try and move my body image into a positive state as I move forward. I am constantly working on this. In many ways, large strides have been made. I’ve been learning to work with my body more through self-care. I’ve learned to love it more. I’ve been pushing myself to do things I have put off in the past because of my weight. I have been addressing the issues I have with my body image in therapy as they have come up.
The biggest stride I have made is realizing that it’s not that I’m not good enough. It’s that I’m too good for what the world has led me to believe. Hopefully by sharing this, someone else will realize that they are too.