In a recent post, I urged you not to diet. In this week’s post, I wanted to share with you a story from one of my clients about ‘body shaming’- a major factor in what leads many of us to go on diets in the first place. In our work together, she is focusing on learning to love and appreciate the body she has, regardless of what size/weight she happens to be at any given moment.
Overcoming Body Shame
I was fourteen years old the first time I ever looked at my body in the mirror and frowned. Being a tomboy all of my life I didn’t care about “My Look”, I just wanted to go out, get dirty, and have fun. One sentence from a supposed friend was all it took to undo it all. At the time I was a tiny 4’11” and maybe 110lbs. She felt the need to tell me I was getting fat and I looked “frumpy”.
After hearing those words, I found myself standing in front of my full-length mirror and truly looked at myself for the first time. I didn’t see what she saw, but figured she would know best because I always saw her as a thin and pretty friend. The next day, I went to her and asked her how to fix my body issues and she happily showed me how to binge and purge. That didn’t last long because I couldn’t handle the purging so I turned to the opposite and just stopped eating. Within a few weeks, I was at a “slim and sexy” ninety pounds and according to my friend I was “perfect” so I maintained that weight for years. I remember one boyfriend that liked to dress me up and show me off so I thought this is how I should look. Back then, being drastically underweight got me a lot of positive attention so I went with it.
When I was eighteen, I got pregnant. I ate whatever I craved during the pregnancy and after I had my son, I gained even more weight because I became a single mother, depressed, and depended on alcohol to shut down my feelings. When I was around 160-170 pounds, a doctor told me that according to the BMI chart, for my height and age, I was “morbidly obese”. According to this system, my ideal weight should have been 100-105 pounds.
I started to hate my body so I continued to abuse it by eating really unhealthy food and drinking a lot. I hit the 200-pound mark and basically lived in sweatpants and hoodies because, according to the Cosmo Magazines I bought, I was gross and no one wanted to look at that.
When I realized I needed to quit drinking, I lost a ton of weight really fast and I got down to 130 pounds. That’s when I met the man that wanted to marry me. I knew he had anger issues, but he said he loved me and I convinced myself that would be enough.
The body shaming started out slowly, with him picking clothes for me that he wanted me to wear. He would buy me motorcycle chaps that were just a bit too small to make it seem like I had gained weight. He bought me a very expensive pair of jeans knowing they wouldn’t fit, then bought me a gym membership with a trainer to get me into shape to fit the jeans. His reasoning? If he was going to spend that kind of money on clothes for me, it was disrespectful for me not to try harder to fit into them. We got into a motorcycle accident about a year before the wedding and I had already purchased my dress. I hurt my knee pretty badly and also broke my hand so I couldn’t use crutches. The doctor wasn’t sure I would ever run again. I gained weight again and he never failed to let me know that he noticed. This was right around the time he first “oinked” at me when I was eating something. This noise out of him became a regular occurrence over our ten years of marriage. I eventually pushed through the injury and started running, swimming, kickboxing and just getting active.
My weight see-sawed a lot over the years and he was not shy to tell me what he thought about my eating habits and weight. One memory comes up whenever I think of all of this: We had gone camping with some friends and on our way home, he spent the entire car ride telling me how much he enjoyed looking at one of the girls in her bikini and how much he wished I would do the work to look like her- how “hot” her hip bones were, and how I needed to work harder. He said all of this with my impressionable seven-year-old son in the car.
I tried to tell him she was twenty-one and hadn’t gone through childbirth, and he yelled at me to stop making excuses for being lazy, and called me some less than attractive names. When I got home broke down in tears. I started eating junk food without him knowing just to spite him. It got to the point where I started hiding bags of chips and chocolate in my car so I could binge on it quickly before I got home. I stopped wearing makeup and “pretty clothes” because he accused me of dressing up for other men. I couldn’t wear yoga pants or leggings because he said I was “too fat for that”. I stuck to baggy jeans and sweatpants and got accused of not trying. I learned over that ten-year period that it didn’t matter if I was 130 or 180 pounds- my body was gross and I would never be able to satisfy any man. I cried a lot.
By the time I left my marriage for good I hated my body even more. The next relationship I got into reconfirmed this, at least in my head. It only lasted a year and a half but he ended up being a serial cheater and I convinced myself it was because I gained a bit of weight. I smiled and put on a brave face but inside, I was miserable. I felt like I would never be good enough for anyone.
I left that relationship, but so much damage has been done over the years that now when the amazing man I am with says he finds me sexy I internally shudder and the voice of my ex-husband yells in my head “Yeah right”. Due to a long-standing injury, I am now at the heaviest I have ever been and I struggle every day. I don’t like going out in public because I feel like everyone is judging me. I have very few articles of clothes that fit, but I don’t want to clothes-shop. Trying to find clothes to fit my short round stature is very difficult. I try to do my makeup, but I don’t know how to make it look nice. I try to force myself to put time into my hair, but I just think “why bother”. Self-care has never been something I have ever done and I find it hard to start now, being in my 40s.
This is why I have been seeing Esther for counselling. Her no-nonsense approach to helping me heal this damage has been amazing. I have a long road ahead of me, but thanks to her, I am learning it’s okay to take it one step at a time, be gentle, and to take it slowly.