It’s Throwback Thursday, so today I did something I rarely do: I looked at pictures of myself in my “fat” middle school years. I have instinctively avoided looking at these pictures for a long time, because they have historically made me feel now just like I did then. Fat. Ugly. Worthless. Unlovable. As a result, I hated myself in these pictures.
But today, I wanted to look. 1982, then 1981. 1980. As I looked at my 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old self, I was no longer disgusted by what I saw. This little girl had a little extra weight, yes. She was not skinny. She was plump. But she was not this horrible creature that lived in my emotional memory. In reality, this child was not really all that heavy. Not really ugly. And I wondered, as I revisited the pictures, just how much less I should have weighed in order to shut up the huge number of critics who felt that they had a right to say something about my body, even then.
My mother always criticized my weight and often spoke about me in the third person when I was right there in the room. “Such a pretty face,” my aunts and grandmother would lament, as though my face were somehow wasted on my unpleasant body. My classmates let me know on a daily basis just how fat I was, and I resented having a birth name that rhymed with “jelly” and “belly.” One boy called me a fat slob every day, until I got tired of it and fired back an epithet that I knew would wound, and it did. I was sorry to hurt him, but then again, I wasn’t. He had hurt me every day.
The apparently hideous extra pounds came off naturally when I was in high school, as though Nature knew what she was doing all along (what a thought!), but even then, I was still a big girl, of Viking and northern European descent, and I was never going to be skinny. When I was in college (and working out), one of my male “friends” helpfully pointed out that when I sat down, my thighs spread out a little, so maybe I should lose some weight. Ouch!
It didn’t occur to me, at 19, to wonder what gave this or any other person the right to comment on my body. After all, it had been happening to me for years. This is just what people did! Critique my body! Sometimes daily! I spent years cursing the genetics that gave me big thighs and wondering how my body could ever be considered beautiful.
In my twenties, I was (by my standards) thin and fit, which resulted in men hitting on me. A lot. And in ugly ways. One guy stared at me when I was in the coffee shop with my boyfriend. The entire time. Glaring back at him did not change this. Finally, I asked to leave. My boyfriend got in his face about it, but the result was the same: we left.
Men invaded my personal space. They leaned in. They cornered me at the bookstore where I worked, a captive audience. They made suggestions. Once, when walking with my boyfriend and some other friends, two guys circled back after asking for a cigarette. One put his arm around me and asked me why I was hanging out with my boyfriend (with whom I was holding hands). He was insistent. My boyfriend told him to knock it off. “Oh, you want a piece of me?” And he has a gun in pants. Holy shit! He has a gun in his pants! We just kept walking. We don’t want any trouble. We’re almost to the apartment. Keep going. Dear God, these two guys followed us to the door. They eventually left, but we were shaken.
I learned that there was a price to be paid for being too attractive, too fit. A few years after I married, I put on weight again. I think I wanted to protect myself from the gaze of men.
After I had my children, I decided that I wanted to lose weight. Not that I needed to lose weight, or that everybody else thought I should lose weight (though, no question, some did). I wanted to. Me. The person whose opinion on this mattered. And I did lose weight, and I eventually started to work out again and change a few things about the way I ate. I did this in order to feel good, physically and emotionally.
My weight is reasonably stable, but it still goes up and down. I don’t want to be a control freak about it, so I have my share of snacks and goodies. I try to make good choices, but live and enjoy myself. I had to start taking an antianxiety medication last fall—truly, it was not a choice and panic attacks are not fun—which may be affecting my weight upward a little. I’m going to live with it, because I feel better and, to hell with it, I’m nearly 46 and who the heck cares? Whose business is it but my own?
And that’s the point, really. Whether I weigh 120, 180, or 240 pounds, what’s it to anyone but me? I’m allowed to take up space on the planet. Oh, I know. The judgers still judge. The critics really feel that they must say something, because, you know, they care about your health. I don’t believe that, actually. I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of “love” long enough to know that what people are really saying is, “I find you repulsive the way you are.” Because the fashion magazines say so. Because Hollywood says so. Because the Photoshopped and airbrushed images oppress our minds and spirits and reduce us to mere flesh and fat, and there’s nothing else you have to offer the world if it’s not perfectly packaged.
No one has the right to comment on my body, whether you think it’s ugly or beautiful. I didn’t ask for an opinion, so keep it to yourself. No woman asks for an opinion, but she gets it daily, anyway. Let me explain something. If you decide that a woman is overweight, telling her so, however “kindly” you think you said it, will not induce her to lose weight. You don’t think she didn’t hear that same suggestion yesterday? And the day before? Did she miraculously take a pill, go on a diet, or apply for “The Biggest Loser,” where they will criticize and judge her and run her ragged “professionally” on national TV and make tons of money off her humiliation in the process? No, she didn’t, and your comments aren’t helpful.
I can finally, finally, finally look at my middle school pictures without hating myself. That has been a long slog. I am now wise enough to know that the only person who can validate me is me. I am now wise enough to know that I am more than my body. I am now wise enough to accept my big thighs, the belly that came with two babies, the wrinkles that are appearing on my face, and whatever the hell else my body wants or needs to do. It’s a great body. It’s healthy. It lets me do things I want to do. I really love my body. And if you don’t, well, that’s not my problem.