I can’t remember the first time that felt unhappy with the way I looked. As someone who had glasses from the age of four, braces throughout my pre-teen years, and has always been on the heavier side, there was always something about me that was different than the standard version of beauty. There was always a reason to believe myself to be less than the other girls around me.
The interesting thing is that my thoughts and personality have never been that of a girl with low self esteem or of someone who believed themselves to be ugly… until quite recently. When I was a little kid – between the ages of about 4 and 8 – you might have thought that I was a pageant kid. I had hair long enough to sit on and always wore dresses. I even remember being the head of “the popular kindergarteners” and sometimes even being a bit of a bully.
In grade 5, I switched schools to go to French Immersion. This is when things changed. I was all of a sudden the one to be picked on every day during recess and actually had notes sent home saying that I cried daily. I think it was mostly because I didn’t understand why I was being singled out. I didn’t feel any different or less than anyone else.
High school was when I discovered musical theatre. I wished that I was a dancer. I wished that I was a better singer so that I could play the leads. I wanted to look like the girls who did get the leads. This was when I really remember first hating my body- not for the way that it looked, but for what it wasn’t capable of. And as I was given all of the less attractive costumes and placed in the back of the group scenes on stage, I started to feel like my outside was holding me back from what I was capable of inside.
In grade 10, my grandmother (a woman who part raised me and one of my very favorite people in the world) became suddenly ill and passed away. I reacted by not eating very consistently and lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. And people started noticing me more and treating me better because of it. That is when I started to see “what life would be like if I were thin.”
But, I never did get there. Once my eating habits returned to normal, the weight came back. And since then, every time I look in the mirror I see someone different than the person I believe myself to be. It is like I am living in a full body suit of someone else. A fat suit.
Maybe ironically, for years it was always my internal image of myself that won over what I saw (and judged) in the mirror when it came to my self esteem. I think it was also that I surrounded myself with confident people who didn’t seem to worry too much about how they looked. While I might not have seen myself as someone as beautiful as them, I still gained confidence from being one of the group – one of the “popular people”. I knew myself to be a fun, funny, exciting person that people wanted around. That was usually enough.
The time when I was most at war with my body was when it came to my career choice – I wanted to be a singer and an actress. And while people might have wanted me as the writer, the director, and part of the ensemble, I was never able to get anyone to see me as the leading lady. Possibly wrongly so, possibly not, I blamed my waistline more than my work ethic or talent.
When I graduated and it was time to go out into the world, I would stop myself before even starting. There was no one like me on stage or in movies. Why set myself up for certain rejection? Ten years or more have passed since I graduated and I wish that I could say that things have changed. But, the truth is that I have now spent more than half of my life feeling imprisoned by my outer shell.
Now, I know what you’re probably wondering – If I am so unhappy with the way that I look, why not work to change it? After all, we control our own bodies, right? Well, that’s an excellent question that I also ask myself. I have tried and quickly failed dozens of times. My hatred of the gym has turned into a fear of the gym. I love cheese and adult beverages. And I have had many bouts of stress in my life that have caused me to stop eating for several weeks, each one sending my metabolism completely out of whack over and over again.
I also, like everyone, am extremely flawed and am full of worthless excuses. I am also full of valid excuses. I have been on my own (single) for almost my whole life and have navigated dozens of jobs, living in a few countries, starting over more times than I can count. I have been strong in lots of ways. What can I say? I am not strong about this.
I just celebrated my 34th birthday and am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I am also at that crossroads where it is really time to decide who I am going to be – professionally, personally and even romantically. I want to be the woman that I see in my head and not the one that I see in the mirror. I want others to get to meet her because she’s pretty great.
I am fighting a war with my body still. The worst part is that the longer I live, the more that I realize that my body is all I have and should be an ally instead of an enemy. But saying it, writing it, and living it are two very different things.
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