This is a post I’ve been promising for a good year now, and one I sat down to write dozens of times. I guess it just had to wait until I was ready!
There was a lot of debate last year about whether or not my philosophy of radical self-acceptance was really healthy. Shouldn’t we try to improve ourselves? If we are overweight, shouldn’t we lose the weight? Is self-acceptance just complacency in disguise?
I wanted to reveal my own struggles with this issue in more detail many times in order to help readers understand where I was coming from and why I am so committed to radical self-acceptance. But it took a long time to work up the guts to write about it. However, I finally did it! Here’s my story:
As a child, I was lean, strong and active. I thank my lucky stars that I was born just before computers and cable TV and so playing outside or reading were really the only two options a child had for fun. I bicycled, ran, jumped, swam and climbed in our SoCal neighborhood and liked to think of myself as the strongest, fastest girl in my class.
It is amazing to me how quickly things changed. At 10, when I was in 5th grade, I began to gain weight and honestly, I looked like a chicken nugget – oval, with little round bits here and there. I suddenly felt stuck to the earth and had pains in my knees and ankles. I developed asthma and lost my speed and any desire I had once had to be active. There was a clique of very popular girls in the 6th grade at my school who made fun of me when we played baseball during PE. They called me Slowpoke, Fatty, and Little Pig. That was the first time I started feeling ashamed of my body. (Don’t we all have a moment like that? What a shame.)
At 12, all my chicken nugget fat quite suddenly relocated and left me looking like a 21-year-old. That year, my family moved from SoCal to Albuquerque – a major culture shock for me. I had spent almost all my childhood in sheltered private schools and suddenly, I found myself in a huge, public middle school where I was one of four blondes in the entire 7th grade.
The girls there either loved me or hated me – there was nothing in between, and those who loved me didn’t tend to love me for long. The boys were the worst, though. It started with the boy whose locker was underneath mine. He would literally slide down the hall like a baseball player in order to land between my legs so he could look up my skirt. I remember the first time this happened, I was so shocked and ashamed. I yelped and looked to my female neighbor for help and she just shrugged and said, “Typical Bobby. He always pulls that crap.” Her reaction taught me that I wasn’t supposed to make a big deal of it, so I learned to hold my knees tight together when at my locker and to try to ignore Bobby.
As time went on, though, things got worse. Another boy who shared a class with me would wait for me in the hall, run up behind me, grab my bra strap and snap it against my back. I tried so hard to be tough that I would yell at him and chase him into our classroom, only to get in trouble with the teacher. There was also a group of boys who rode my bus who would corner me in the halls and grab either my sweater or my boots, wrangle them off me, and run through the halls throwing my stolen clothes or shoes over their heads, laughing as they went.
I started “going steady” with someone that year, but promptly broke it off when he made it clear he wanted to start kissing. I wasn’t ready for that, and was very honest about it. After we broke up, he told all his friends, and when I got on the bus, they’d chant, “Prude! Prude! Prude!”
In class, other boys caught on to the bra snapping gig, which seemed infinitely more appealing to them, once I had been labeled a prude. One boy, who had verbally bullied me for months once snapped my bra so hard that it left a welt on my back. He even had the gumption to do this during class. I was so fed up that I turned around and slapped him across the face as hard as I could. I was stunned when he slapped my face right back. And guess who got in trouble for that one? Yep, me.
Outside of school was just as confusing. I was often hit on by men in their twenties, thirties and even forties. At the time, I was convinced that they just thought I was in my twenties and didn’t realize I was only 12. Of course, I look back now and wonder…maybe they did know…
As you can imagine, by that point, my body was nothing but a source of pain and confusion. I had this feeling of wanting to be liked and thought of as desirable. Yet I also saw that the result of being considered desireable was that I had no control over my body – it became public property.
My parents came in and talked to the principal, who said, “Boys will be boys.” After that, I started moving from one school to the next, sometimes three in one school year, in order to try to avoid the sexual harassment and bullying.
Five schools later, in 10th grade, I was at a public high school that scared the crap out of me. It was the biggest school I’d ever attended and there were kids there who looked like they were 30 years old and could beat me to death. It was there that I learned how to become invisible.
From my past experience, it seemed that being thin and pretty were two guaranteed ways to draw unwanted attention to oneself. So I remedied that by wearing my father’s old jeans and button-down shirts every day (which were hugely baggy on me) and not wearing makeup. I felt that I had no control over what happened to me in the outside world, so I countered that by developing some dangerous eating habits. I would nearly starve myself all day long, from morning until 4PM, and when I was finally free of school for the day, I would binge. My favorite binge foods were four toaster waffles or three steak burritos, both of which my parents often bought from Price Club. Three hours later, I’d have a big dinner and hefty dessert. I gained about 30 pounds during this time.
By 19, I had moved to Oregon with my family and after four more years of bullying, social isolation and school problems, I was a mess. My beloved uncle died unexpectedly that year of a hereditary heart problem and I became so overwhelmed with fear and anxiety that my eating problems reached a whole new level, elevating me another 10 pounds. I went to the gynecologist for the first time that year, about 40 pounds overweight (though being 5’7”, I didn’t *look* that heavy) and my doctor told me I was obese and that if I didn’t immediately lose the weight, I would die of a heart attack. After having just lost my uncle so unexpectedly, I freaked out more and gained yet another 10 pounds.
At 23, my health problems were getting pretty bad and I decided to try a vegan diet. Back then, there were no vegan packaged foods, no fake meats, nothing. I basically ate beans, bread, rice and veggies. I lost at least 50 pounds in about a month, and this weight loss triggered an immense panic in me. I found ways to “veganize” desserts and started baking and eating sweets nonstop. I got to the point where I was hiding cookies and candies in my closet and eating 10-15 servings of dessert foods in one sitting. Then I would spend five or six hours a day working out, in a desperate attempt to keep from gaining the weight back. As you can imagine, the rest of my life stopped. There was no college, no friends, no dating, no job. Nothing but eating and working out.
I was so out of control that I couldn’t even contain my emotions. I was constantly crying and breaking down in front of my mother and sister, begging them to tell me how to stop myself from behaving that way. Finally, my whole family confronted me with an intervention. My parents wanted to send me to an eating disorder camp and I was so lost that I agreed to go. I knew I needed help. However, they could not find a place that would accept anyone who didn’t have anorexia or bulimia, so we settled on plain old therapy.
At this point, the story simply becomes one of a young woman who spent her early adulthood in recovery, working through years and years of you-know-what (many more incidents that I didn’t mention here for the sake of brevity). And I’m still in recovery, hence why I write about this subject so often.
The reason I decided to write about this is simply to explain why I am so adamant that we accept ourselves just the way we are now. No cheating (“I accept myself, but I still want to lose weight,” or “I accept myself, but I wish I was thinner”). No mind games, no word games, no attempts to be politically correct while, on the inside, we are running the same story.
This is what I learned from my history with eating problems:
ONE: We really don’t have control over the way we look. (We like to think we do, but we don’t.)
TWO: It’s a waste of time to fret about our appearance.
THREE: We will never ever ever find that perfect weight. There will always be something else we think we need to do to improve the way we look. If it’s not our weight, then it’s our hair, our skin, our ____.
FOUR: The more we withhold love from ourselves, the more we withhold from others and the more we miss out on life.
There’s a lot more to all this, of course (most of which I’ve written about in past RtL posts), but this is the gist. In the near future, I’ll be posting about how I did on the RtL Challenge last year. In the meantime, what is your story? What keeps you from total self-acceptance?