I was a fat kid. No two ways about it. I have had times in my life when I have been quite thin. I am just a hair under 5’10” and I once weighed in at about 130 pounds. Guess what? That didn’t really matter to me when I looked in the mirror. It’s a funny thing about self-image and how it is burned into one’s psyche. It matters how you see yourself. In my younger years, I would use self-deprecating humor as a way to beat them to the proverbial punch, as it were. Better to take a shot at yourself than have someone take a shot at you.
Self image travels with me and the image of years gone by where my brothers made fun of my girth stays with me. Neither of my brothers, today, would call me fat, I don’t think, but the echoes of years past resound in my head.
I have kind of accepted how I look, generally. Perhaps not right now when the gym is closed and I am struggling to lose weight and tone up with so few tools in my tool box, save walking and hand weights. And diet, of course. My hair is two colors (probably more, actually) and my legs are untanned. In the grand scheme of things, I know I am fortunate to still have my health in this pandemic world and all the blessings my life has to offer. But I feel as if I am in a holding pattern. I am sure others feel that way for various reasons, and there are other reasons, of course, besides how I appear but it is difficult for someone who struggles with self-image to gaze upon my current self and not cringe.
Self-image has far reaching tentacles that work in one’s disfavor in all aspects of life. It affects relationships, of course, and interactions of many kinds. It distorts one’s thoughts, as well. It makes you feel less than and not good enough, in my experience, anyway. No matter how I appear to others now, somewhere in my mind I am sensitive to being different from others.
I used to express my feelings of being different and left out of experiences others had by saying I felt as if everyone else came at 9 and I got there at 11. That stemmed from coming in late to school one day during high school where I felt as if everyone else knew what was going on and knew how to live their lives but I, somehow, had missed the boat, the class, the lesson on how to live.
In our society, being different is not always celebrated and we seem to have a particular disdain for people who are overweight. My own mother, in fact, loving as she was to me in almost every other way, could not really understand the little fat girl who liked to spend her days reading. I recall in later years, maybe when my weight had dropped to 130 pounds, my mother saying I was too thin. I should probably have felt then that I had arrived, my ship had come in, I was, at last, normal. My mind, however, doesn’t work that way. My mind is always working overtime to assess if I am passing the “normal” test. As much as I don’t mind not fitting in sometimes and in some ways, I want to know I am not that different from others, I guess.
I remember thinking one time that, when people lose weight, they gain their voice. Some people would suddenly be able to stand up for themselves after having lost weight. I have always thought part of the reason for that new found assertiveness would be because they took away people’s ability to make a snide comment about appearance and it loosened their voice and stiffened their spine.
At my current advanced age, I am more okay with who I am overall but the spectres of years gone by with kids giggling behind their hands or even outright when the school nurse weighed us every year, remain. It didn’t help, I guess, that I was older since I have a November birthday and taller (5’ 8 ¾’ in sixth grade) but I was surely very different.
This makes me root for the underdog, you know, and be more sensitive to people’s struggles. I notice when students and others have lost weight or changed something in their appearance and I always try to let them know I have noticed and I am celebrating right along with them. When someone says “the struggle is real” they are not kidding. One of my Classroom Policies is “Be kind, always.” When I first added that to the list, I had one student giggle aloud and I asked her if she did not believe in kindness. Now, I explain that policy as us not knowing what someone is going through. I elaborate by saying that someone could have had an argument with a sibling or the dog could have thrown up in their bed so they might not be in the best mood. Of course we know there are so many things kids and others could be going through that they don’t verbalize, so kindness to others is always a good idea. I try to notice those who sometimes go unnoticed and I think I am sometimes able to see the swan under that “ugly duckling.” Because I am that ugly duckling. I am the fat little girl who spent her leisure time reading Nancy Drew books while my brothers ran around and, in my mind’s eye, the books have changed but the girl remains.
We, as humans, are a complicated lot. I always think others have it together because, after all, they came at nine and I didn’t get here till eleven so I am lagging behind. I always think others know how to live. I guess to me that means they have a different lens than I do, and I believe that is the crucial difference. If you grow up being told you are cute or beautiful or handsome, that becomes your reality. If, on the other hand, you have been called fat, or ugly, or fat and ugly during your formative years, in your mind’s eye, some of that may remain. The derogatory whispers are the soundtrack of my psyche. Sometimes, I can quiet them with reason, but they are a persistent lot. Mirrors and photos can be friend or foe. I try to realize that a snapshot does not tell the entire story but, sometimes, the cacophony of insecurities drown out reason and the feeling of being less than or not being good enough resound in my head.
Tread softly, friends, if you are able, because we are not all alike. Life has dealt us all different hands and, overall, my cards have been great ones. Perspective reigns, sometimes, when the insecurities of being a fat little girl, can be quelled.