My whole life, I was taught that beauty comes from the inside out. That what we see at face value has very little to do with what goodness lies within. My mother worked very hard to instill these things within ALL her children.
Growing up as the youngest, tiny child in a family who all struggled with their weight, I didn't really see those things because they loved me, held me, protected me, and showered me with everything. I was by far the most spoiled in our family.
I never struggled with weight and was always in some sort of dance or gymnastics class from the time I was three. I had a knack for it. I lived in front of a mirror all the time. My mother bent over backwards to make sure I was able to spend my time in dance, costumes, make-up and performing. It never really seemed like enough because I lived for the adrenalin rush of pushing myself to be the best, learning new stage make-up techniques, soaking up the spotlight on stage.
I started to notice weight in 3rd grade because of a girl in my class. She was big. I never thought about it really, until she started to pick on me and push me around. My mother made me beautiful clothes, upcycled or from scratch. I loved what she made me because it couldn't be found in stores. It made me unique. But this big girl made me look harder at myself. I was the poor girl in small private school. I was different. Perhaps even ugly.
I took it all in and held it inside because being so little, I didn't know what I was feeling could eventually become self-destructive. I went to 4 more years at that private school with no friends and was constantly inventing new excuses to stay home because I was afraid of the backlash I felt from the students and even from my fifth grade teacher, who spent most of her days taking all her anger and frustration with the entire class, out on me. I almost never went to school that entire year.
As I went to junior high, an entirely new dynamic of judgement entered my life. You all know it, the "Wow, I don't dress right, that girl is wearing the same thing as me but looks better, why do I get out of bed if I look so ugly" stage.
I was a flower child. My 6th grade year was the time of 70s fashion revival. The swishy sundresses with neon flowers, the bell bottoms, the leather headbands and stacks (shoes). I spent HOURS at the mall with my mother on the rare nights and weekends I didn't have dance. I LOVED it because I fit everything. EVERYTHING. And it gave me time to be with my mom and not have to think about the things at school or my own body image because I could try on things I really loved to wear and there was no one to tell me that it wasn't "cool" or "right".
Then in seventh grade, I got really, really, sick in November shortly before Thanksgiving break. I lost 20 pounds in about two weeks. At my doctor's appointment, I weighed in a a whopping 72 pounds and I was 12 years old. I was super freaked out. I knew that wasn't healthy.
I was unsatisfied with how I looked because none of my clothes fit me anymore. For the remainder of the year, I wore a satin blue button down shirt, a Wonder Bra to fill it out, a pair of baggy secondhand jeans, and my older sister's blue and green plaid long sleeved shirt wrapped around my waist. I hid behind my blond, waist length hair even more than I did in sixth grade. I think I was trying to disappear from reality.
Over the next year or so I became more evened out with my weight again, but now I was living with my dad. I don't know if either of them realized it, but every time his new wife would take me shopping, she tried to force me into her daughters' mold. I did not look like them, I did not act like them, I did not dress like them. We had totally different body types. I was in every sense of the word DIFFERENT, from them. Eventually by the time I reached the middle of my freshman year, they realized that I wasn't wearing anything they bought unless I chose it 100% for myself.
Throughout this period, I still spent nearly everyday in dance clothes in front of a mirror. I loved my body. I spent so much time teaching it to do what I willed it to do in those classes. I was told by my dance teachers I could go all the way. I had "it", which made me love my body more. My steady boyfriend was even thinner than I was because he was cross country runner. There were times I felt huge compared to him, but mostly my curves along next to his thin frame made me feel more beautiful and womanly because women are supposed to be that way, right?
But at school, it was different. Society teaches us women to be self-deprecating and to talk down about our selves because if we have the audacity to speak positively about ourselves, especially our bodies, we are rude, self-centered, and stuck-up. So I would talk about my dress size and speak down about myself and laugh and say I wish I was a size 2 instead of a 4 and that my hips were too big, or my breasts were too small, or my bubble butt was annoying, and on and on and on. Never mind the fact I didn't really feel these things about myself, most of the time.
But as I fell more in love with my body and what I could do with it, I noticed more and more the things within my family and the issues with their weight as well as my friends and without realizing it, became caustic and silently hateful of them because of it. Never mind the slew of health issues they all had to deal with.
I broke 110 lbs. my junior year. I felt awesome because it was all toned and trained muscle, but weird because I no longer fit into my size 4 jeans. I wore size 7. My dance partners struggled to lift me above their heads and constantly dropped me. I started to worry I wasn't what I needed to be for them. Perhaps I needed to drop some weight.
My senior year, I moved back in with my mom to a new school where I knew no one. Two weeks into school (and due to start a brand new ballet studio the following week) I was on my way to lunch with a new friend when we were in a rear end collision. As I was looking down to buckle my seat belt just a block from the high school parking lot, a moth flew up in my friend's face and we slammed into the back end of a stopped car waiting to turn onto a cross street. My seat belt never clicked into place and my head slammed into the windshield, creating a spider crack, much like a bowling ball would.
I'll omit all the painful details, but by the time things were over, I learned that I had a two severely injured disks in my neck just above my should blades and my physical therapist told me I should never dance again. To say I was devastated would be the biggest understatement of my life.
I went to therapy. But I still went back to dance. Twice. I wasn't ready to let go. More than the physical pain, was the denial that I would never be able to dance again. It's what I wanted to do with my life. Everything in me was built to be a dancer. I was crushed. I eventually suffered a breakdown and was put on an anti-depressant that made me gain 20 lbs. in two weeks.
At the age of 18 when most girls bodies are starting to change into womanhood, my body bolted from 120 to 140 like a lightening bolt. More devastation. I eventually dropped out of school because the physical and emotionally pain I was going through was too much for me to know how to handle. I watched my high school graduation loom in front of me. I forced myself back into school to be able to eek out graduation, only to be failed by the English teacher who refused to believe I wrote an extra 5 pages on my Senior thesis just because I wasn't in her AP English class. She didn't believe that I could write that well without being put in an advanced class. So with only one trimester left of school, without that English class, it meant I couldn't graduate, so I failed several other classes because I stopped trying. And my weight continued to climb.
Not to be run down, I pulled myself up and went back to school the following autumn for a 5th year of high school. Two weeks to the year of my car accident, I was on my way to my first hour class when a woman ran a stop sign and slammed into my car, sending me spinning 180 degrees. That was September.
I went back to therapy. I dropped out of school to deal with the emotional and physical mess I was in. I went back on anti-depressants to deal with it. I gained more weight.
The following February, I was in a friend's car, on my way to school to register for the last trimester of school. It was pouring ice cold rain and we were pulling up to a stoplight just off the freeway. We never stopped. I watched as he slammed on his breaks and we slid right through the light at 55 miles an hour, catching the back left corner bumper of a van coming off the freeway. Slow motion. By the time we stopped spinning, I was aware of searing pain running through my neck and shoulders. We went to urgent care.
X-rays revealed that the injured disks from my first accident were not injured anymore, they had fused from the impact and injury resulting from more than one accident. And not only that, I had fused disks in my lower back and massive muscle swelling in my left shoulder. I was given a neck brace, a written prescription for narcotics and discharged.
I never filled that pain prescription. I still went over to my school to register for the last trimester of school and I went to to graduate and walk the line for my high school diploma all a week before my twentieth birthday.
College was a mess. (Cosmetology, another career where you spend your life in front of a mirror. Anyone else see the irony??) Weight up and down and all over, but I ended up slimming way down because of stress and I walked everywhere because I didn't own a car.
By the time I got married at 22, I was once again a size 4. The most painful day of my life was the day I got married. The weight of my dress, standing all day, my 8 lb. bouquet I was only able to hold for pictures, was placed next to the cake and forgotten about. The two day drive to our new home I spent with my husband was more pain than I can remember experiencing. When we'd stop for gas, he'd hold me while I cried.
After marriage, I learned to eat my feelings rather than take it out on dance, but I had no idea that's what I was doing. We found and amazing chiropractor would help me start healing over the course of the last nearly 7 years. I learned from my chiropractor the worst thing I could've done was quit dance because it would've kept my muscles and spine flexible and may have helped my disks from fusing together. More devastation. More anger. More antidepressants. More weight gain.
Then I had two babies, whom I love more than anything in this world. More weight gain. I hated myself. I beat myself up.
But over the last few months, I've started to discover how to love myself, take care of myself, be myself. My new self. I can create and mold and shape my life in new ways. It doesn't have to be spent in front of a mirror. I realized that even though I was in serious pain and still deal with pain everyday, I have enough wherewithal to do it all without drugs. No prescription pills and no OTC drugs for the most part either. I do have my bad days, but I've been given the strength to make it through.
My point I'm getting at is this~ I spent a LOT of time judging people on their size without realizing it. I spent a LOT of time judging myself on my size. I spent YEARS hating my genes and the fact I have a predisposition to be a certain shape.
But we all have own own journeys. People are all at various stages of their lives. Some people may have more health issues than others.
WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING ON UNDER THE SURFACE OF PEOPLE'S LIVES TO JUDGE SO QUICKLY.
I can't promise I'll never judge people based on their appearance. But I CAN promise that I'll try to be more understanding about those things. We all have our own private hell we endure. I can promise I will be more loving and understanding. Because I've been on that scale. I know the hurt from every side.
It's time to stop judging yourself for what you THINK you should look like and loving yourself for who you are ARE and your AMAZING abilities you DO have.
I have a lot to offer. I learned that a lot of the girls I work with in youth group actually love me. A LOT. And it's not because I just lost a dress size or because I'm a principle dancer in the NYC Ballet Company. It's because I'm me.
Whatever negative thing you're telling yourself in the mirror when you see yourself, STOP IT. The most positive words you'll hear in your life come from INSIDE YOU. If you're constantly beating yourself up, you'll never heal.
The more you spoon feed that you inside with goodness and love, the more YOU you'll become. The more YOU you'll discover. Just like that quote from Dr. Suess:
"Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You."
Become the "youer" you.