Body Image–Learning to Love Myself
I really struggle with my body image. I have done so most of my life. I can look back and see negative influencers throughout my life that made me very self-conscious about my body. I will talk about these negative influencers in a bit.
I was a hefty 8 lbs. 11 oz. when I was born in 1948. I come from a heritage of Serbians/Croatians and Germans. My maternal grandmother, who died at age 90, thought a thin person was unhealthy, and a hefty (fat) person was healthy. I am sure this had to do with the poverty in which she was raised. If you were thin, there was not enough food to eat, and if you had weight on you, you had plenty of food and was possibly even prosperous.Food had all kinds of meanings in our family. It was more than just sustenance. It was something used for celebrations, and for drowning one’s sorrows. It was put in front of us as children, and we were expected to clean our plates. I never got the story of poor children across the world not having food, but I did get the story that I had to eat whatever my mother cooked, whether I liked it or not. I remember times when I sat in tears at the table because my mother cooked cauliflower, and my dad required me to eat a healthy portion. I sobbed and choked down this awful tasting concoction. I still cannot eat cooked cauliflower without bringing back these memories.
Both of my parents were overweight. In fact, they would probably have been diagnosed as morbidly obese. My mother hated her photo taken, and many times refused to be in a photo. She was a small skinny girl as a child, and after marriage and having three children, her weight began to rise. My dad was a big guy, and he like to eat quantities. He slimmed down while he was in the military, but coming home, his weight starting significantly rising. Interestingly, enough, he wasn’t a big fan of sweets, but he loved quantities of food, and snacking.
Now you would think that having parents with weight issues that they would be aware of their children’s eating habits—or maybe not. My mom was warm and loving and would tell me I was beautiful, and more beautiful than all my friends. I didn’t believe her—I thought she had to say that because she was my mom. I couldn’t figure out why I could be beautiful, when all the other girls were more popular in school. It never dawned on me that popularity wasn’t only about looks, it is also about the way you present yourself to others—personality, being open and friendly. Because I came from this European tradition and with very conservative parents, I thought I was oddly different from everyone else, so I hid myself from their friendships.
When I reached my teen years I started having innocent crushes on some of the boys. One time my father realized I had a crush on a boy who he knew, and I will never forget what he said to me. Now, remember, this is a dad who is extremely overweight. He said, “How can you have a crush on him? You are bigger than he is.” Really? Did a dad really say that to his teenage daughter. I look back at photos of me as a teenager. I wasn’t skinny, but I also wasn’t what I would call fat. But, my dad made me feel fat and unattractive.
Move forward a few years. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I come from a very conservative family so even the thought of dating in high school was not an option. When I was a junior in college, I transferred to a four year university after completing two years at a community college. The college years are where I started to bloom as an individual, but I still had body issues of not thinking that I was attractive, or thin, or appealing. One of my college roommates actually said to me, “You would be my prettiest friend if you lost some weight.” Now I am sure that person does not remember ever saying that, but those kind of comments implanted in my brain. It just added to my body issues, that I was unattractive and my body was wrong.
While I was in college, I went on a few dates, and I don’t think they were very good ones (on my part) because I don’t think I felt deserving of these guys asking me out. There was one guy who I just hung out with and became friends, before we were in a relationship. Yes, this is the guy I married right after graduating. I was really excited that he was interested in me because his previous girlfriends were skinny girls. I should have known better . . . .
After we were married, he would ask me to tell him my weight. I wouldn’t tell him. He told me that he was my husband and he had a right know my weight. I didn’t weigh much less than he did, and although as I look at photos from back then, I looked pretty good, but I knew deep down he would think that number was outrageous. I thought all pretty girls had to weigh between 100 and 125 lbs. I wasn’t there. I never, in the ten years I was married to him, told him my weight. After having children, and I had four babies in six years, one of the main things we argued about was my weight. Can you believe that? First of all, I think of the vow “for better or worse.” Even if he thought that was the “worse,” didn’t his vow require him to love and accept me as I was? I very distinctly remember one night about six months after the birth of my fourth child, as I was ready to fall asleep in bed, he “sweetly” said, “Honey, I thought you said you were going to join Weight Watchers after you had the baby.” I sat up in bed and stated, “If you want a skinny wife, go find one.” I was so hurt and angry.
A couple years later, I finally hit bottom. I had an ectopic pregnancy (tubal pregnancy) which laid me low for six months. I had exploratory surgery, was given five (5) units of blood in the operating room, and I felt like I had no support system. Depression hit, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I got so depressed I pretty much didn’t eat, and the pounds were dropping off. I thought I had finally figured out the weight thing. Of course, going to see someone for help gave rise to a prescription for antidepressants. Low and behold, the weight came back!
That marriage ended, and my weight fluctuated like it had over the years. I had tried every diet in the book—you name it—I probably tried it. Then I met husband #2. I was sad and lonely, and it this was not a good pairing. I wanted to lose weight. He never really complained about my looks, but he liked the idea of me dieting. So, I went on a diet, and he monitored it, and he suggested workouts and walking, which I did, while he sat on the front porch drinking. What was I thinking?
One of the things he would say to me when we went out and would see an obese woman was, “Don’t ever get like that, or I will be out of here.” When things got really bad in this marriage, I wasn’t very emotionally healthy. I didn’t know how to end this mess I was in. An easy solution came to mind—I would eat, and I would eat in front of him, so he would leave. You know what I found out? That was a lie. He was using me, and leaving meant he would have to grow up and support himself, so he stayed. Finally, as I was getting my life together, I sent him packing.
Now I had a weight problem, but at that point in time, I really didn’t care. I was me. No one told me I wasn’t good enough. No one compared me to anyone else. I felt free, but was unhappy with the weight, but not unhappy enough to do much about it.
That is not totally true. I was starting to think about healthy living which has to do with healthy eating and exercise. I was working at a large manufacturing company, and had been doing a lot of research on wellness programs. My research showed that companies that had a well-designed wellness program had more satisfied employees, less absenteeism, and the company over a five year period saved $5.00 for every $1.00 they spent on the wellness program. That was impressive enough for me to put together a proposal to my boss for establishing a wellness program at work. My boss liked the idea, and said if I could do it for $0.00, to go for it. I couldn’t believe it. That told me it was time to find a new position. I was already thinking of leaving, but his response to something that was good for employees, and would be an investment that paid off in time, was not what I expected. A few months later, I changed jobs, and on my first day, my new boss told me that he liked my idea of a wellness program, and he gave me a huge budget to put one together.
That was the beginning of my odyssey towards healthy living. I gave up soft drinks, except for rare occasions. I pretty much gave up prepared food, and I started walking. I didn’t drop tons of weight, but I dropped some, and I felt really good and fit.
I still struggle with weight. I sometimes in my head deal with those demons who say others are talking about how fat I am. I lost a fair amount of weight a couple years ago. I have gained some weight because I couldn’t get out and move before and after my hip replaced. That weight will come off, and I will be fit, and healthy now that I am out hiking again. One of the fortunate things for me, is that I have no health issues previously or currently. My lab numbers for everything are always within the normal range. I know as I get older, I may not be as lucky, so I do have to make sure I maintain a more healthy lifestyle if I want to truly enjoy my future years.
I look at photos of me over the years, and I am amazed someone thought I looked bad. Then I look at other photos, and I just kind of cringe because I let those negative feeling bring me down to a place I could have avoided. I am not that “fat girl” in my head, but looking in a mirror at those times really shocked me.
I do pretty good at silencing my gremlins that like to tell me how unworthy I may be. Who would think that those voices are still whispering at me. I am blessed to finally have a husband who loves me no matter what my size, what my hair looks like, or whatever outer appearance I have. Of course, because of his positive attitude and love to me, I want to look and be my best because he deserves that from me. I also know, though, if I struggle with these things, he still loves me just the way I am. And, even better, God loves me unconditionally. God sacrificing his son for me, his son Jesus, who willingly gave his life for me, because of his amazing and most undeserved love for me, gives me a reason to love his creation—including me!