I’m not sure how old I was when I started putting my self-worth on outside influences.
As young as elementary school, there were definitely the “cool kids” and “not so cool kids”. “Cool kids” had nice clothes, had pretty and well-kept hair and were skinny. In high school, popularity status was on steroids. It was there that more was added on to that list above; if you had a boyfriend, if you were invited to the weekend parties, how big your boobs were and how perfect your body was.
As a young girl, I remember looking around me and saw no one that looked like me. I was chubby and I dressed like a woman in her mid-40’s. I didn’t have big boobs or tanned skin. I had underwhelming boobs, way too much body hair for a 16 year-old to manage and pasty white skin. There were no plus size stores back in the day so, I was stuck dressing in hand-me-downs from my aunt or my older cousins or clothes from Cotton Ginny or BiWay. If you are not familiar with these stores, I’ll paint you a picture. Shoulder pads. Loud designs. Oversized in every way. Zero shape. Not trendy in ANY capacity. I was 16 showing up to school like a crazy-cat-loving, 43-year-old librarian, expecting to make friends. Luckily, I was a nice kid and people were kind enough to me that I wasn’t a total outcast, but I felt it. I used my charm and sense of humour to get through the moments where I felt like I didn’t fit the beauty standards and I would even talk about being fat, or poke fun at the fact that I was overweight, before anyone had a chance to bring it up themselves. All strategies to protect myself. This is where I put all my value into my appearance. Every ounce of my self-worth was placed into my outward appearance and my weight. And so, the downward spiral of associating my worth to the smallest number I could get on the scale.
I have been known as the chubby girl with “such a pretty face”. The worst 6 words you can hear; “you have such a pretty face”. It’s like a back-handed compliment that just reminds you that you’re not actually pretty. More that you’ve got a decent face with a mangled body. If my face was the only thing I had going for me, well I was going to decorate that face like a MAC make-up model, every day of my life. I would do a full face of make-up to go to the local corner store or gas station. I’ve been known to do my hair and make-up before going swimming for goodness sake. I would do my hair and make-up in the visor mirror of my car while I was camping in the woods, in the middle of nowhere. I would do all these things to at least give myself the opportunity to be beautiful in some capacity. Because let’s face it, without the hair and make-up, I wasn’t even the girl with “such a pretty face”. I was nothing.
As a teenager, I was told by my grandfather (whom I loved dearly, I swear) that I was never going to get a guy because I had “bigger boobs in my back than my front” and that “if I didn’t lose weight I wasn’t going to get anyone”. This led me to meeting the first guy in high school who showed me the slightest bit of attention and I hung onto him until everything fell apart 13 years later. I figured that because he gave me a little bit of love, I should probably hang onto that since I wasn’t deserving of anyone due to my weight. I allowed him to comment on my weight and put me down because I felt that it came with the territory of being fat. I made excuses for the choice words he said because it was my fault that he felt that way. It was my fault that I was fat and ugly, not my ex’s. I genuinely believed that I was unlovable and unworthy of love due to being overweight. I convinced myself and was coerced to think that no one could ever love me and all my stretch marks simultaneously. I didn’t think that it was possible for a man to find me beautiful without conditions. I didn’t think that was possible because I had a long ass list of reasons why I was not pretty or beautiful. I felt this way because, well, when your loved ones or spouse are reminding you why you are unlovable because of your appearance, you just start to believe it to be true. I believed that my worth to others was zilch because of how I looked.
Going into a social situation as a fat person is so challenging (even for the most extroverted). I made so many adjustments to help deal with some of the insecurities that I had. Everything needed to be planned in advance to avoid any feeling of judgements from others. I would over think every single situation and plan for it accordingly so that I wouldn’t feel like an outcast.
Here are just a couple guidelines for being out in public that I made for myself on a super subconscious level:
- Find a pillow/blanket to hide my stomach while sitting on a couch. If you cannot find one, use your coat.
- Sit/stand up against the wall so that you cannot been seen from all angles.
- If there is a picture being taken, ensure that you are at the back with many people in front of you to hide your body
- If there is a selfie being taken, ensure you’re the one taking the picture to get the right angle (no double-chins allowed)
- If there is going to be food served, make sure you eat beforehand so that no one can see you eat and judge.
- Get to the function early so you have first dibs on chairs (no way I’m sitting on a rickety chair or a pub style chair-hoisted way up in the air for everyone to see my lumps and bumps).
- Wear black, always!
- Wear Spanx every single day, even in 40 degree weather
- Wear a tank top under all shirts to help smooth out rolls
…….to name a few.
I would do all of these things in an attempt to appear less fat. I would do all these things to regain some control over the things I didn’t think I had control over at all. All of the above mentioned things were super subconscious and extremely unhealthy. I would think about what other people thought of me and I made all decisions around the comfort level of others; MEANWHILE I was suffocating from the Spanx and missing out on conversations as I sat up against walls and out of the way. I didn’t know on a conscious level that I was punishing myself from having fun and feeling comfortable because I didn’t think I was worth the luxury of comfort.
After the separation from my ex-husband, I lost about 250lbs. 80lbs from my own body and 170lbs of the dead-weight I carried around from him. It was as if the world opened up and I saw things in technicolour. I wasn’t really looking for a new relationship, but with the 80lbs weight loss, men started “seeing” me. I would go out and men would buy me drinks. I would smile at someone from across the room and next thing I knew, they would be sitting with me at my table. I was asked out on dates. Men AND WOMEN would open doors for me. Men AND WOMEN would spend more time talking to me. I was seen by everyone. This was the first time in my life where I got to experience skinny-privilege. It was the first time in my life where my thoughts about my worth being hinged on my weight were actually reinforced. I was right! People do like skinnier people more than fat people. And if that is not factual, in my experience, I was a walking case study!
Since meeting my husband, I have started to see things differently. He met me after my 80lbs weight-loss and has been with me through my biggest weight gain yet. He has never commented on my weight. He has never asked me if I “need that piece of cake”. He has never made a face at my lumps, bumps, marks or rolls. He has encouraged me to leave my make-up behind when we go camping. He has said I look the same with and without make-up and he is the first person that has made me feel as though my beauty isn’t dependent on how much I weigh, or how perfect I look. He loved me this way long enough for me to start seeing it for myself. I’m happy to report that I don’t wear Spanx anymore. I don’t go swimming with make-up on. I don’t do my hair every morning (in fact dry-shampoo is my new best friend). I do not worry about what I’m going to wear to the gas station. I have embraced me, for me. I swear the minute that I did that; was the minute that I started to lose weight. This time the weight loss isn’t about gaining beauty. This weight loss is about shedding the pain. It’s about removing the unwanted trauma. It’s eliminating the mean self-talk. I’m never going to be perfect. I’m still going to be chubby with small boobs and stretch marks, but that doesn’t define my worth anymore.
I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). Transplanted from Pickering, Ontario and currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet.
You can hear more about Michelle’s story when she appeared as a guest on Willowjak’s ‘Choose Your Own After’, by listening HERE.