Growing up fat traumatized me, but not for the reason you think. It wasn’t being fat that haunted me; it was how the world treated me that left an imprint. Imagine you’re a young, impressionable girl who already feels disadvantaged due to your race, and then you realize your body isn’t good enough either. This really takes a hit at your self-esteem. It wasn’t until recently that I took a long, hard look at the effects of experiencing a fat childhood. I’m getting personal today, and as I type these words with hesitation, this vulnerability scares me. But I know I’m not alone. I know there are many women and men who can relate and need to understand that they are not alone as well. So today I share my story.
From as early as I can remember, I was told to suck my stomach in. I was made to feel that my stomach was a tumor that needed to be eliminated or hidden. This was especially true in ballet class where my differences were highlighted in leotard and tights amongst a sea of white faces. I guess that always bothered me. Not only was I black, but also I was big and stuck out like a sore. At the time, I wanted so desperately to suck into whatever magical hole my stomach did. By the age of 8, I was doing Tae-bo every morning before school or running while it was still dark outside. It was clear that one of my main missions in life was to restrict my eating and sacrifice sleep to exercise. I didn’t want to be fat. I didn’t want to be me.
To this day, I still dislike exercising even though I’ve been doing it practically my whole life. A few months ago, I broke down and cried to my husband that I was tired of working out. I had been working out my whole life, even as a child when other kids simply played, and I was sick of it. Ironically, I have probably worked out more over my lifespan than a non-fat person. It finally hit me that maybe it wasn’t exercise itself that I hated, but what it represented in my life. Up until this point, I didn’t truly realize that exercise was vital for health and not just to fit society’s standards of beauty. As a child, working out was pushed on me to prevent me from being fat. However, I quickly developed a horrible relationship with exercise that led to a more sedentary lifestyle as an adult.
Not only was my relationship with exercise destroyed, but also so was my relationship with food. I was always told to eat less, and I took it to the extreme. Many days I would limit myself to 500 calories a day. I would eat an apple for breakfast, carrots or celery for lunch, and then whatever dinner my mom made, making sure to limit my portions. Everyone said I looked great! It was such a confidence boost being complimented all the time, but I always felt weak. This was the smallest I’ve ever been as an adult at 130 lbs., and I still thought I was overweight. I was unhappy because my stubborn stomach still wouldn’t disappear. There was nothing I wanted more than for it to be flat, because that was all the media showed me. If I didn’t look like the women that were glorified in mainstream culture, then my mission to lose weight was not done.
Since I always felt that I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t think I deserved the best in life. Sure, I was smart, but that was it. I wasn’t the beautiful one. These early thoughts placed in my head transitioned into the decisions I made as an adult. I entered into situationships that were not right for me. This included intimate relationships, friendships, and jobs. There was a time when I didn’t even want to get married, but really I feared that I never would. How could anyone choose to love me when I still haven’t reached my goal weight? I convinced myself I was unworthy of love because I wasn’t disciplined enough. This is a lie. The right person will love you for who you are. Period.
So what good does it do me looking at how a fat childhood affected me? I think its important to know one’s self, in order to constantly improve and evolve. Just because I had a horrible relationship with food and exercise before doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. I can see food as medicine instead of something that contributes to gaining weight and needs to be restricted. I can see exercise as maintenance for my organs as opposed to an act of hating my body. I now only entertain relationships that serve the best me, not the me who I thought was undeserving. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to examine the thoughts that were pushed onto you as a child and how they have/are affecting your adulthood. We have to first acknowledge before we can move past whatever is haunting us. Only then can we be strong.
xoxo, Global Midwife