My Body Image Issues

I’ve had body image issues my entire life.  I am 41 years old and for the first time in my life, I’m happy with my body.  It has taken a lot of work to deal with the root causes of hating my body but it has been worth every tear that has been shed to heal enough to love the skin I’m in.

Growing up I was the “big” sister.  My older sister, Jill, was about 2 inches taller than me.  She was always delicate and willowy.  She was thin and graceful. Her nails were always perfect, her hair and make-up were always done up just right.

My younger sister, Nancy, was about an inch shorter than me.  She was tiny and fragile looking.  She had a natural beauty and she shunned make-up for the most part.  My sisters were built very similarly even though they had a height difference.

I was the middle child and truly in the middle in every way, not just birth order.  My eye color was somewhere in between my sisters’.  My hair color was somewhere between my sisters’.  My skin color was somewhere in between my sisters’.  My height was in between my sisters’.  The only way I didn’t fall right in the middle was the way I was built.

Like I said before, I was considered the “big” sister.  I was told that I was big-boned.  I saw myself as stocky, short, and pudgy.  I look back now and I was as delicately built as my sisters.  For some reason, my entire family saw me as the odd man out.  And they were very vocal about pointing out the differences in my body.  I was convinced that I was fat.  I was so very wrong.

Then I got married and started having babies.  I was always about 20-30 pounds overweight.  I know it is taboo to talk about a woman’s weight but I want to be honest and go for full disclosure.  At my heaviest non-pregnant weight, I was 145 pounds.  I am only 5’2″ so I was carrying a lot of extra weight for my height.

Bubba spent a couple of years talking me into having another baby.  Once he wore me down and convinced me, I started Weight Watchers and within a few months I was looking pretty good.  My goal had been to lose 30 pounds.  I hit a few plateau’s during the months so by the time we had set to get pregnant, I was just shy of the 30 pound mark.  Looking back at pictures of myself at 117 pounds, I can see that I looked good.  But I didn’t feel good.  I’d bought new clothes but never felt comfortable in them.  I had lost weight but I didn’t realize the depth of body image issues I was dealing with.  You can’t work through something you don’t even  understand exists.

One year later Shane was born.  I was nursing and quite happy to enjoy nourishing my baby so the extra pregnancy weight didn’t bother me.  Even after Shane weaned, the extra weight didn’t come off and I could never seem to lose it.  Again, I had underlying issues that needed worked out and as long as I couldn’t even understand that there was a reason I was overweight, I didn’t have a chance to lose it.

Then Bubba got violent and I got out of the marriage.  When he left town that summer, the weight started melting off of me.  I was in counseling.  I was digging into all the issues that were presenting themselves and working through decades of abuses and how I lived through that.  I was also no longer comfort eating.  I had started eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full.  I never felt overly full like I’d felt almost every day of my life up until that point.  Without all the stress of living in abuse, I’d started developing a healthy relationship with food!

I had to buy new clothes.  I remember being so excited that I bought something that I considered “form fitting.”  I mentioned this to my friends and they had the difficult task of telling me that no, I wasn’t actually wearing anything form fitting.  It just wasn’t as baggy as the clothes I used to wear were.  I think that day was a real eye opener for me.  I started digging into the “why” of my need to hide my body behind baggy clothes.

During my marriage, Bubba would always tell me that I dressed like a 60 year old woman or that I wasn’t attractive in the clothes that I was wearing or that I didn’t know how to dress right.  Then he would chase me around the house, telling me how lucky I was that he still wanted me after all those years of marriage.  The message I internalized from him was, “You are so ugly and disgusting that you are lucky that I will deign to have sex with you.  No one else in the world could possibly want you so fall to your knees in gratitude that I want you.”  Never realizing the truth behind what I was doing, I was hiding in my clothes – just trying to get Bubba to not pay attention to me.  Now I understand that he started raping me shortly after Serenity was born and I would’ve done anything to just have him leave me alone.

He would comment about my hips wiggling when I walked so I started walking very stiffly so that my hips wouldn’t sway.  He would make comments when I was cooking and using my hand chopper.  I stopped using it around him.  He would oggle and grope me whenever I would bend over to pick something up off the floor, so I learned to pick everything up with my toes so that I didn’t have to bend over.  I tried so many ways to stop the attention, to try to get him to stop wanting me.  Had you asked me back then what I was doing, I wouldn’t have been able to say all this.  I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time.  I just knew that all of his attention felt bad and I wanted to avoid it.

Now I fully understand that I could never lose the weight because I was comfort eating.  I was trying to stuff all of my emotions because they weren’t safe to have and the easiest way to stuff them was with food.  Keeping myself at that weight was a protective measure for me.  Sadly it didn’t work.  He never left me alone, no matter what the scale said.  All my tactics to get him to stop paying attention to me didn’t work because it was never about me.  It was always about him.  It wasn’t about sex or us sharing something as a married couple.  It was always about power – his power.  Rape is never about sex.  It is just a means of exerting one’s power over another.

I went from my family making comments about my body to my husband making comments about my body – none of them in a positive light, even if it didn’t seem that way on the surface.  My body was nothing that was ever a positive thing in my life.  I hated the skin I was in.  I don’t think there was one part of my body that I was happy with.  I could stand in front of a mirror and tell you exactly what was wrong with every part of my body. Now I can see the beauty in my body.  It is mine!  It is no longer a weapon that can be used against me.

Next Saturday, I will go through each of my body parts and say how I felt about them then and how I feel about them now.

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