(Content Warning: Childhood Abuse)
My journey with body positivity does not start as most stories do and I am not ignorant to the fact that I was privileged in that aspect. In a Latin-American household it is not uncommon to hear words like “skinny” and “fatty” being thrown around as pet names. In Spanish these names are merely terms of endearment and yet they hold such a sinister influence on the evolution of my struggle with accepting my own body. Growing up, instead of having parents and family members offering their “tried and true” diet tips while pinching my baby fat I was praised for always keeping a slim frame. I saw the way my sister suffered through the constant nitpicking at her weight and the things she ate while I was never in fear of having a bag of chips or a cupcake snatched from my fingers. I didn’t need to hide my food like she did. I was conditioned to believe I was doing something right and she was doing something wrong.
I vividly remember hearing a group of middle school classmates at lunch time whispering about how unfair it was that I was so skinny and my impulsive response to justify that I had tried to gain weight but no matter how much or what I ate I just always “looked like a skeleton.” I pretended to feel embarassed about my abnormally low weight, but in retrospect I admittedly revelled in the attention my jutting collarbones and visible ribcage brought. My heart skipped a beat whenever another girl wished her arms and stomach were as thin as mine and I would tell her that she wasn’t fat and that she was beautiful. Even now I look back at my supposed good intentions in these interactions only to realize how I never equated being larger as beautiful. “You aren’t fat! You are beautiful!” is a phrase at which I now find myself rolling my eyes.
Despite all the positive attention I received for my figure, I was not spared from the typical bullying past most bo-po stories hold in common. I was constantly teased at school for my curly hair, thick glasses, large forehead, and big ears. I spent hours crying in front of the mirror hating all the things that made me me, but one thing those bullies couldn’t touch was my weight and I held onto that like precious gold. My relationship with food was a strange one as I never feared food as a child because of the possibility of getting fat. My metabolism was so fast I could have eaten anything I liked, however I was absolutely disgusted by food. Just the thought of having food in my mouth churned my stomach and I pushed away every plate of food placed in front of me. I believe this might have stemmed from an adverse experience regarding food that I generalized and simultaneously repressed so I don’t consider this as a relevent factor in my body acceptance story.
My journey takes a dark turn the moment my mother met a man on an online chat group and he came to live with us. My reluctance to go into the details of this story still remains a struggle for me that I one day hope to address, but this post is not one of them. Nevertheless, I am fully aware of the impact this ten year long abuse had on my self-worth and awareness of my own body. This is where society’s constant message of thin equals beautiful and sexually attractive aimed at even children like myself came into play. Simply put, I convinced myself I was chosen to live a life of misery because of my weight. I was at fault for everything that was happening to me because my figure had enticed my abuser. Instead of intentionally trying to tarnish my figure by eating as much as I could to make him find me repulsive I chose to make sure that I kept his attention on me in fear that if he moved on from me he would target my younger sister. It wouldn’t be until years after the abuse that the cloud of self-blaming thought processes would disperse and I accepted the fact that none of it was my fault. That I was only eight years old when it all started and there was nothing I did to “entice” this evil person. He was just that: an evil evil monster.
After escaping that toxic household, I found myself sharing an apartment with five other girls for my third year of college and my weight related obsession heightened to a new level. There I was, finally the sole master of my own body for the first time in what felt like forever and this new and strange feeling threw me in for a loop. During the abuse, I manipulated people and my surroundings to protect myself as best as I could. I felt like I had to control everything in order to keep myself from falling apart and losing my sense of self. After the abuse, that sense of control was gone and in it’s place a void was filled by obsessive thoughts about my weight. My body started to fill out into a “normal” (what even is normal, really?) size for a woman my age not experiencing extreme levels of anxiety as I had been, but my brain took that as me losing control of myself. I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror I shared with a roommate and pinch every inch of my body in digust while she assured me I was not fat. I hated myself every time I ate anything “unhealthy” and found myself logging into pro-eating disorder webpages only to in turn feel guilty about that and be left in a crying mess. My ideas about what a sexual relationship with a person should be was distorted and I found myself involved with a person who decided his attention toward me was only warranted whenever he needed entertainment. I was perfectly fine with that because any positive attention was good attention and this was one I had chosen this time.
To this day, I still struggle just as much as I did back in college. It’s been four years since I moved out from that apartment and ended whatever relationship I had with that person. I would love to say that things got better, but I would be lying if I said that I now accept my body just the way it is every single day. I would give anything to say that I don’t constantly have intrusive, guilt-ridden thoughts about what I have eaten or how much I haven’t worked out. That I love the size of my thighs and the thickness of my arms. Scrolling through body positivity hashtags on Instagram and reading all the stories of overcoming self-hating thoughts leave me feeling guilty for not being anywhere near that point even when I know these people on the internet don’t always feel so comfortable in their own skin.
I have put off talking about my weight issues for a long time. Every time I get close to sharing my experiences I revert back to the mislead idea that I don’t have it as bad as other people and that people will think I am just writing about this to make others feel sorry for me. I read somewhere this is a common trait in individuals who have experienced abuse but I cannot help but think that way. Still, I force myself to talk about this because if there is at least one person that can relate to my story and know they are not alone I feel like it is worth any backlash I fear might come about posting this blog.
I know my journey is not finished. I have a long ways to go and I am working on getting there. Every day is a struggle and I am so grateful to have a husband that allows me to share my intrusive thoughts with him and works to discredit them with me. This is only the first part of my posts regarding body acceptance. I look forward to diving into my own experience with body positivity in lolita and my thoughts on the “bo-po” movement on social media.
Thanks for reading!