Day 4’s Question: In your “Beautiful You” journal, answer these questions completely. How has body image impacted your daily life and outlook? What have been your challenges and triumphs with body image over time? What have you denied and allowed yourself because of your perception of your appearance? How has your personality changed because of your sense of your appearance? What have you gained or lost because of your body image?
Over the summer, my mom and brother Caleb came to visit John and me on their way to and from DC to visit my brother Adam. After they left, John and I were talking about my mom and he said, “You are your mom’s twin…in the face. You just happen to have your dad’s build.”
Story of my life.
My mom is petite. About 5’5″ with a body I am afraid to squeeze when I hug her because she feels so bony and fragile. No matter what she weighs, she always has such sharply jutting collarbones, something I equated with femininity sometime in my youth but I’m not sure where or why. I have her blue eyes, chubby cheeks, thin lips, and tiny nose. We sound alike on the phone. I even catch myself laughing like her. I have bony fingers, thin wrists, thin ankles, small breasts, a flat butt, thick calves (she is where I got my awesome softball skills from), and bony feet just like her as well.
My dad is broad. Tall though shorter than his oldest and youngest brothers. I think I have his smile. Definitely have his giant forehead, broad shoulders, big feet, and big belly. My dad says I remind him so much of my Cherokee great-grandmother who was nearly six feet tall like me, about the same weight, had broad shoulders like me, and who took no crap from anyone. He says I walk and carry myself just like her and I am tough like her.
My size was always up for jokes growing up. It was always about how I should be auditioning to play college football in the summer instead of swimming at my uncle’s house, how my feet were so big they needed license plates, how no man would want a big woman like me (though another uncle always quipped, “Big girls need love too”).
I was a late bloomer. I started growing in eight grade and topped out at 5’10” in tenth grade. While I inherited my dad’s frame, I did not inherit his mother or sister’s large breasts or curves. I got the small set from my mom. Both of my parents are proportionate in shape and so am I. All of my female friends started their periods around age 11 or 12. I read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret over and over again and chanted, “I must increase my bust” while also praying for my period to start so I could stop feeling so left behind.
I started a month before my 14th birthday and then about soon as it started, it disappeared as my thyroid went haywire and my hormones followed suit.
I needed something to make me feel feminine. My brother Adam and I are 22 months apart in age (I’m the oldest) so we were both raised pretty much as boys. I had my Barbies and loved Rainbow Brite and such, but our parents dressed us in similar t-shirts and jeans and I learned and played sports right alongside Adam.
I hoped puberty would give me something. I watched other girls become curvy in their hips, thighs, and breasts and little in their waists and envied all of the attention from boys this got them. Meanwhile, I grew taller, gained all of my weight in my belly, and my shoulders grew broader.
The jokes from my parents basically calling me a man didn’t help. I felt self-conscious about everything and completely disassociated from body, especially in high school when I actually became fat instead of being told I was and thinking I was up until then.
When hypothyroidism and PCOS took my period from me and I was told PCOS caused my testosterone levels to be higher, I sunk even lower.
I know now that femininity is subjective, but back then, I felt like I had somehow failed as a woman. Even now, the only acceptable size in plus size fashion is the same in “normal” size fashion: large breasts, slim waist, round hips, big ass, thick thighs. Curvy. Hourglass-shaped. Plus size fashion has gotten better, but I still wind up with shirts that dip too low and pants that are too tight in the waist and baggy in the butt, hips, and thighs.
I often thought maybe if I just lost weight and got really “in shape,” I would finally “look like a woman.” I could finally have a “nice figure.” Sometimes, I still think that even though I know better.
I don’t see myself as sexy. I am still amazed when John wants to have sex with the lights on so he can look at me. I still make jokes about how I’m the Hulk and have “Hulk hands” (because my hands are strong and I sometimes break things). I am forever lamenting about how I have “the gut of a middle aged man.”
I do have things about my body that I love now that used to make me feel so uncomfortable. I love being tall and naturally strong and I think my broad shoulders are my best physical feature.
I love to wear dresses and love my long hair (still not mermaid length yet but it’s getting there, haha) and when a dress fits me well (aka doesn’t make me look super pregnant), I consider myself pretty.
Because I didn’t feel attractive and feminine growing up, I worked on my personality instead to be liked. I developed a sense of humor that is still pretty much on par with a 15-year-old boy’s and talked sports (something I always loved to watch and play), and became one of the boys. I was always “like a sister” or “one of the boys” or “the only girl friend I’ve had who isn’t my girlfriend” to the guys I liked. I think this made me much more approachable, friendlier, and down-to-earth as an adult, but I think it can also keep people from taking me, my feelings, and my friendship seriously at times. This also got me trapped in pseudo relationships with boys I liked in high school and college which devastated me when I realized I would be nothing more than a consolation prize to them.
I’ve held back from wearing certain outfits (cute lingerie is definitely harder to find for a big belly and small boobs) or being sexual and flirtatious (even though I am a high libido, very sexual person) or taking dance classes (like pole dancing) because of how my body looks. I’ve thought about doing boudoir pics for myself and as a present to John, but I keep thinking I need to lose weight first, at least enough that my belly doesn’t stick out so far past my boobs.
But overall, I just kind of exist in this body. It is what it is.
I just check out at this point.
Checking out isn’t the answer either, but being in my body and feeling the disappointment it doesn’t look like it’s “supposed to” is hard. I know those expectations aren’t real or healthy or concrete, but it is hard to look at those expectations and not feel let down. And not just the anorexic look, but the curvy in all the right places look that is the only “acceptable” shape in women over a size 12.
I feel pretty overall confident in myself as a person. I like my personality a lot. My body image though? I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because it is hard for me to take care of my body without weight loss in mind because it is still so ingrained in me that a thinner body is a more feminine body even though I see amazingly gorgeous women and femmes in all shapes and sizes all the time. This seeps into my marriage, how I dress, and how I carry and talk to and about myself.
I can’t keep checking out but checking in still brings me a lot of pain, resentment, shame, and heartache. I only really notice my body when I want to begin another desperate attempt to make it smaller and then when I fail to do that, I go back to ignoring it which also means ignoring hunger, satisfaction, and fullness sensations as well as ignoring my feelings by eating over them.
And that is where I am today.