There is a strong chance that I would rarely use the word “confident” to describe myself. I’m sure that in the social world, I appear to carry myself with self-awareness and assertiveness, but the truth is: I’m a fraud. Every single thing I do that even appears to have a sheen of savvy, or ability is veiled behind a very calculated attempt to fit in.
Fitting in doesn’t equate popularity, or being right. Fitting in is based on not being invisible, awkward, or alone. No, I don’t want to be the light, or sound in the room; I simply feel safer when I know the people I am with.
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve lived my life in a constant state of social awkwardness. I’ve never truly invested the time to prioritise ME to Myself.
I think it’s even more fair to say that I have lived my life based on the myriad fears that fill the suitcases of my emotional baggage. Fears that take root in soil, and rocks, yet manage to bloom as weeds, trees, and ultimately, the nourishment of my thoughts and actions.
I think I was born afraid. Afraid of the “Boogie Man” that lived in the closet, afraid of the spider that lurked in the corner, afraid of the stranger that was surely going to ruin my life in some horrible, evil, awful fashion. Most of all, I was afraid of myself. My own feelings, my own body, my own thoughts.
Whatever was I so afraid of? If I want to be completely honest, I think my most intimidating demon was my very own body. I don’t think it ever belonged to me in the first place. As far back as I can remember, my body belonged to other people. People that took care of me and thus controlled what I ate, when I slept, and even to some extent when I went to the washroom. Trust me, I remember my potty training days being in a bathroom full of diaperless toddlers sitting on a rainbow of plastic potties, our freedom only being granted once we produced what our daycare teachers wanted most: our waste!
I tried controlling what I ate, often refusing the foods that revolted me, demanding my guilty pleasures. My parents were far from the picture of health. They indulged me while trying their best to tempt me into omnivorous eating. My stubbornness prevailed, often meeting their attempts with tighter restrictions and further limits. I was always, and continue to be now, the master of deciding that something is no longer edible, and never touching it again.
What led me to this roller coaster of eat and dismiss? What drew me to restrictions and repulsions? There is a simple answer for that: fear. Fear of becoming like my mother. Awful isn’t it? Blaming my dead mother for my food issues when really, I was the one that sought control, not her? Fair enough, but watching my mother battle the every foreboding demon of obesity truly skewed my view on body image. The fact is, my mother had none. Whatever she lacked in body image though, she made up for in reams of confidence. She was always the light and sound in a room. Maybe that was her goal: to be noticed and seen meant that she wasn’t nearly as repulsive as she felt about herself. Or maybe, to be seen cured her insecurity by making her see, and hear herself in a room full of people. Maybe making other people notice her as a whole, qualities and flaws entwined made her feel complete.
What I do know is that for her entire life, and thus by default, the entire 43 years that I shared with her, my mother fought to always be smaller than she was. Not metaphorically smaller; she never tried to tame her personality into a corset, or spit it into a string bikini. No, my mother for some reason was always trying to make her physical self disappear. She was never small enough, so she made up for it by being bright, loud, and dominant. My mother was a force that didn’t move mountains, but convinced other people that the mountains needed to be moved for her.
Watching her weigh food, count calories, and binge at the local ice-cream shop after her Weight Watchers weigh-ins were my soap operas. As her only daughter, my role was to support her schemes. I was her default cheerleader. Her ally. Her scapegoat. As I watched my mother shrink and grow within the boundaries of a new diet, or 4am workout video, I learned that no matter what I do, I will never be beautiful enough. I learned that I always needed to be critical of myself and never get comfortable with what the mirror said.
For most of my life, there have been huge discrepancies between what the mirror shows, how I perceive it, and what the rest of the world sees. Little six-year-old me standing at the edge of the Motor Lodge pool in Vermont was very aware of my round belly protruding from my bikini while all of my friends were lithe and beautiful. Did they notice the difference between themselves and I? They with their long thin legs and flat tummies that come naturally to six year olds who run and play rather than sit and watch tv while eating a constant stream of sweet and salty snacks? I have no idea, but I do know that it was the exact moment that I saw my shadow roasting on the hot cement, that I knew I was “fat:” the most feared word in my house.
My father was always the opposite of my mother in that sense. He lived to eat, rather than eating to live. He took the greatest pride in his enormous shape, often joking that he was pregnant, or that he had so much invested in his belly that it would be a shame to lose weight and waste it all. He credited my mother’s good cooking and said that his growth was a compliment to how well she cared for him. He was never ashamed of himself. He never tried to change. He was truly content. Or maybe, in his shy introverted way, he was the confident one. Maybe while my mother was the sound and light in every room, he was the walls, the carpet, the comfy sofa. Maybe she was the air, but he was the room. Maybe…
So, growing up, I too battled. Without any knowledge of nutrition, or fact, I picked and chose what I ate based only on what made me happy. I knew certain foods made me feel ill, but I didn’t know if that was the truth, or the fiction that I created in order to set boundaries. As I continue to explore my issues with food, I am still unsure of where reality, and fear mesh.
I hated mirrors. They, as well as my mother and maternal grandmother always told the ugliest of truths. The “most have” hot pink pencil skirt in K-Mart was not mine to have because my hips and stomach took up too much real estate. The faux-fur winter coat that looked like it was made of a million forest green teddy bears actually turned me into a mountain. I guess I either had a terrible fashion sense, or I truly was what the mirror said: huge.
But how can I blame my mother? I mean, she wanted me to never fight the same battles that she faced daily. Sure she told me that I was a “fat cow who needed to get her ass to Weight Watchers,” but she also told me that I was “an anorexic piece of shit who needed to eat something.” There wasn’t any middle ground, and maybe I was never any of those things, but that’s a deeper level of exploring that will probably ramble out as I think.
If I’m being honest, which is truly my goal, I’d have to say that my mother handed me her battles on a shiny platter, and fed them to me with a silver spoon. I don’t honestly think that I was ever too large, or too small, definitely never too small, but I do believe that my mother felt threatened by me. Her logic, and reasons will always be a mystery, but I know there is truth in that thought. For her, a daughter meant that she had another chance at life. An opportunity to explore options and ultimately have different outcomes.
Home was basically a safe place, as far as I can remember. Our family had a hierarchy that placed my mother at the top, my brother below her, and my father and I somewhere down the proverbial food chain.
My mother was the powerhouse of our family. She made the rules. She made the decisions. She got what she wanted. My brother, no matter what he did, or didn’t do in life was always my parents’ golden child. They literally went so far as to tell me while holding my newborn oldest child, that no matter what my brother did in life, he’d always be their favourite because he was their first born, and he’s male. Believe it or not, that had very little bearing on my life. I grew up knowing the double standards and easily found outlets for my own rebellion and growth.
I always found it humorous that my brother believed himself to be the “King of the Castle” in our home. It was probably related to the fact that he received whatever he wanted in terms of material, or freedom, and was rarely required to submit the responsibility, and gratitude that came with those treasures.
I can’t really remember a time when my brother heard the word “no.” When he was thirteen and got kicked out of the local convenience shop for procuring adult magazines, my mother started buying him his monthly favourites to keep him happy. For several years, his walls were papered with centrefolds and cutouts: a dateless calendar that made my grandmothers cringe, and the occasional housekeeper refusing to enter his room. Funny, I wasn’t allowed to have a “Boy George” poster because my mother and grandmother thought it was ugly…
What I learned from my brother’s magazines is that I wanted to be BEAUTIFUL. I wanted to be slim, with large breasts, and a puff of curly hair between my toned thighs. I dreamed of becoming a centrefold. I dreamed of being desired by men who wanted to look at me for their own pleasure. I never dreamed of what any of that would actually mean.
That’s all irrelevant anyway. I never grew up to be a beautiful model. In fact, some would say I never really “grew” much at all! I’m short. My apple-sized breasts barely fill my bra cups while my thighs provide more thunder than a tropical storm. The only “goal” that I actually achieved is the curly red forest that bridges my mountainous thighs. If only Brazilian waxing wasn’t fashionable and expected these days.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then I must be blind. My brain says that being fat is worse than being ugly, but in my own eyes, I’ve lived with some form of both struggles for my entire life.
This obviously sounds self-deprecating and as though I’m searching for compliments. Trust me, I’m not. The truth is, I’m not even sure I’d be able to believe them. I’m broken. I’m blind.
At some point in my life, I’d love to be able to look in the mirror and actually SEE myself. I’d love to hear that someone truly finds me beautiful. I’d love to believe it. I’d love to actually know what beauty is. I long to believe in myself. I yearn for the day when I don’t quake in the fear of my own insecurities.