Friday, October 23, 2015

The Real "F" Word: My Battle with Self-Image

I never forget my reaction the first time one of my Kindergarten students claimed someone said the "S" word.  I was shocked until I later found out the child said "stupid".  See, at the age of five, the "B" word is brat, the "H" word is hate, the "S" word is stupid and the "F" word is FAT. This last one would bring kids to tears and parents into the Principal's office. Apparently, although no one wants to be a hated, stupid brat, being called fat was the be-all and end-all of insults! Unfortunately, this is a perception I am all too familiar with.

There's a saying that goes "I wish I was as fat as I was when I thought I was fat." In other words, back in my twenties I was obsessed with my weight (I still am, but we'll get back to that.)  I weighed 110 pounds and wore anywhere from a size 0 to a 4, depending on the manufacturer. I was fit, but not skinny, I had (and still have) a Mediterranean figure. Yet, I was in the best shape of my life. My point is, that despite all of that, I never stopped believing I was fat. When people would remind me that my measurements contradicted this, I would quickly come back with "but my skin is fat, look, can't you see it?"  I wasn't even referring to cellulite which I didn't have.  I was referring to the fat-person I saw when I looked in the mirror. Compliments or arguments to the contrary went unheard.

In my late twenties I started gaining weight due to decreased activity because of injuries sustained in a car accident and medication I was put on. So, needless to say, my self-image plummeted. Shortly after I had my second child, I skyrocketed to over 150 pounds and a size 14.  You can't imagine how much I then longed to be "as fat" as I was at size 2.  In my late thirties I went on one of those highly restrictive, medically supervised diet plans and dropped the weight. I was back in size 4 (I'll take it!) and looked and felt fantastic.

You'd think I'd be happy, right? Late 30s, mother of two, a person who struggled with her weight all her life - back to a size 4 and 117 pounds.

No, the good feelings were quickly replaced by dread and criticism - a lot of criticism - from yours truly. I still wasn't a size 2, I didn't make it back down to 110 pounds. Damn it, I am barely over five feet tall. I should be 95 pounds and wearing clothes from the girls' department. I'll never be "good enough." (Yep, see, this is how I think.)

The weight slowly crept back up despite conscious attempts at watching what I ate (Although, I was no longer on the restrictive diet plan - a plan that allowed me to lose over 50 pounds in 3 and a half months. It wasn't meant to be long term. It couldn't be; it had weird side effects.  For instance, I lost a ton of hair!)  On my own I, once again, lost some weight, never quite getting back down to 117 pounds. My goal of 110 is something I have given up on altogether.

Now as a menopausal woman, I am very conscious of weight gain. So much so that I have once again stepped back into the hating myself mode. I am down to a size 6 - again, give or take a size depending on manufacturer, and the last pair of jeans purchased at the Gap were a size 4! (HOWEVER, not to burst anyone's bubble, but a size 6 in 2015 isn't the same as a size 6 twenty years ago.  Clothes designers have altered their sizing to make woman feel better about themselves.)  I admit I have no idea how much I weigh because I literally had to stop knowing that number a few years ago just to maintain some form of sanity.

Yet, in my head, I am only imperfect, still overweight and now, in addition to having fat skin, my skin is showing its age. My skin is old and fat! Plus, now I actually do have a bit of cellulite. In other words, I am a hot mess.

There are times I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, in varying stages of dress, and I am disgusted - ashamed to go out in public. I am now considering some form of non-invasive cosmetic procedure because I can't live the rest of my life like this.

I recently heard the term "body dismorphic disorder" - it is the a psychological disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with imaginary defects in their appearance. I thought, well, maybe I have a touch of this. I quickly dismissed that theory because my defects are anything but imaginary. My eyes aren't lying to me. 

If you ask me when this obsession and, admittedly, sometimes irrational view of my body image started, I'd say about first or second grade. Think I'm joking?  Think again. I have always been, and will probably always be, extremely hard on myself. Back in July I went shopping with my friend's granddaughter. She is 9 years old. A very bright and mature girl, very athletic, not to mention absolutely beautiful. We were clothes shopping and I became very aware of her self-consciousness. When her grandmother told her something was too tight, that she needed the next size up, I could see the pain in the little girl's eyes. I brought her these cute sleeveless shirts to try on. "NO!" she protested, "I hate my arms." Oh, dear God, I wanted to cry. This is how it starts. I was looking at this little girl, this 9-year-old girl who already thinks she wears the wrong size and that her arms are too big, and, I swear, I wanted to scream.

Part of me thinks if I could only get back down to 110 pounds, I'll be happy with my appearance. Then I ask myself, why? Were you happy with yourself when you actually were 110 pounds? I do see patterns of sabotage in my past, periods when I've reached a point where I am comfortable with myself, feel decent about the way I look, and then I stop working on it. I stop exercising and stop watching what I eat, until my weight is back up and I have to start the entire process over again. I know there is something to this, but I'll leave that for the professionals to diagnose.