I’m a big girl.
And by big girl I mean that society would view me as a fat person.
I know that 98% of my readers don’t know me “in real life”. They don’t see me in person, flesh and bone. So for those of you who don’t “know me”, I can just go ahead and say that for the majority of my life (all 28 years of it) I have had major struggles with body issues. I was always taller than my friends, bigger than my friends, I have this crazy naturally curly hair, I have dark eyes and I’m covered in freckles – I have never felt like I was ‘a pretty girl’. I have never felt special. I would look at myself in the mirror in the morning- or throughout the day- and it would just make me grumbly. I didn’t like anything that I saw.
I can shamefully admit that a large part of my body/self issues came from the lack of attention from boys (what girl isn’t affected by that, right?) and I’ll get to that, but it wasn’t just the lack of attention that affected me. I can vividly remember standing in my room in front of my full length mirror in my prom dress when I was a senior in high school. I had gotten my hair, nails and makeup done and I was in my dress and surveying the final product…..I hated it. Here I was on my prom night and I didn’t feel like a princess, or even pretty. At that moment in time I wanted anything but to actually go.
As a child I don’t remember any kind of feelings about my looks/body affecting me. I played sports, I did dance, I was in clubs and girl scouts, I ran around in the back yard and woods playing make-believe and making up songs- I was an active and fun-loving child. My first memory of feeling out-of-place was in elementary school. I went to a “rich school”- I don’t know any other way to explain that. The kids at my school were the children of doctors/surgeons/rocket scientists (really, they worked for NASA)/lawyers. They lived in big houses and came from money. My family did not. I’m not saying that I didn’t have things- my parents always provided for my brother and me, and I don’t remember ever wanting for anything other than the typical “mom! Why can’t I have the new barbie?!” hissy fit- but we weren’t on the same playing field as most of the people I was surrounded by from day-to-day. When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I remember calling a girl who had been in my class for as long as I could remember, to see if she wanted to come over that weekend, go skating and spend the night. When she went to ask her mom permission she did a very poor job of covering the phone and I heard her say- “Please say no!”. At that point I started to realize that I didn’t fit in. For a long time looking back on photos from my younger year in elementary and middle school, I was embarrassed. I wasn’t proud of the person I had been. Crazy right? Adult me was embarrassed by kid me because of my looks…
I moved the summer before I started 8th grade and things were better but also not better. I did find people who I ‘fit in’ with better. I found a group of friends both from my neighborhood and my school that understood me. We thought the same way, felt the same way, liked the same things…I had a group- a safety net- and that felt good. Knowing that I had people there for me felt good. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. High school was very hard for me. My family went through a lot of changes from the move, to my brother spiraling in to alcoholism, to my parents divorcing. It was tumultuous for a teenager and on top of that I was navigating my change from a kid to a young adult to an adult. Hormones were raging, things were changing- life, overall, was changing. To this day my mom will tell me- “Everyone has a rough time as a teenager.” Yes, valid point, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t affect me just like it affects other people, am I correct?
I was not popular with the boys as a teenager and this affected me very very much. Should it have affected me? Looking back on it now, no. But then it did. I was very much a ‘tomboy’. I liked (and I still do) sports and action movies, playing backyard football…”guy things”. My mom would tell me that I should ‘dress better’ and ‘wear makeup’ and ‘do something better with your hair’ and maybe I would get a guy’s attention. Maybe. (I liked to wear my hair in a french braid because my hair was long and curly and hot and heavy. I liked to wear a Beatles tshirt with camo flare jeans because I thought it was cool. Makeup made me feel like I had a mask on my face.) But that wasn’t my thing….and maybe part it was my fault, maybe I could have made an effort to do things differently, but I’m really not putting blame on anything or anyone in this post- I’m just telling my story. I feel now, looking back, that I still would have done the same things because that was “me”. But knowing that my mom didn’t approve and thought my looks/personality had an affect on the attention I wasn’t getting started the “i’m not good enough” feelings and thoughts in my head. I had a lot of guy friends- I was in the drum line in the marching band and my best friend was a football player- I was surrounded by guys. It seemed though that every guy I crushed on had a crush on one of my friends. They would talk to me to get info on them, or pass them a note, or find out if they wanted to go to the movies or a dance. I started to fall in to the “I’m just that girl who’s one of the guys. I’m just that girl who isn’t as pretty as her friends” state of mind. I never went on a date in high school. I was never asked to a dance. I went to my prom with my best friend’s older brother just so I didn’t have to go alone. I never had a boy friend in high school.
Flash forward to my first year in college and the guy that I start dating- we were introduced by a mutual friend, a girl I considered a very close friend- ends up cheating on me with her and leaving me for her. The next guy I dated I introduced to a friend of mine and they ended up sneaking around behind my back. I worked in a sports related field and I was surrounded by guys and hearing them talk about “this girl is so hot”, “I would tap that chick”, “is your friend single, she was hot?”, etc on a daily basis. I had a married man interested in me but as a fling only seeing as how he was married. My boss was interest in me but only to sleep with. The next couple of guys liked flirting with me and wanted to sleep with me, but they didn’t want to date me. And it is entirely my own doing that put myself in the position of being a “hook up” girl as time moved on- I made the choice to let myself be in that position. Yes, I was led on by some- but ultimately it was me. I didn’t think that I was good enough to be anything to anybody except “that girl to sleep with occasionally”. I wasn’t pretty, I didn’t have a nice body, I didn’t have big boobs…I wasn’t worthy of love. Hell, I wasn’t even worthy of like. Even if I was in a relationship, I was going to be “the girl who gets cheated on” because I wasn’t good enough to keep their attention. I didn’t know how to take and believe compliments because I was a at a point where a compliment from a guy was just a line to get in to my bed. At least that’s what my brain thought.
At the same time people in my life whole mean a lot to me- like my parents- are telling me I need to do better things with my life. You picked a major that’s pointless, you don’t make enough money at your job, you took too long to get done with college, etc. Everything in my life wasn’t good enough. I was depressed. Deeply. I felt ugly. I felt worthless. I felt very alone. Cue: hundreds of dollars spent on therapy. (It actually helped a lot.)
At this point are you asking yourself “if she was so unhappy with herself/her body, why didn’t she do something to change it?” – to answer you question: I did, I have, and I still am. I’ve dieted. I exercise. I eat as healthy as I can (although I do love pizza…). I’ve taken the time and effort to learn how to manage my curly hair. I feel like I dress snazzy. I wear makeup- mostly just eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss or lipstick. I have changed myself.
Just because you change something doesn’t mean it fixes the problem, though. If you change for the wrong reasons, it really doesn’t do any good. You’re still unhappy.
I’ve been a relationship for a little over a year and though I can’t completely credit it for my change in views on my self-worth- because my boyfriend will be the first person to tell you that my insecurities have reared their ugly head and scratched and clawed at us- but he has definitely been a factor. He is the first person to ever call me sexy. This is the first time someone has ever called me sexy and I believe it. (Apart from your girlfriends, because when you’re in white girl party mode everything is “you’re so beautiful” and “sexy mama!” and those are just the things we say because that’s what girlfriends do…) He accepts me and loves me and it constantly reminding me that he’s attracted to me, turned on by me and that he loves me. It’s very new. It’s very nice, though. Scary sometimes.
Another thing I have to give credit to my change in views on my self-worth is finding the community of other ‘big girls’ and people struggling with body issues that I discovered through social media. I started following an instagram account called Plussized N Pretty off of the recommendation of a friend and it opened my eyes quite a bit. From there I started to follow more body positive accounts on instagram, as well as here in wordpress. There are women out there who look like me, feel like me, have struggled with the same issues I’ve struggled with and they LOVE themselves. (And there are plenty of people who love us, too.) These women love everything about their body and personality and life. I knew that I could, and that I should, do the same. So I started to tell myself that I needed to love myself and that I needed to embrace everything about ‘the Life of Jenna’. I really feel like I’ve started to do that over the last month or so. I still have bad days, but I have more “pep in my step” *sassy hair flip because I’m fabulous* days than bad days now. And I know that I have people there that I can talk to if I am struggling- they get it and they’ll give me encouragement.
Through therapy and the support of others and starting to believe in myself I’ve started to learn that I don’t need other people- male or female, family or friend or lover, random stranger- to validate me as a person. I may not look like Kate Upton but I look like Jenna. I’m smart, I’m responsible, I’m funny and fun, I’m a lover, I like to do volunteer projects, I’m goofy, I love pizza and panda, I like to take naps, I work hard- I’m a good person and I’m fabulous. And beautiful. And I’m worth something.
I know this was a long entry but there was something compelling me this morning to write out my little story about how I’ve gotten to the place I’m at in my life. I’m happy. That’s not something I’ve been able to say- and mean- very often. My advice and encouragement for anyone that reads this is to find people who can be a safety net and support system for you and embrace them. Learn from them. Let them help you. And believe in yourself. I know that it is easier said than done, but really- believe in yourself. Big or skinny, tall or short, black or white or asian or purple, single or taken…whatever labels you have for yourself- you are wonderful. You have something to offer to this world and to other people. Love that and love yourself.
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