There is something wrong with me. Five-year-old Elisabeth learned this a long time ago. The girls in ballet class were efficient teachers with their sideways looks, pointing fingers, and poorly-hidden sneers. “She doesn’t know how to dance” they said to themselves.
“She is so fat” I heard their huddled whispers.
Of course I didn’t know anything- I was five and never been to a dance class. I wasn’t fat at all, however the words sunk deeply into my little heart. I realized there is something wrong with me, and I immediately questioned my body and it’s value, in awe at the power the other girls held over me.
There is something wrong with me. I never noticed it before. They noticed something was wrong with me so that gives them the right to be mean to me. But I want so bad for there to be nothing wrong with me, so I feel the need to prove there is nothing wrong. Because mostly I just want to go back to being accepted for who I am like before I was 5 years old in a ballet class.
I don’t know what exactly is wrong, so I feel insecure. Which part of my body is wrong? Which part of me should I change? Maybe if I try to be perfect before I practice that will prove I am fine. Maybe if I am thin enough I will prove I am ok, or at least I won’t stick out, literally. I learned there must be an ideal girl that could avoid scrutiny and I wasn’t her.
These subconscious weights I carried through childhood.
There was an especially beautiful girl in my elementary school who I adored- she was popular, nice, and when she decided something was cool the whole class would agree. I wanted to be like her so I tried to be close to her. She always had other “best friends” but at least I was one of the ones consistently asked over after school, invited to the birthday parties and sleep-overs. She had a closet full of clothes that were always the right style. Her hair was long and thick and golden. Everything about her seemed golden. Except she was consistently unsatisfied with how she looked. I was often incredulous because she seemed to be as close to perfect as I could imagine, yet she would talk about needing – not wanting- to lose weight, get newer clothes, maybe change her nose, and update her hair. In the fourth grade she talked about these things. And I never thought this exactly, but I remember feeling that if this girl, who I esteemed as so close to perfection, if even she believed she wasn’t her ideal self, then how much further away from perfection was I? And if not close to perfection then for sure far away from “enough.” I was surely not enough.
I remember the painful self-scrutiny of middle school. As I stood in Mrs. Bell’s room on the first day of 7th grade with a perm and braces, my Estes Park, Colorado shirt (from vacation that summer) tucked into my knee-length khaki shorts, I determined to be the “fun, friendly, cool new girl.” This was thought by 7th grade Elisabeth with a smile, my head cocked to the right, and my hand on my hip. TOTALLY cool, right? I remember feeling need to take advantage of the opportunity to create a new persona away from the smaller circle of elementary school classmates. Less insecure, more cool. That was the plan. I cringe and I smile at this particular past Elisabeth, feeling especially generous and fond feelings towards her. If only I could reassure her, love her better. More completely, perfectly. In my journey
But faking being cool and not caring what people think about me didn’t really last. As soon as our gym class would start I would notice that my thighs were touching almost halfway down when most of the other girls’ legs had a complete gap. My waist was more round than flat, not just the front pooch but on the sides too. I could name the many other girls whose bodies I noticed were lean and athletic, the 0s and 2s, as opposed to sturdy and athletic 8 of my body. Every curve seemed more like a bulge and the weight of my body wore heavy on my mind. It seemed like everyone else was aware of this too, and many of my thoughts spun worries of what others might be thinking of me. The huddling and whispering of older ballet girls became the assumption of how others thought of me.
The summer before I switched schools (I changed to a different high school in 10th grade) I became obsessed with losing weight and became obsessive about tracking calories. I dropped to a size 6 quickly but still felt bulky and not quite perfect. Like my shape wasn’t contoured ideally. As I started the school year and continued through high school my schedule got busy quick- the space of my mind was filled with academics, sports, youth group activities, piano lessons, foreign mission trips and much more. I didn’t have space to obsess, so thankfully I was given a resting reprieve from active preoccupation with my body. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t right below the surface, often reminding me of how far away I existed from some remote ideal body. I often wonder how many people, women or men, have felt or feel this way. Although our stories didn’t start the same way and they aren’t completed yet, if this resonates with you, know you aren’t alone in this. Let’s join together in learning how to be gentle and patient with our bodies, ourselves. Even though we can’t be generous and loving to our past selves we can be today.
More on this the next post,
Thanks for sharing this time with me.