I remember being 10 years old and standing up from my desk in my 5th grade class when a classmate said to me, "Did you sit in mud when we were at P.E.? There's brown stuff or something on the back of your pants." The day was pretty much over and we were packing up for the bus, so I just kind of brushed off my pants and glanced back behind me and I didn't see anything. So I put on my jacket and didn't give it much thought. Until I got home and went to the bathroom and began to cry uncontrollably. My mom came running in and upon assessing the situation, she pulled me close and said, "It's OK. You're fine. You got your period, that's all."
But I was still afraid. I thought there was something wrong with my body or that I had done something to cause it. I knew that women got "periods", but at that age, I didn't really know what that meant exactly, and I think my mom figured she had more time before either of us had to worry about it, so she'd never brought up the subject before.
Later that week, we were at her friend's house, and my mom told her what happened. And her friend said, "Already?! Wow." And she looked at me like I had grown a 2nd head.
It was the first time I remember being ashamed of my body, even though I wasn't sure exactly why.
I remember being 11 years old and walking around downtown with my dad one day. We did that a lot on the weekends when the weather was warm. And a woman stopped her car next to us and rolled down her window. She glared at my dad and then asked me, "Excuse me - how old are you?!" I was (and still am) very shy, so talking to strangers was not something I ever did willingly. I wasn't sure what she was getting at, but I could tell it wasn't good, and I wanted the sidewalk to open up and swallow me to get away from her. I looked at my dad and he shook his head and we didn't answer and kept walking. I didn't really put two-and-two together at the time, but she must have thought I was some kind of child bride or something. My poor dad.
I remember being 13 or 14 years old and hanging out at my dad's apartment one summer. He was at work and I was watching tv. His upstairs neighbor knocked on the door and introduced herself and asked if she could use the washing machine because hers wasn't working. I said OK and we made small talk for a minute or 2 while she put her clothes in and started the machine. Then she turned to me and she paused and asked, "Are you Jim's... friend?" I immediately bristled, knowing at this point what she meant, and said, "No. He's my dad." Her face got bright red and she stammered out a nervous laugh and an apology and went back upstairs to her place.
I remember feeling ashamed, tears threatening to fall when I thought about her smug expression. I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror, wondering what she and others saw that made them think these things about me. Looking at my reflection, I wished desperately to look like a "normal" girl, whatever that meant.
Going through puberty at a young age and developing curves and looking older than I was certainly didn't do me any favors growing up. I felt like my body was betraying me, and I sadly allowed other people to shame me for it.
I remember being 18 and my boyfriend (now husband) and I had just started dating, and he told me that I was beautiful. I looked at his face, waiting for some sort of comment or innuendo, and seeing nothing but honesty. He meant it. He thought I was beautiful. I never really knew how to accept compliments like that. "Shut up, no I'm not," was my usual response. But something opened up inside of me. Gradually. Slowly. Here was someone who thought I was beautiful, exactly the way I was.
I remember being 25 and pregnant with my first son. My legs and hips ached from the added weight. My cankles were getting more and more pronounced. Stretch marks were beginning to form. I felt awful. I'd also recently just had lunch with my mother who proceeded to comment on my weight pretty much the entire time. I remember crying and telling my husband that day that I felt and looked like a whale and that my body was disgusting. And he looked at me with those same big, brown eyes and said, "You are beautiful. And I love you." Of course I cried harder, with my prego hormones raging.
I'm 34 now. Puberty has long since passed. My child-carrying days are over, our family is complete. The stretch marks and cankles are sadly still with me, though. And I find gray hairs on my head every so often. But I've stopped listening to the shamers. I'm happy with myself for the first time ever. I'm not the skinniest, or the fittest person on the planet. But I can finally say that I love myself. And I can find beauty in places that I never could before. My body included. But I still like to hear my hubs tell me I'm beautiful. I'll take those kinds of comments any time.
It's a freeing feeling to leave the shame game behind. I'm finally comfortable in my own skin. Flaws and all.
As you guys might know, I'm the Editorial Manager for Holl & Lane Magazine and the summer issue, all about the body, just launched. Reading through the beautiful, honest stories of body image and body positivity inspired me to write this blog post. Get your own copy here.