We think we can make our world better…if only we can be thinner. We can have worth…if only we lose some weight. We can be loved…if only we get skinnier. We will be normal…if only we can feel our ribs and hook our fingers through our collarbone and feel the bones in our arms. We can be beautiful and adored and wanted…if only we are a certain size. Like zero. Or zero zero. Then, at last, we will be acceptable.
My father told my mother over and over again, “Everything would be fine if you would just lose weight.” I listened. I took his words to heart.
But it’s all a lie, isn’t it? The world won’t be better. We already have worth; nothing can increase our value or decrease our value…or so I’m told. Being thinner will not make anyone love us because being thinner has nothing to do with who we are inside. And that’s what people love…or don’t. And feeling our ribs won’t make us normal. It just makes us tired. We lose a part of ourselves for every pound we drop.
But how do we, who believe we are worthless, come to understand that we have value? How do we come to see it, to believe it, to rest in it?
We weren’t told we were adorable or wonderful or valuable as kids…during that all important time when our self-image was being formed. That programming wasn’t imparted to us. Instead, we learned our value depended on how well we performed. How cute we were (and we were never cute in comparison, so we completely failed before we even got started). To compensate, we made good grades. But good grades were never enough. We cleaned the house, ironed the clothes, did the dishes, took out the garbage, fed the dog, smiled at all the right times (mostly) and spoke respectfully to adults. But that wasn’t enough either.
If only you would lose weight, everything would be fine.
I was first told that I was fat when I was 7 years old. I grew incredibly fast. I was taller and bigger than all the kids my age. I was 5′ 5′” by the time I was in 5th grade…a giant! That equaled fat from a kid’s perspective. I remember how much it hurt. My mother was fat and our family was all messed up because of it. That was why my parents fought…violently at times. That was why everything was scary and uncertain. Surely that was why I was abused and neglected by my parents. If I was fat, I was part of that chaos. I was a failure. I made the world all wrong. Therefore, I was bad. And no amount of doing good, performing well or doing the right things would change the fact that I was a defective creature.
I started trying to lose weight when I was 11 or 12. By 14, I was desperate, but largely unsuccessful. I tried not to eat. I limited my intake of foods I liked, forcing myself to eat those I hated, but that were supposed to be good for me and that were lower in calories. Nothing worked. By the time I graduated from high school, I weighed 173 lbs.
A couple of years later, I went on the Weight Watchers program. And it worked. I worked hard at it, making my own ketchup (you had to do things like that back in those days) and forcing myself to eat tuna 5 times a week. I weighted 194 lbs. when I started. I got down to 110 lbs. and I was in heaven. Except, well, being skinny didn’t make the world better. Life still sucked. I was married to a man who cheated on me constantly and who didn’t love me. He had asked me for a divorce two weeks after we wed (I was 17 when we married). We still didn’t have any money. Everything was a struggle. He didn’t love me. But I LOVED my body. I was thin. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was worth something, even if my husband didn’t think I had any value.
We divorced when I was 20. I was skinny. I could handle anything the world threw at me.
I married again at age 25. Still thin. I had gained some since my divorce, but lost it again. This time, I thought I got it right. I thought he loved me. I certainly loved him. But after only a couple of months of marriage, he told me he didn’t love me; never had. This kick-started my first anorexic stage. I started running and exercising. I ran 13 to 15 miles every day. I did an hour of floor exercises. I walked for an hour too. I counted every drop of food I put in my mouth and I wouldn’t eat at all if I couldn’t eat at the exact right times. I weighed 84 lbs. the last time I checked. I loved my body. It didn’t matter that my husband didn’t love me. I was skinny. The world is better when you’re skinny. My father said so. He taught me well.
The equation didn’t actually work. The one my father taught me. My husband never came to love me when I was skinny. Eventually, I broke my hip and couldn’t overexercise any more. I was eating one meal of 500 calories every other day and gained weight at an insane rate. I finally leveled off. I was a size 7. But I felt fat and ugly and unlovable. As I got older, the weight slowly crept back up. I died inside. Numb. Broken. Going through the motions. Trying to appear normal. Then I was fat. And I loathed myself. I wanted to die.
When my ex left me for another woman, I weighed 256 lbs. I blamed myself totally, even though he didn’t love me when I weighted 80 lbs. either. I tried to kill myself. Failed. But the eating disorder returned and a year later, I had shed 156 lbs. of that blubber. My world sucked. I hated my life. But I loved being tiny. It made everything bearable.
I still don’t believe I have any worth. But I’m little. So I get to breathe the air I need to stay alive. I can feel my ribs. So I will allow myself to live. Being near skeletal is the only thing I can do semi-right. It’s the only value I have.
I lost weight, daddy, but my world is still a dark, lonely, empty place. The only good thing about it is that I don’t take up much space.
There is a lesson we all have to learn for ourselves. That we matter. That we have worth. That we are beautiful. That we are special. And that weight has absolutely nothing to do with it. I’m trying to get it. Trying to understand. To believe. We have to tell ourselves this over and over and over and over and over again until we get it. Until it filters down into the deepest part of our soul, takes root, grows there. Then we will be able to let ourselves have food. Then we will be able to heal, nourish our body and heart, grow, thrive, enjoy, live life, be free. We have to matter to ourselves. And we have to believe we have worth. Keep whispering it in our ear. Keep telling ourselves this until our heart can grasp it. Tell ourselves the “truth” a thousand times, if need be. Keep telling ourselves the truth. Until we can believe we are wonderful. Until we can believe we are special.
I think, maybe, you were wrong, daddy. I think perhaps we always do, always have and always will matter. And our weight is what truly, honestly, totally doesn’t matter at all.