I Look Good and I Do What I Want

a journey of loving my body and myself

self acceptance June 12, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mae @ 3:01 pm

I have been at war with myself for so long that I don’t remember any other way of being. I can’t remember ever feeling thin enough, good enough, smart enough, popular enough, fashionable enough, witty enough, likeable enough, or hardworking enough. I have a deeply engrained sense that if I’m all done improving myself, well, I might as well be dead. I think this is an ethic promoted by our culture, in varying degrees, but my parents were very good at the backhanded compliment, designed not to praise current worthiness, but to encourage more self-improvement. My stepmom used to tell me, “You are so lucky to have such bright, natural blonde hair and blue eyes. Just think how pretty you’d be if you lost [10 or 30 or 50] pounds!”

And yet, I remember the Mae in high school, who was 130 or 140 lbs and seethed with self-loathing. I would lie on my bed and suck my teeny, almost nonexistant tummy-pooch in until it hurt and I saw stars, trying to will my hipbones to jut out like I knew they should. I wept at the disgracefulness of wearing size 10 jeans when I knew double-digits were the worst thing a girl could be. I fantasized about discovering a secret, magical way to give myself liposuction, like punching myself in the belly until the fat cell walls broke open and the fat melted out and was excreted. I contrived my own diets. Back in the mid-90’s the fat-free diets were very fashionable and for months I tried to avoid eating anything with fat in it, making myself lunches of sandwich baggies full of fat-free pretzels, fat-free animal crackers, and marshmallows (because they are also fat-free).

Now, when I look back at pictures of Mae in high school, I wince. She’s so slender and young and she did not spend one single minute appreciating that. I think, Do I want to be a grandmother one day, looking back at pictures of myself as a young newlywed, and wince, thinking of how I spent all my time loathing myself and my body instead of revelling in the youth, vitality, energy, and physicality I had then?

Its not just my body that I have never accepted. When my father married my stepmother, I was six years old, and almost right away I went to live with them, visiting my biological mother on alternating weekends (for only the next two years, when my biomom exited stage left). From the very beginning, my stepmother doggedly worked to prove to me that my biological mother was evil and that, as her offspring, I probably was too. I would get caught in some childish sin, like lying, or fighting with a sibling, or taking food without permission. My stepmother never forgot to include “I should have known you would turn out eeeevil just like your birth mother!” when lecturing me. She would tell me I had a “black streak” inside of me. I seriously believed, until I was much too old (like, oh, early 20’s) that there was something fundamentally, genetically, unalterably wrong with me. I was “born evil.”

I was told I was clumsy. My sisters– encouraged by my stepmother– nicknamed me “the Ox.” I was always larger-framed than they were, even though my younger sister (also the child of my father and biological mother) was similarly “chubby” and until about ages 15 and 16, we shared clothing with no trouble. My older stepsister was extraordinarily petite, with that bird-like frame that, even now that she is full-grown, feels so fragile when you embrace her. My ankles and wrists, thick and sturdy, were called “stumpy” and compared to trees. I was rhetorically asked, “how can you be so dumb when you are so smart [as in booksmart and schoolsmart, having been an A student most of my life]?” They couldn’t deny I had, at least, the raw processing power to be called “smart,” so they told me I had no common sense. I was told I talked and laughed too loud, couldn’t sing, couldn’t dance, had no grace, that I was too dirty to sit on the couch (while my stepmother’s children were allowed to do so), that I was too clumsy to drink out of glasses (plastic cups for the Ox). I was “too rough” to hold or touch anything fragile, like my brother when he was a toddler (I was 8 when he was born), or my stepsister’s cat, or my stepsister’s computer or any of her belongings.

Here’s the thing. Until I was a teenager, I accepted all these criticisms without question. They were the adults, surely they could see and know things about me that even I couldn’t see or know. Surely a “black streak” was a real thing, because my parents said so. Surely one could be “born evil,” as a child, that fit in neatly with my worldview of good and bad. It was only a matter of time before I became a thief, a drug dealer, an abuser, a slut.

I don’t know how or when the process started, but I was able to begin rejecting these things as I reached the age when children begin to pull away from their parents and explore on their own. It helped that I spent three months– all summer– each year with grandparents, 800 miles away from my parents. Unwittingly, I admitted all the emotional abuse I suffered at the hands of my parents to them, and my grandparents rushed to assure me there was nothing wrong with me, only with my parents. I was told by authority figures that I respected and loved, that I was beautiful, smart, capable, graceful. It didn’t change my mind right away, but faultlines in the chiseled figure of my parent’s perception of me began to appear. I had a friend in grade school whose parents treated me like another daughter, taking me with them to church and even on family vacations. They treated me with love and respect and attempted to act as counterweights to my parents. These people helped me along the way, but my parents were very effective.

Because those criticisms still have a home inside me. Even though my rational brain wants to tell me that they were wrong, that there is no such thing as being “born evil” or “black streaks,” some part of me still holds on to those. When I am feeling down about myself, for good reason or none at all, a voice pipes up, Well, what did you expect. You have faulty DNA. You are clumsy, you are fat, you have no common sense, you aren’t lovable, you aren’t kind, you’re lazy and undisciplined, why would anyone like you? You’re sneaky, you’re a liar, you’re a cheat, you’re a thief, you have no heart, you are selfish, you have an ugly soul, you were born evil. This was only to be expected. I’m surprised it took so long.

I don’t just reject my body as being unworthy of approval, love, and affection, I also reject most of the rest of myself. I have managed to hold on to the idea that I am intelligent, probably because my academic record– not ground-breaking, but clearly above average– is undeniable. But I still fear that I am “so dumb for being so smart,” and never trust my own decision-making skills.

In a certain sense, I think it is very difficult to accept your body if you have not already accepted yourself as a good and worthy human being. If you can’t accept that you have just about as much willpower as the next guy, and that the amount you do have is perfectly fine, then you’ll have a hard time believing you aren’t failing at diets because you are a crappy person without as much willpower as thin people. If you can’t accept that you aren’t lazy, you’ll have a hard time believing you aren’t failing at dieting because you’re too lazy to workout out more and everyone else isn’t lazy and works out alot more than you do. If you can’t accept that your attractiveness is comprised of more than just your shape, and that the other things about your body and personality are attractive, you won’t be able to get past the idea that must change the shape of your body to be considered attractive.

Some people like me have to start at the very beginning and accept things about myself beyond my actual weight to proceed with real and honest fat acceptance. I know that all these years of dieting have been accompanied with the Fantasy of Being Thin, that once I am thin, I will naturally be able to accept myself. Of course, right? Because once a person is thin, they are Redeemed, Transformed, and a Member of the Secret Club of Perfect People.

On a completely unrelated note, yesterday was the first day in probably at least two weeks that I didn’t cry. I came home and cooked a complex but satisfying meal (cooking is a good de-stressing activity for me). I had a quiet supper with my husband, and didn’t talk about my bad feelings and fears (topics I have been unable to get my  mind away from lately). I had two glasses of wine (okay, not the best coping stategy), and then half of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra (caramel and chocolate). We watched a movie, Atonement, which I was able to completely escape into (annoyingly, these last couple of weeks, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to even concentrate on a movie or TV show, much less accomplish the complete escape).  I didn’t even cry at the sad parts of the movie (oh my god, they shot some horses), but I was relieved that I didn’t cry that I didn’t analyze it further. And, when we finally went to bed, we [CENSORED], which was really nice, and better than I expected. I slept about six hours, waking early, which is my normal insomnia pattern, but six is much, much better than the three to five I’ve been getting.

I felt good enough this morning to do another hourlong workout with the Wii Fit. I am really addicted to the yoga. Even though I “know” my time would be better spent on the difficult strength training and aerobics exercises, I just really enjoy the yoga, especially first thing in the morning. I did about 10 Wii Fit minutes on the yoga, 10 Wii Fit minutes on strength training, 17 Wii Fit minutes on aerobics, and then did the downhill skiing balance game like 10 times in a row. I swear, that thing is the bane of my existence. You have to lean forward, like you would if you were really skiing, and basically crouch on tiptoe while leaning side-to-side to make it through gates as you go downhill. I’ve done that game like 25 times and just this morning got my first 2 stars (out of 4)– all other attempts have earned me only 1 star (which basically means FAIL). ARGH. Luckily its actually pretty good for your quads if you do it like I do, and actually squat the whole time. So sneaky, Wii Fit. So sneaky.

So. Today I have also not cried yet, but it is early. I am still feeling foggy, empty, and tired, but I am not on the edge of crying at any moment, I’m not feeling panicky or tight in the chest, and I am hopeful that the tide is turning. Please, let it be so.


8 Responses to “self acceptance”

  1. vesta44 Says:

    I can so relate to this post. What I’ve learned in the last few years, though, is that if it’s family telling me how evil/worthless I am, I should think about what that says about them, since I’m related to them. How evil/worthless are they, since they have the same genes I do? My niece told me the other day (she’s 34, I’m 54) that I’m still the obnoxious person I’ve always been and my mother and I will never be able to reconcile because we are too much alike (but according to her, my mother is a wonderful, caring person who can do no wrong, even though she can be hateful at times). I looked at that, and thought ‘what the hell is wrong with your thinking there, niece?’. My mother can be hateful at times, but she’s still wonderful and caring, and I’m just like her, but I’m an obnoxious bitch? This is why I don’t have anything to do with my family anymore. None of them have any use for me, never have, and according to them, it’s all my fault.
    It took me ten years of therapy (and prozac) to finally figure out that it wasn’t me, it was them. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, and done things I’m not proud of, but, at the same time, those things are what has made me the person I am today, and that’s a damned good person. In spite of my family, I’ve turned out rather well, and I finally like who I am, and where I am with my life.
    I don’t know if you’re talking to a therapist, but if you aren’t, it might be something to consider. Anti-depressants might help too. The results from this kind of abuse are really hard to deal with on your own, and a good therapist can be a lot of help.

  2. hope505 Says:

    What monumental work your are undertaking….to change your thoughts about yourself and the world. Remember to give yourself credit, especially when you’re feeling drained.

    A great woman (me! *haha) once said:
    “It’s easy to change your body. It’s much more difficult to chage your mind.”

    You can chop off your thumb and that will change your body with a quickness! But how long does it take your brain to adjust to the event and its aftermath, and assimilate the ‘new idea’ of you minus a thumb? Not to mention deal with the pain in between! It’s gonna take a little while, isn’t it.

    Anyways cheers to you for hanging in there….
    don’t introduce me to your family please. *hahaha!* j/k

  3. Krista Says:

    /I think it is very difficult to accept your body if you have not already accepted yourself as a good and worthy human being./

    And that is the key to it all, right there. This is why we have fat-shaming and why eating disorders have so little to do with “skinny models.” Eating disorders have all the world to do with hating yourself *so much* that you believe you don’t even deserve to eat.

    It would be very difficult indeed to convince a healthy, happy person that her body is the enemy.

  4. Sam Says:

    I just want to say that you are incredible.

    To live through a childhood like that and to come out the other end without some doubts about yourself would be quite impossible I think.

    And yet, you have the strength to see what is going on (or rather what went on), you have the clear-sightedness to realise that you are intelligent and can work through these issues whilst still realising that it will take time, not to mention much love from your husband! 😉

  5. Mae Says:

    Wow, I don’t want to be all blogweepy about it, but you guys are really nice. I feel lost, alone, ashamed and hopeless so much. Thanks for the commiseration.

  6. maggishness Says:

    First time commenter here. I saw this post on the Fatosphere feed and it just rang so true with me. Thank you so much for putting it out there!

  7. DawnD Says:

    Hi Mae–

    Just wanted to pop in and say I really resonate with what you’ve written here. It’s a long and arduous journey, overcoming abuse, shame, and self-hatred. Best wishes on your journey.

  8. But I still fear that I am “so dumb for being so smart,” and never trust my own decision-making skills.

    Wow, does this resonate with me, even though I certainly didn’t endure the kind of emotional abuse that you did. I am amazed at your strength to get through that. Your observations about needing to accept that you are not inherently lazy, etc. in order to really believe that dieting has failed you and not the other way around are also really interesting… I never thought about this in quite that way before.

    I’m glad things may be improving for you just slightly. Take care.

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