high school retrospective: body and self

Something I’ve been dancing a rather typical dance with over the past six years has been my weight.

Like every teenage girl who ever lived ever, I looked in the mirror one day and instead of seeing the nonplussed little girl I had always seen, instead just thought “Yuck! What on earth is that?”

I remember the exact moment it happened. I had gone to the info night of the high school I was to attend, and when I arrived was the only person there who hadn’t changed out of my primary school uniform.

It was literally because I had gotten home from school that day and couldn’t be bothered to throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. But as I observed everyone else looking trendy and cool and not at all like a nerdy little geek, it occurred to me for the first time that maybe, appearances mattered.

Up until that moment, I hadn’t cared what I looked like. I ate whatever I wanted, didn’t exercise because I didn’t like it, dressed in my brother’s hand-me-downs because I hated clothes shopping, and generally just didn’t give a shit.
I had braces and glasses, and laughed at the thought of shaving my legs. “What a dumb thing to do!” I thought, “What on earth was the point?”

In other words, I was a kid. My major concern was whether it would rain enough to go outside and do puddle slides down the street. Who cared what I looked like?

I went home that night, looked in the mirror, and by morning had made a conclusive list of all of my flaws and imperfections. Everything from being too short, to having bad skin, to hating my glasses and above all else, being too heavy. I was lagging behind my peers and the moment high school started, appearances were going to matter.

I had never even thought about these things before, and suddenly it was everything. I looked at teenage girls all the time and just thought, why can’t I look like that? Why am I so much frumpier and uglier? Why is it so easy for them?

My weight was a particular load on my mind. I remember one day I overheard two girls the same age as me discussing their weight, and being so sure that there was something wrong with me, because I was ten kilos heavier then both of them.

So what was wrong with me? Well, now I can say that I was physically an early developer. I had breasts before my peers did, I had hips and a bum and had my growth spurt before the other girls my age. But emotionally I was a world behind, having never cared for appearances or even thought about the fact that the little tom boy I had been as a child would have to grow up into a woman. Whenever my mum tried to talk about it I wouldn’t listen. I ignored the teeny bop magazines that explained all that stuff girls were supposed to know about. Ignorance is truly bliss, but when the bubble pops the fall is hard.

So high school started, and so did six years of trying to diet and trying to exercise and hating my body every step of the way.
I never really got the hang of it. I pretty much failed as a teenager in terms of looks. As I was a bit of a hippy, I excused the fact that I didn’t wear makeup and didn’t shave my legs off the back that I thought it was ‘unnatural’. The truth was, I didn’t know how razors worked and I didn’t know how to put on makeup. And I was way too scared to ask.

My body shape caused me all manor of internal hell all through high school. When the mean boy called me fat in year eight, I agonized for weeks while my friends tried to tell me he was a jerk and it wasn’t true. All I could think was, something must have put the idea into his head.

In year ten and year twelve, I had to go formal dress shopping with my mum. God what a headache. It was like every pretty dress was put on this earth to be unflattering or just straight out not fit. Since the age of sixteen, my body shape had settled down a bit to fit the description of ‘curvy’. Little waist, wider hips and big breasts. But unfortunately, clothes for teenage girls very rarely fit comfortably with these dimensions. And from the perspective of someone who wanted to look the same as my friends, the fact that everything bulged because I was too top heavy, or needing to wear woman’s sizes as opposed to teenage sizes, or having to opt for the extra large because nothing else would fit over my chest, all simply translated into “fat”.

I think the worst part about it was the fact I felt so damn helpless to change anything. Yes I could have started exercising more and yes I could have eaten better, but the only thing more mortifying then the thought of having to live with the body I had, was the thought of being judged.

It was like, if I acknowledged that I didn’t like my body and wanted to change it then other people would be able to judge me too. It felt like defeat, that trying to change my habits and lead a healthier life would be giving up the defiance I had publicly touted for so long that I didn’t care about my weight, that I was happy in my skin, even though it was a lie. It felt pathetic. I was embarrassed and so I did nothing.

I think that’s how eating disorders and self destructive behavior starts. Because tearing yourself apart in private is so much easier to do then facing up to potential public humiliation when your efforts fall apart or you’re forced to admit your own insecurities.

I know now that’s a completely wrong way to think, and all the stupid stuff I tried while trying to lose weight was just dumb. Everything from keeping food journals, to only eating fruit, to sneaking out at the crack of dawn to go running before anyone else was awake. All of these ridiculous measures just made me more stressed out and anxious then the alternative would have.

At the end of the day, I can only blame myself. They were my insecurities I was dealing with after all, and only my own scrutiny. But having said that, being around friends and teenagers who all joke about how ugly fat people are and how bad it is to look bad, and yet mock those who diet and try to exercise, made it harder. And my parents, who tried so hard to do the right thing but just missed the mark completely. They wanted so much for me to feel good about myself that every time I tried to eat healthier my mum would assure me that I didn’t have to and would give worrying lectures about eating disorders. They kept saying that it was “okay to be a bigger girl!” not even realizing that this was completely not the right thing to say. All it did was confirm that I was a big girl, something I was absolutely not okay with at all.

I remember one really good health class teacher telling us back in year seven that as soon as puberty is over, we’re going to look back and wonder how on earth we survived all that. That it will be like the clouds parting and the sunlight streaming in.
I’ve never forgotten that, because I spent my teen years hoping like hell it would be true.

I have to say, to my utter relief, I think it is.

It’s like I’ve been holding my breath for six years and suddenly I can breathe, and all the bullshit and worry and anxiety has been thrown into perspective.

I used to say I just didn’t care, but things aren’t that simple. It’s important to care about some things; the key is to just filter out the bullshit.

So, I still care about my weight, but not so much because I long to be skinny and beautiful like every other teenage girl I saw. Now it’s because I want to be healthy and I want to be able to do the things I love without being held back by lack of physical fitness.

Now, I don’t care about the scrutiny of peers or parents, and no longer fear acknowledging that I would  like to make a change in my life.

This, as it would happen, is exactly what I have been doing.

And I feel fucking great.

I wish I could go back and talk to twelve year old me, standing in front of the mirror and hating every inch of her body. I wish I could make her understand what I understand now.
Or even better, just let her know that there is an end to the madness, that life will eventually make sense again, and things will be okay.

I hate that phrase “be yourself”, because the self that I was, was not a happy self. I wanted to feel good about the person I was, but the person I was wasn’t the person I wanted to be.
I think the better advice to give is be the best person you can be. Be the happiest person you can be. Be the person you want to be. Don’t resign to just being whatever it is you are, whether it makes you happy or not. If you’re miserable, and are able to make a change, it’s not giving up or acknowledging a weakness. It’s proving you are capable of more.

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One thought on “high school retrospective: body and self

  1. This is so perfect – I hope many young girls will stumble upon your blog. When you’re young and your body is just beginning to chnage, it is very difficult to come to terms with it. However, as time passes, so do some insecurities..and suddenly, you look in the mirror, and a beautiful person is looking back at you. This, I think, happens when you learn that what makes you beautiful is finally accepting yourself and working towards achieving the best you rather than trying to turn yourself into someone else.

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