On the journey to loving myself

TW: Talks of weight loss, body dysmorphia, and bullying.

learning to love myself

Here’s the thing about learning how to love yourself: it’s not easy. Not even a little bit. Especially when you’ve spent so much of your life hating everything you see.

I’ve spoken before about my struggles with body dysmorphia, depression, and anxiety, but I’d like to go a bit deeper into the background of my body issues, not for pity or attention, but in the hopes that someone, somewhere, will read this and know they’re not alone.

Here are a few common phrases that I’ve heard about my own body:

  • “You’d be so much prettier if you worked out!”
  • When I had lost 100 pounds: “You look so much better than you did before. How much more are you going to lose?”
  • When I gained it back: “What happened?”
  • A backhanded compliment: “You could be a model if you lost a little weight, you’re so photogenic!”

The comments above came from well-intentioned people who thought they were giving me advice or tough love or a compliment. It doesn’t even begin to cover the things that people have said to me with the intentions of hurting. It also doesn’t even begin to cover the things that I’ve said to myself. We are, after all, our own worst enemy.

On bullying

Before I get into how I’m dedicated to learning to love myself, I want to give a tiny bit of background into why I am the way I am.

I briefly spoke in my body dysmorphia post about how I was bullied, but I’d like to talk about it a little more.

In the 4th grade, I was subject to the wrath of a group of girls from my class. If you remember being a child as well as I do, you’ll know that there’s nothing quite as evil as the wrath of a group of 9 year old girls.

Two girls, we’ll call them T and L, decided that I was no longer cool. I’m not sure if I was ever really cool, to be honest. I was shy and believed I could talk to animals. I thought Aaron Carter was my boyfriend and believed faeries left me letters in the trees. But I had friends. Though I was weird, I felt that I was relatively well liked.

Me at age 6, taller than my friends

I was teased for being tall, because I’d been the tallest in my class since Kindergarten, but it was well mannered teasing. The boys called me giraffe and I’d laugh along with them. Until the 4th grade anyway, that’s when everything started to change.

I wasn’t cool. And I had to pay.

Puberty hit me like a semi, before everyone else. I grew two extra inches, had hair in places I didn’t know was possible, and needed to buy extra strength deodorant. On top of it all, I was the first girl in my class to need a training bra. I was awkward and gangly and had gained a few pounds as my hormones spun out of control.

This was what made T and L swing the gavel onto my sentencing. I wasn’t cool. And I had to pay.

It started off as nothing but snide comments made in my direction during gym class, as my thighs rubbed together or when I was out of breath after running around the gym. But then, snide comments turned to pure vitriol.

At lunch, they’d mock the way I ate. If my mom packed me a piece of chocolate, they’d make oinking sounds as other girls who I thought were my friends laughed along with them or turned away their gaze. They’d slip me notes during class that read “go jump off a bridge” or “we wouldn’t care if you died.” At recess, they’d form a chain with two other girls and run into me head first until I bruised.

I’d come home everyday with bruises up and down my arm and told my mom I’d just been playing a little too rough.

I still had friends who’d come over for sleepovers and hang out with me after school, but they knew the pecking order and understood that if they stood up for me, they’d be next. They comforted me during play dates or tried to help me by telling me cool ways to fix my hair. I couldn’t blame them for not sticking their necks out for me. I’m sure that, if the roles had been reversed,  I’d have done the same.

It didn’t help that I had no idea how to stick up for myself. I was born a people pleaser and didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. When they ran into me, I turned inward. When they sent me those notes in class, I kept my head held high. It was only until I was alone that I allowed myself to cry. Every day, I went to school with shaking hands and a heavy heart and a smile on my face.

My parents were going through a divorce and I was too scared to tell my mom what they were doing. I didn’t really understand it, and thought that if I let their bullying run it’s course, that they’d stop. That they’d leave me alone.

But of course, they didn’t. I recognise now that those girls were insecure, too. Maybe they had something going on at home. Maybe they just had evil in their hearts. I don’t know.

I’m not sure I ever will.

It wasn’t until T kicked me hard on the shin and laughed, really laughed, the kind of laugh that comes from the belly, that I realized this was becoming a problem. That day after school, my mom asked me what was wrong and I burst into tears.

I remember laying in her lap, crying for hours as I told her everything they did. She cried into my hair and we sat there, on her bed, crying together.

The next day, she told me that after the school year ended, we’d be moving to Orlando. I’d never felt so relieved.

Learning how to love myself

When I moved to Florida, the bullying didn’t stop but it was never as bad as what happened to me in 4th grade. I started the 5th grade with an inflated sense of self, in the hopes that if I told everyone how hot I was, that they’d leave me alone. They didn’t, of course. How could they? I was almost 6 ft tall with curves, bad teeth, and frizzy hair. I was a magnet for bullying.

All of the comments were like seeds in my belly, growing through my chest until I’d become an expert in hating myself. I’ve tried every single diet, every weight loss supplement and pill. I developed an eating disorder. When I lost 100 pounds my senior year of high school, I thought that this was my chance. I thought the conversations surrounding my body would end and I’d be free.

I wasn’t free. Loving myself didn’t come to me in a flash the moment I tried on a size 6. I still found myself crying in dressing rooms and feeling uncomfortable in my skin.

It’s a feeling that has never, really, gone away.

Now, though, I’m 28. I’ve been in active therapy for a year and I realize I’m not getting any younger. If I don’t learn to love myself now, I never will.

Not loving yourself? That’s not a way to live.

So, I’m writing this blog post. In the title, I put part one because I hope to update it as I progress.

Though I desperately want to lose weight at the moment because the pandemic has, if anything, made my body dysmorphia even worse, my goal is to get to a point where weight loss doesn’t matter.

I’m trying. I’m learning. I want to get better.

And I’d like to take you all along on the ride.

4 Comments on “Learning How to Love Myself: Part One

  1. Aunt Lisa Loves You and Will go on this Journey with You!! I had a few Great Friends in Jr High and High School but was Bullied about my teeth until I got my braces off and that was when I became a Butterfly!! You are a Beautiful Butterfly !! Always been Beautiful!!

    • Aww thanks so much Aunt Lisa!!! Love you!!

  2. Hi there, I’ve never been the bigger love my body example but everything changed when I got obese to my high with high cholesterol and started gym/sauna/hamman. Then I had to let it go, got completely lost and unhappy and back to obese to my high.

    I then got THE best walking shoes, one of those garmin watches and now I’m back to the gym – Fitnesspark Migros has now a summer rabbat again indeed particularly tief (maybe because of corona?!), anyway, they have amazing sauna ceremonies with special scent, honey to your body etc.

    In order to love ourselves we must be in touch to ourselves, aware of ourselves… I found that taking care of my body changed everything, it started with walking, then controlling the steps etc – which also kept me motivated and with reports to öook and be proud of.

    Being healthy is the goal, everything else comes on the side together with it.

    The endorphines keep us happy, the toxines going out keep us healthy and shinning (on a good way).

    You are right, loving ourselves is not an easy task, specially with everybody else, even good intended, always point out our supposedly defects.

    We gotta keep ourselves motivated and on the move!

    The best of luck for you, the best of luck for us! 😉

  3. Dearest Tess, my story was ever bit as bad. Mine started in 1st grade. 2 brothers started teasing me. And Id chase them around the playground. That wasnt so bad but 2nd grade more and more people started where those guys left off. I was bullied from then on. School was hell. So what did I do, Id shut down in class. Whenever the teacher left the room theyd gain up around my desk and taunt me. It was hell. And id not do my work. Not one bit. The more theyd tease the more Id shut down. I couldnt tell my mom or my dad. They just thought I was trying to get their attention and they didnt even try to find out why I was misbehaving. Id could control two things, my food, and my school work. Which I would not do.
    The only thing that saved my life was we moved during the middle of 7th grade. We moved to South Carolina. It saved my life. I discovered music. I could sing. That saved me. I started making good friends, that r my friends to this day. But there isnt a day that those taunts dont cross my mind.
    After I grew up, I went thru so much. But the worse is lising my daughter Ami. I can hardly leave my house. We’ve been trying to move for almost a yr. We’re going to live in Arkansas. Both of my sons live there. And they want me there. So Im trying to get my paperwork done. Had alot of problems with that. Tess Im so sorry you had that much trouble in school. Take it from me ,youre my cousin and I love u. You were so blessed to meet Michael. Hes so sweet looking. And u just beam with happiness. Take care of yourself. Pray for me. And you both r in my thoughts and prayers. You were beautiful when u were young and youre gorgeous now. I love u. Forever my cuz, Martha Carol Walker.

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