Self-loathing or Self-love?
By April Gigi
Again, one of our lovely Sheena’s Place members, April, has shared a piece with us for the blog. Please be mindful that some blog content about eating disorder symptoms could be triggering.
I want to write about body image. It’s something that affects everyone to some degree. I can’t imagine that anyone looks at themselves and sees perfection. Although some of us hate our bodies more than others.
This week one of my students wrote herself a letter. It was a letter from the voice inside her head:
You are dumb fat and stupid. You will never be like me. You wish you were me but you’re not. And you’re so dumb that you’re not even spelling the words right. Your teacher told you to give me a name and you came up with “The Devil.” That’s the best name you can come up with? “The Devil”? Wow you are so dumb. You keep on writing because the teacher thinks that you are crazy. They just might put you in a mental hospital. No one likes you because you are fat. Do you know how I know that? Because when the boy called you fat don’t you wish you were skinny like me? Oh what? I know that you say that because I hear you say that all the time. Oh and when you talk to me don’t you see that people think that you’re dumb and crazy? That’s all I have to say. I have a name for you. Instead of _______, you could be D. D stands for dumb. HAHAHAHA.”
Why? Why do we hate ourselves so much? She is 11 years old. And already she has such self-loathing.
I have struggled with body shame for as long as I can remember.
Until I was 3, I hated wearing clothes. I spent most of my time at home naked. There’s photographic evidence of my body freedom. Me, having a tea party with my Humpty, Dumpty, and Marigold dolls. Me playing in my bedroom. Me playing in the basement. And then things began to change.
My mom and my aunts were always on diets. Focusing on weight loss was the norm. I spent a lot of time with my uncle as a child. If I was dawdling he would say to me “stop contemplating your navel and let’s go!” I thought that “navel” was another word for vagina and I was mortified every time he said it. My Dad called us to the table by saying “chubby up!” and would offer second helpings while oinking. He once organized a contest at the family cottage to see who was “the pig-out captain”.
I started ballet classes at 3 years old and we were taught to suck in our stomachs. I took that to mean that you should suck it in all the time, not just while dancing. One day at swimming lessons when I was 9, I was sitting on the bench with my Dad. He turned and looked at me, glanced at my stomach. “Nice tummy,” he said “is that your new look?” I looked down at myself and realized that I had relaxed my stomach muscles. Looking back it was probably a tiny bump. But in my memory it was a giant round belly. I vowed from that moment on that I would never ever let that happen again. That I would forever suck in my gut and wear baggy clothes to hide my belly from the world.
Very early on I learned that the breadth of my body was more important than the breadth of my knowledge. Being thin was a commodity. Being thin meant being praised. I believed that I was overweight. Photographic evidence proves otherwise. But what I saw in the mirror was a fat, ugly, shameful girl.
I was always told that looks didn’t matter. I was told that being myself was the most important thing in the world. I was told that I could do anything that I wanted to do. That I could be anything that I wanted to be. Except fat.
Fat is the worst thing you can be. It is the epitome of a lack of self-control. The epitome of laziness. The epitome of being worthless and undeserving.
I began to believe that my weight defined me.
So I stopped eating. It was easy at first. Lots of teenagers don’t eat breakfast. My Dad countered by buying me Carnation Instant Breakfast. But I could live with that. Liquid. I believed I would pee most of it out. Lunch was easy to skip. In middle school I was severely bullied and had no friends, so there was no one to see that I wasn’t eating. In high school, I could have a few bites and say that I wasn’t hungry and no one noticed. Sometimes dinner was more challenging to skip. But slipping away to the bathroom to throw it up sometimes was easy to do. And no one noticed.
And then it started to get harder. I started to get hungry. Ignoring my hunger pains all day led to binging at night. And binging started to feel good. All the pain from being bullied, from being ignored, from memories that I wanted erased, all of that could be quieted by chocolate. By cookies. By cake. Filling myself until there was no more room inside of me for anything except for food.
And this became habit.
And it became a vicious cycle; starving myself for days, then stuffing myself for days, then purging for days, then feeling the shame and starving myself again. Convinced that the only thing that mattered was the number on the scale.
Why do so many people hate themselves so much? Why do we teach our children that our bodies matter so much? Why do we have so much shame about body parts that all of us have?
And more importantly, how do I teach my student not to hate herself so much when all I can think about it how she is so much like me? How do I model self-love? How do I model being comfortable in this body when I spend my life hiding underneath baggy clothes?
Learning to love ourselves is a life-long project. Learning that we are more than our bodies can be an impossible task.
I’ll leave you with this thought: what are we teaching our children by the way that we treat ourselves?
Be kind to yourself…