About two years ago, I wrote a guest post for a blog which at the time was called “When I thought I was fat,” that bloggess has since changed the name of her site “When I thought I was nothing.”
I was reminded of the post after a conversation I had with my sister the other night… So I thought I would share it again here, and elaborate based off of that conversation. So please check out the post here.
In that post I surmised that part of my skewed body image – an image that praised the thinness of my youth which has made me feel like I am a failure, basically, now that I am no longer nearly as thin as I used to be – was based primarily out of my early dating life where while my self worth was diminished in so many other ways through an abusive relationship, but the one thing that wasn’t diminished was an admiration of my thinness and supposed beauty.
I had mentioned that, yeah, my mom had told me I was pretty too… But I hadn’t really thought much further about that beyond “that’s what moms are supposed to say.”
Speaking to my sister was an eye opening experience regarding this issue, however.
Since a few months after I wrote that original post, I had come back to the US, got submerged back into my side of the family a lot more than I had been in a looooong time, and had started to realize how fucked up some things were about my family. One of these things being that I now recognize my mother most likely has an undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder. In that vein, she plays me and my siblings off of each other and seems to have her favorite (which the husband and I decided earlier this year that we think I was “the favorite.”)
But now I realize there is more to it all. More to the pretty/thin identity I had that then became threatened by gaining the weight.
As my sister pointed out: my parents, especially my mother, put labels on each of us and raised us individually based off of these labels.
I was the pretty one. I was thin and tall and my identity was pretty. Though I didn’t really believe I was “pretty,” I was proud of my thinness at least. One way my mother pushed this identity was insisting that I drop serious money on getting my hair done, etc even when I just needed a trim I was told I HAD to go to a salon that charged higher prices because obviously that meant quality and I was too pretty/my hair was too pretty to risk a Supercuts or any other such more affordable establishment.
On the other hand, she made my sisters always go to Supercuts.
I am the oldest (sister number one), so I’ll go down the line in order of age to tell you about their labels.
Sister number two was “the bad kid” or “the trouble maker.” While, yes, she went wild and got into a lot of legit trouble as she got older, the labelling started when she was much younger. It makes me wonder now if she ended up the trouble maker simply because it was so ingrained in her that even her parents thought she was a bad kid and that she might as well do the bad things they’d expect of her anyway. Whenever there was an argument between her and one of her siblings, the parents would often take the other kid’s side and treat her as though she automatically was in the wrong.
Sister number three was the one I spoke to the other day. I don’t recall how the conversation started, but she said something like “well, obviously Emma, you were the pretty one.” She mentioned the disparity between our haircut situation. She said that she knows for a long time she came off as a smart ass that was probably annoying to a lot of people… But she said her label was “the smart one.” She even said that mom told her at one point that her future was in her education. She said she has had self image issues based off of not feeling pretty, that even her mother didn’t view her as pretty…
Sister number four, the baby, apparently was given “the lazy one” as her label. I didn’t see much in that respect just because she was 10 when I moved out. But I’m taking Sister number three’s word for that. It wouldn’t surprise me though based on some impressions my mom gave me when she was a teen.
I then realized – no wonder I was so taken aback when working at Vanderbilt when I had a couple (wicked smart) nurses tell me how intelligent I am. That was the first real time someone said that so frankly to me. I wasn’t sure I believed it. I thought I must be good at faking it. I mean, I didn’t think I was dumb as a box of rocks or anything, but I always assumed I was average at best.
No wonder, my sister was the smart one. I was the pretty one.
No wonder I still struggle with my weight and tie a large portion of my self esteem into it.
I’m still not back down to the “goal weight” picture I shared in that guest post.
Now I see I wasn’t so fat back then. I actually think I look healthy and have a decent figure… But even at that time, I hated my tummy. I thought my thighs were too big and my tummy too poochy. I had bitchy coworkers prior to this size, when I was still even a little thinner than this, that would ask me if I was pregnant then give me a disdainful “oh,” when I said I wasn’t. …which all the more damaging to my self image, Why the fuck are women so mean to each other??
It’s totally unreasonable for me to even hope to ever get down to my skinniest weights. I don’t think I’d look healthy if I did… I could get a size or two lower than my “goal weight” picture and still be in a heathy zone… But, ugh. I look at these old pictures and i’m jealous of myself. It’s sad. Back then I had more than enough self image issues, but at least one of them wasn’t usually to do with my weight.
Sigh, I’m 35 now. I wish I could get past my own weight issues. It’s been so hard to lose weight. I’m at the heaviest I’ve ever been… Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I look pretty good… Then other times I look at myself and just feel depressed. I feel like I look even fatter than I had even the day before. I wish I could get past this. I tell myself I want to be thinner because it’s healthier than I am now… and that is true. But if I’m being honest, a big big part of my desire to lose the weight is to just feel pretty again. Even then… will I even actually feel “pretty” or just pride in being thin?