I was standing in the bathroom and overheard some fifth graders discussing how they felt that their jeans made them look fat and I decided that perhaps I should consider the same. It was the first time I looked in the mirror and promptly looked away, embarrassed at what I saw. I began to worry that perhaps others saw me as "fat", even though I was a pretty scrawny kid. The fifth graders were girls I looked up to, and, ridiculous as it sounds, I knew they must be right.
I can look at that moment as the beginning of a lifetime of insecurity, a sort of bizarre catalyst that planted the bug in my brain that perhaps there was something wrong with the way I looked. At the time, I was living in Southern California and attending a private school. When I think of my childhood, I think of visits to my grandparents' house in Mexico, trips to the beach, a loving family, hikes in Idyllwild, and roaming the meadow behind our house in search of centipedes. I had a good childhood. But I can't ignore the fact that where I lived was sort of an epicenter of pretentiousness that carried an influence I couldn't avoid. While the positive memories hold the majority of space in my mind, the insecure memories hold the weight, and I can look back through my life and see the victories and failures those insecurities caused me to encounter along the way.
I grew to accept what I believed to be the truth: I wasn't a pretty girl. The pretty girls wore make-up, tight jeans, had fluffy hair, and kept compacts in their back pocket. In middle school we moved halfway across the country and I found security in my brother's oversized Stussy shirts and my baggy Silvertab jeans. If I could hide, I was fine. My relationship with food was a funny one. I had a huge appetite. I remember, as a child, standing in line at In-N-Out and begging my parents for a Double-Double. I never got one, but I sure wanted one. I've always loved food. I think that was where I struggled the most. Even though I wasn't "fat", I still felt like my love for food made me fat, and I kind of despised myself for it. In high school I traded my Silvertabs for jeans that actually fit and decided that my body wasn't totally awful. I played volleyball, which kept me in shape, but I still looked at myself as a less-than member of the social circuit. One of the ladies' coaches referred to me as a "late bloomer" once and I took her comment to mean that I would never actually "bloom". I was just ... Katie. With the good personality. Thankfully, I had an enormously strong group of friends that probably saved me in many ways.
In college I gained the freshman fifteen. That began a mental and emotional battle that caused me to discard some of the food that I consumed in unhealthy ways. I never had an eating disorder--I was never systematic, calculated, or repetitious in the emptying of my stomach--I can count the number of times it happened on both hands. It was always impulsive and out of frustration. The thought of doing it on a regular basis was terrifying to me. I had seen loved ones struggle through eating disorders and I knew how dangerous it could be. I felt that I was safe, even though I was, frankly, playing with fire. I didn't always hate the way I looked, but, when I did, I hated myself even more after the food was gone. How foolish. I was standing on the edge of danger, looking down, understanding how these kinds of things can so easily spiral out of control. It was bizarre because I led this really happy life in college--I loved college! It was a full, extraordinary period in my life and the way I felt about myself was truly such a small piece of it. But it was a heavy piece.
I had an RA my sophomore year who caused me to begin to see things differently. She was this vivacious, naturally beautiful girl who had this passion and smile and vitality for life that was infectious. She was actually an authentically happy person--I know her even now and she's still just as awesome. She was athletic, but she wasn't sickishly skinny. She just enjoyed her life, and I wanted what she had. One day she caught me walking down our hall. I hadn't eaten in almost two days, the longest ever for me, and I was hoping I looked good and skinny. Instead of saying, "You look good!", she asked, "Is something wrong?"
Rather than affirming my noticeable weight loss, she questioned it.
Of course, I lied and told her I was fine. But, for some reason, her response to the way I looked opened up a floodgate of emotion I had been holding in. I called my boyfriend (now my husband) and confessed everything: the way I felt about myself, the way I didn't know how to handle it. He met me in the cafeteria and we ate dinner and talked it through. I realized that I had a choice: I could either focus on the things that made me feel insecure, or I could focus on the things that made me feel good about myself. I decided to focus on the latter. Of course, I knew it wouldn't be that easy. Retraining the brain is never a simple task. And, honestly, it's a lifelong effort.
I can't say why, specifically, that one instance totally transformed the way I decided to live my life, but it did.
I began to pursue health rather than looks, and, on my wedding day, I remember looking in the mirror and loving the way I looked--and being proud of what I saw. I was healthy. And truly happy. My means of fitting into my dress involved good old-fashioned exercise, not by laxatives or because the food in my stomach had been regurgitated. I gained weight in my first two years of marriage (desk jobs can do that), but when I felt my self-loathing begin to resurface, I stopped it and knew the steps I needed to take to regain my health. Of course, shortly after this realization, I found myself pregnant, and I promptly blimped up! But, I was okay with it. Even after this second pregnancy, where I'm doubting if my poor saggy stomach will ever again see the light of day, I'm still okay with it. I refuse to jump on a bandwagon of dieting (now labeled as "lifestyles") and I don't want to whine about how I look. I want to be proactive in pursuing health, but not be crazy. I know where crazy can lead.
Because that poignant moment eight years ago is still fresh on my mind.
And because of something else.
I don't want Naomi to think for a moment that her security lies in anything other than the fact that on June 15, 2010, God chose to give her breath. And therefore her life is priceless and the days that God has already numbered for her are purposeful and that her life is a life worth living. I want her to see that her God-given life is full and extraordinary--that pursuing Him and caring for herself as His child gives her a breathtaking beauty that no human can define.
I won't be perfect at this. But I will be purposeful.
And the journey continues on.
Have a lovely day.