What do I choose as the turning point, the moment of realisation?
When, at the swimming gala, I didn’t want to get changed in front of all the other kids because they would see my tummy? When I was given a calorie counting book by my grandma at age eight? When all the parents laughed at my friend and me in the class assembly because I was three times the size of him, both in height and weight?
When, exactly, did I realise just how different I was from all my peers, and how that difference was seen as a bad thing?
As a child, I was always larger than everyone else – at least a head taller than all my friends and very overweight. My appearance made me stick out, and I was called fat, ugly, even “Fiona from Shrek” in one particularly inspired attack. I would hear my neighbours (the adults, not the children) call me ‘fatty’. By the time I was 12 I was a size 18, and I’m finally beginning to accept just how much of this has stayed with me today.
“For a long time, I just wanted to escape from the memory of what I used to be like as a child... Only now do I realise how negative that is”
For a long time, I just wanted to escape from the memory of what I used to be like as a child – making over my appearance so that people would say “wow, I didn’t recognise you” or “that looks nothing like you” when I show them childhood pictures. I wanted to erase that part of me, to become a different person.
Only now do I realise how negative that is. They say you should never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say if the five-year-old-you was standing in front of you, so how can I let myself hold on to so much hate towards the younger me? Why be so harsh to that child, when I still am that child?
Part of letting go has been forcing myself to recognise how much of the roots of my current relationship with my body stem from my childhood. I may now stand at an average 5’6’’ and a healthy weight but I still feel I take up too much space. And in situations where I am uncomfortable, I feel the need to curl my body in around itself to make myself smaller – just like how I used to shrink myself into the corner of the changing room so people wouldn’t look at me.
If I’m in a situation where I don’t know a lot of people, or the social dynamics between everyone aren’t clear to me, I begin to feel the physical presence of my body, imagining that I am larger than everyone else, and thus out of my place.
When I see a little girl who is larger than all her friends, my heart breaks for a her a little. I can see the pain behind her smile, the calculated way in which she moves her body to take up as little space as possible. I see the longing gaze at her classmates’ childlike, frail bodies, something she knows she will never be able to have.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling when it’s one that I for so long tried to suppress. I’ve tried to pretend what is happening inside me isn’t, and force myself to believe my relationship with my body is entirely positive when, in reality, it’s a lot more nuanced than that.
Perhaps linked to my complicated relationship with my body, I also don’t know how to have a normal, healthy relationship with food. Throughout my teenage years, I swung between eating too little or too much – obsessing over every calorie, or disregarding nutrients entirely.
I’ve had times where I’ve obsessively counted every gram and felt proud when I’ve eaten less than 1,100 calories in a day, convincing myself that I was doing well at restricting my diet and eating at a calorific deficit. I’ve also had times where I’ve binged and been in denial over how much I’ve eaten. I feel like I’m on a constant see-saw between opposites that I’m now just trying to level out.
“I’ve spent years of my life practising ‘self-love’, but now I think part of that love is to finally acknowledge the tendencies that chip away at the deepest part of me”
The discourse surrounding fat people in our media is currently awash with conflict as well, between those advocating compassion and appreciation of our bodies, and those that peddle the argument that they should ‘just lose weight’. If you’ve never been fat, you don’t understand the way it affects you on a deeper level – your relationships with food, with yourself, with your family and friends.
And you also don’t understand what a monumental achievement it is to learn to love the body you’re in. As difficult as this is to talk about, it feels even more impossible to convey to you that I still love my body. I’ve spent years of my life practising ‘self-love’, but now I think part of that love is to finally acknowledge the tendencies that chip away at the deepest part of me. It’s such a strange dichotomy to love your body but it also recognise it as the source of your biggest insecurities and worries.
What is the way forward, then? The only answer, I think, is acceptance. I can’t change my past and nor would I want to, but one of the most important things we can do as human beings is try to understand why we are the way we are.
Blind denial of deep-seated problems does nothing for us, and doesn’t help us heal. That little girl who nobody wanted to have a sham primary school romance with will always feel a little bit unwanted even now, despite being in a loving relationship for three years. She’ll always feel a bit larger than everyone else in the room, despite no longer being so.
It’s not possible to speak for every person who grew up larger than everyone else, but I think for me there will always be that bizarre contrast between being resentful, and being grateful for what I have learned. The latter usually wins out, but that internal struggle has forced me to pay attention to and nurture my relationship with my body, to make sure that I appreciate every single part of it and what it does for me.
And to recognise how lucky I am too. As an adult, I’ve been blessed to become absorbed in movements such as #bodypositive over on Instagram, and discovered so many inspirational, hard-working women through it. All of this is reliant on me having the past that I do.
We all hold scars from our past. But it’s how we heal from those wounds that matters.
Megan Long is a freelance journalist and journalism student. Follow her on Twitter at @megannlong_
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