I’m writing this post as part of Teen Week: Words That Heal, an annual blog series where bloggers write about their experiences with body image, sexuality, and self-esteem during adolescence.
As a teenager, I hated everything about how I looked. My acne that wouldn’t go away no matter how many over- the-counter products I lathered on my face. I tried them all. I worked after school at a drug store, so I even got a discount. So I piled on concealer and foundation to cover up my pimples. But I couldn’t hide them.
I spent a lot of time trying to hide. I bought long sweaters, down to my knees, to hide my stomach and baggy jeans to hide my thighs. It took a long time for me to wear clothes my actual size. Most of my wardrobe was black, much to my mother’s chagrin. You look so pretty in red, she’d tell me. As if, I thought. That wasn’t going to happen.
I wanted desperately to fit in. I’d moved from a working class Queens, NY neighborhood to a more affluent Long Island community. My father was a New York City policeman, we couldn’t “keep up” with richer neighboring families. Kids’ families belonged to yacht clubs and owned boats! This was unheard of to me. I was far from poor, but at the time it sure felt like it to my teenage self.
I was convinced if I wore the “right” clothes and looked the part, people would accept me. I babysat and worked after-school jobs. In the summer, I worked two jobs. I was an honors student. But rather than saving that money for the future, I spent my weekends trolling the mall, shopping for clothes. It was all about designer labels back in the eighties. Reebok sneakers and Jordache jeans.
At the local flea market one Saturday, I found a cheap Benetton sweatshirt. I was so proud of myself for finding this bargain. I thought “Benetton” emblazoned across my chest would buy me legitimacy. I wore it that Monday. A mean girl in one of my classes called it out for being a fake. A knockoff. I felt like everyone could through me and my efforts.
It wasn’t really about the money or the clothes. I was convinced I was the ugliest girl on the planet. I had straight, flat hair that wouldn’t do anything, no matter how many curling irons I tried or perms. Then I got the Lemon Tree perm that ruined my life. I bleached my brown hair and tweezed my thick eyebrows nearly out of existence. I wanted to transform myself into someone entirely different. But when I looked in the mirror, it was still me looking back.
Looking back, I wasn’t seriously overweight. A little chunky, yes. Awkward, unathletic. My father was an overweight kid and he didn’t want the same for me growing up. But his way of deterring me didn’t help. He’d comment on the portions of food I took and tell me I was “eating him out of house and home.” I grew up feeling every forkful of food I ate was being scrutinized. He made pointed comments about my “thunder thighs.”
I was teased and I saw people around me being teased even more. I became quiet, wanting to be as inconspicuous as possible. I was convinced if people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me. When your father tells you in anger, “I have to love you because you are my daughter, but I don’t like you as a person,” you start to believe you are unlovable. We’ve all said things in anger that we regret and don’t mean. Unfortunately words can have a lasting impact.
I became slightly more confident in my junior and senior years of high school. I won some awards for my writing. I became a literary magazine editor. People noticed me. I had worth. While feeling good about myself, deep down I worried that my writing was the only thing good about me. Without my writing, I was nothing.
Boyfriends? Forget about it. I didn’t have my first kiss until 3 weeks into my first year away at college at a frat party. I’ve dated guys who I didn’t even like, or who were no good for me, because I didn’t feel I could do any better. I’ve slept with guys just to feel attractive and wanted.
After college, I moved back home and developed an eating disorder. I cut my calories down to nearly nothing a day, convincing myself the smaller I was the more attractive I was. I couldn’t get off the binging and purging roller coaster. My father put a lock on the freezer door so I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night and eat his ice cream. I loathed myself for being out of control and unable to stave off the emotional and physical hunger I felt.
Years spent gaining and losing weight. Stepping on and off scales. Hating my body. Hating myself. Continue reading