By Jess O’ Connell
I have never been skinny. Growing up, I was pretty average-sized, but once puberty hit, all hell broke loose. I got hips, and breasts and curves that no 11-year-old girl knows what to do with. With this came a lot of attention. Attention from other 11-year-old boys, fascinated with my prematurely developed body, attention from 11-year-old girls, bullying me for looking different, and attention from my step-mom.
In my teenage years, I wasn’t really fat. I was average, if not slightly larger than average, but by no means a behemoth of a girl. I only understand that now, looking back at pictures, because the way that my weight was addressed seemed to indicate otherwise. My step-mom always made comments about my size, some backhanded, often not. It seemed like I got a daily reminder that my weight was holding me back from true happiness in life. That if only I wasn’t SO fat, I could have more friends, or more boyfriends or better grades. To her, the root of all of my teenage problems was my size.
I was discouraged from playing sports because I was too big to play. I joined color guard my sophomore year, as a way to feel good about myself and participate in a team activity. This notion that I was just too large to function as a human being was perpetuated by my color guard instructor too. Mind you, I was a size 13 in high school. So by no means was I unhealthy or physically unfit to twirl a flag.
Because day in and day out I was being told that my body was why I was unhappy, I started to hate it, loathe it even. I stopped taking pride in the way that I looked. I stopped trying to be good at school or make new friends because there was really no point since my body was apparently the problem. I started binge eating. I never got into the whole purging thing, because puke grosses me out, but I would starve myself during the day, then binge eat at night. And because I hated my body so much, I stopped respecting it. I gave in to the attention from teenage boys. I allowed myself to get into situations far above my maturity level because for once, someone didn’t care about my size.
The feeling that someone, albeit a horny teenage boy, thought I was beautiful gave me a rush. But I would sit home and cry because I still felt empty. That attention still didn’t make me feel like a worthwhile person.
Don’t worry; my story isn’t all sad. Once I got out of high school, I started to see the light. I met my now husband, and made friends who loved me no matter what I looked like. I wouldn’t say I love my body at that point, but I was on the road to recovery. Shortly after my husband proposed, I told my parents, and the first thing my step-mom had to say was that if I just lost some weight, I would find someone who really loved me. For the first time in my life I looked at her like she was crazy, and that was when I started to put the pieces of my broken teenage-hood back together. I wasn’t the problem. She was.
It wasn’t after I got married, at 285 lbs., that I realized I needed to reevaluate my life. The binge eating had caught up to me, and although I had everything I ever wanted, I wasn’t truly happy with myself. After diet after diet, I finally realized that the problem isn’t only what I eat or don’t eat, it’s in my head. I had to reverse the years of emotional abuse that related my self-worth to my pant size. That was also when I started to run. Let me tell you, running at almost 300 lbs. (on a 5’1 frame) is HARD. It hurts, and you feel like you are dying, but at the end it feels so awesome. I ran my first 5K at 285 lbs. and even though I finished in more than an hour, I finished. That was the day I started to love my body.
It really set in that my body, albeit grossly overweight, was strong. So I started to test its strength. I started running more, and faster, to see if I could do it. I started lifting weights and doing yoga and I even did a mud run obstacle course. And yeah, it was hard, but my body did it. My body isn’t perfect, but it is the one I’ve got. And it is stronger and more beautiful than I had ever imagined it could be.
A few weeks ago, I was at a high school choir concert to see a friend’s daughter perform. After the concert, a girl and her mom came up to us to talk to my friend. In front of all of us, the girl’s mom made a comment about her daughter’s weight. It struck a nerve in me and it took everything I had to not say something to that woman. It took me 15 years and 150 lbs. to repair the damage that my own step-mom had made, and it crushed me that this girl might have to fight the same fight. I refuted her mother’s comment with an awkwardly shouted “you’re beautiful!” with the hopes that she would take my words to heart.
I can’t change my past, but if I try hard enough, I can help other women change their future. I truly believe that every body is beautiful. Whether your thighs touch or you breasts sag or ears are
crooked, every body, big or small, is beautiful because its yours.
Jess is a married 20-something living in Colorado with her husband and their dog Max. She has been writing since the age of 5 and just never stopped. Jess has always struggled with her weight and body image and is finding her way to body enlightenment through healthy living and yoga. She likes talking about movies, politics, fashion, gender issues and feminism. @skinnyjeansjess
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Thank you for this article. Like you I was quite curvey in HS. I was a size 13 with boobs and hips, and a body way beyond my age. My mom on the other hand had always been an athlete and tiny with no boobs. At my thinnest she would tell me I could be thinner. To this day I am upset that. I didn’t appreciate the beautiful body I had, and gained weight in my early 20’s because of that pressure. Now I am struggling to change that path. I appreciate hearing that I am not the only one.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I am so sorry you went through the same thing. I am here for you if you want to talk. :D
I love this Jess! You’ve really captured the damage that other people (usually family members) can inflict upon otherwise mentally healthy individuals. And when that damage becomes physical, the massive fight that it takes to overcome it. I’m heartbroken to hear about the woman making a negative comment toward her daughter… because I’ve been that little girl. There is NOTHING okay with body-shaming, even when it comes from a place of wanting what’s best for the child. I’m so inspired by how far you’ve come, and how your trying to use your own story to help others avoid the pain you dealt with in the past!
Bravo Jess! Your lessons were to bring you to a place where you can help others – bless you!