The Lies of My Life – Success Means Being Skinny and Pretty

I actively experience this lie, because for some reason, this is one of those negative voices that just keeps finding its way into my mind. Re-wiring this lie out of my brain can take some time because this voice has been a loud influence throughout my life. For some (including myself) it can be difficult, and even painful, to release. This is especially true because we learn this from the female role models in our lives, including *gasp* our mothers.

When I was a very young girl, I remember my mom really being into fitness. We lived in a small apartment that was handicapped accessible, and it was cool because it was so roomy, you could basically do laps around the apartment and get a decent workout. My mom walked a lot of laps, and I did them too. She watched Gilad Janklowicz’s and Denise Austin’s exercise shows on TV, and like many people do, worked hard to stay in shape. Everyone on those fitness shows looked so happy and healthy. And Gilad was soooooo dreamy, right?

I remember my mom constantly dieting too. At one point she said she was going to have nothing but water for two weeks, and after it was done, she said she didn’t lose a single pound. Looking back, I don’t believe that she didn’t eat a single thing, and I believe she likely had an endocrine disorder that was exacerbated by her poor dietary choices. She’s clearly got a strong kapha constitution, but she didn’t listen to her body, she fought against it, and when you fight yourself, yourself fights back. Queue the downward spiral.

I watched her and her sisters struggling with their weight. I also saw my dad’s sisters work on keeping their weight in check, but there was a significant difference in the way my parents’ families looked at weight issues.

On my mom’s side of the family, many of the women with weight issues (with the exception of a few) practiced extreme dieting. Rumor has it that one of my aunts was using amphetamines (speed) to control her weight. I would hear comments like, “She’s not a size 8, and shouldn’t be trying to squeeze herself into those jeans because it makes her look stupid.” Everyone was struggling and ironically, everyone had an opinion about how the others should be living their lives. My mom would practically starve herself all day, and as soon as we went to bed, I’d hear the fridge open. I never knew what happened after she opened the fridge, but I suspect that she was binging. Growing up in that family, I can only imagine that my aunts were talking as much crap about her as she did about them.

My dad’s sisters were different. I’d see them measure out their cereal for breakfast, and because my grandma Lucca was so focused on healthy eating with an emphasis of fruits and veggies (evident by her bountiful garden), they seemed to emphasize health over weight. They never talked crap about each other – well, as it pertained to weight, anyway. HA! I remember a few in that family being avid runners. Ironically, many of the girls went on to become nurses.

Around the time all my female role models were flaming their battles of the bulge, my mom enrolled me and my sisters in dance. My teacher’s name was Janet Wagner, and was she ever the nicest and most beautiful vision! Skinny and pretty, she appeared to be the only woman in my life who wasn’t struggling with her weight. This was my first look at a woman who wasn’t constantly griping about her flab. Whether or not she struggled with her weight, she never made it a distraction in dance class, and she always seemed happy – or at least pleasant.

Things were status quo until 5th grade when my younger sister started significantly filling out. While Janet was teaching us to keep our “stomachs in and butts tucked under” to give ourselves the proper ballerina lines and posture, my mom was focused on telling my little sister to “suck in” because she would look “sloppy” in pictures. She would always point at the chubby girls in our class and say they looked sloppy. Sloppy was the word for “not skinny.” But sloppy wasn’t the only way I heard these girls described. I heard “she’s got her gut hanging out” and “she should be wearing a long shirt” to describe these little girls. Fortunately for me, I had a very “vata” body type, so it didn’t take much to “suck in.” You better believe I still sucked in for all my pictures! This wasn’t because Janet wanted a proper line. It was because I didn’t want to get shamed for looking fat and sloppy when the recital pictures came back. Because you know when those pictures came back she’d compare us to the other girls, and we knew exactly where we stood and where we needed to be.

As I got older, and my little sister got bigger, the comments kept coming. Whether or not my mom or my other family members were aware, they were fat shaming my sister. I always heard comments like “she’s the chubby one,” “look at those chubby cheeks,” and “she looks like a good eater.” Maybe people thought the comments were innocent, but in the context of my mom’s opinion of overweight and sloppy little girls, it was deeply mortifying. My sister’s self-esteem was in the damn toilet, and I saw it.

The summer after 6th grade, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I loved my sister so damn much, and I was so sick of hearing the comments and criticism of her sloppy looks. I created a diet plan for our summer which included 800 calorie daily diets complemented with a heavy biking schedule. I knew enough about the food guide pyramid to make something nutritionally balanced, and figured we’d maintain a good weight if we sustained our energy throughout the day. Before it was a fad, we were eating 5 times a day with a good mix of carbs, fats and proteins while engaging in an aggressive workout schedule. It was all written down, and my sister and I were accountable to each other if we strayed from the plan.

My sister lost so much weight that summer that her teachers didn’t even recognize her. On the other hand, I stayed the same size. I entered 7th grade 5 feet tall and 80 pounds, and my sister had lost over 30 pounds. Everyone told her how great she looked, they complimented her on her dramatic weight loss, and were in awe of her transformation. She was also approaching puberty too, so her looks became more mature. She seemed really happy about the attention, but there was something that was still wrong. Inside she was fighting a battle. You could see the lights go on. Being skinny means people like you. I got the same impression. Skinny and pretty is good, and everything else is bad.

I’d definitely call my sister a bully. She bullied kids in school, and she definitely bullied me. It was nearly daily, and to the point I was wavering between constant sadness and rage. I often fantasized punching her in the face. One time I even tried it, but she slammed the door in my face, and my fist went through the door. Yeah. I was that mad.

When she finally entered 7th grade, her bullying evolved into cheating. She bullied the teachers by stealing answers to the tests, memorizing them, and acing all the tests. I thought she was always really smart and that’s how she got such good grades, but then I knew that she had mastered the system by cheating. While I sat in my room and cried because I had a crappy home environment that lacked love, way too much on my plate in terms of extra-curricular activities, a private school homework load, and the expectation of perfection, she was hacking the system by cheating.

Well done, little sister. Well done.

She was suffering as severely as me, but just in a different way. As we continued to get older, a couple of older teenagers entered my family. The stress was too much for my sister, and I watch her lose control of her eating again. By 9th grade, she was up to almost 160 lbs, and these boys weren’t even being kind about their comments. On a regular basis I heard them call her “fat fuck,” and I was always amazed that no one told them to stop. It was like my mom believed if she ignored it, the name calling would stop, but it didn’t.

Although I was being abused too, I was able to stay under the radar with the verbal assaults. I had big, ugly glasses, but I was skinny. I knew if I had control of my weight, that I wouldn’t be verbally abused in the “fat” category. I watched everything that went into my mouth, I constantly chanted “my body is my temple,” (thanks to St. Thomas School’s religious education) and I took advantage of every opportunity to fill my face with fresh food or get exercise. I knew that my worth and freedom from abuse relied heavily on my weight, but as I entered puberty it became increasingly harder to control it.

Lucky for me, around that time I was working at the Minnesota Workforce Center, and one of the random unemployed guys came in and brought us a copy of the cabbage soup diet. SCORE! Now, I had a way to stay skinny, and it worked!

I brought the paper home that had the cabbage soup recipe and instructions for eating. My mom and sister were interested, so we made a huge pot of soup and everyone ate. I’m not sure how much weight the rest of my family lost that week, but I lost 10 pounds. Ironically, I didn’t have 10 pounds to lose, but it came off. I was happy, and every time I stepped on the scale and saw it going down, I felt success. I knew what success tasted like – cabbage soup.

I used the cabbage soup diet a couple times a year to keep my body in check for ballet. My mom was feeding me McDonalds, so this was the way I used to cleanse and atone from all my junky eating. It wasn’t like I chose this food. This is what was fed to me. It was more convenient for my mom to buy me fast food than make food, so she turned to convenience, and I was slowly being poisoned.

If anyone’s ever seen the documentary called Supersize Me, you know what happens when you eat too much McDonalds. I gained 20 pounds in a few months, and soon my whole face was broken out with severe cystic acne. I finally got rid of my ugly glasses, I was still skinny, but now I was ugly. At the time, I was taking classes at the college in a post-secondary program, and my mom was taking a keyboarding class with me. She would look at my face, make comments about how bad my acne was, but she never took me to the doctor to get me medication for this skin disease, and she never bought healthy food. She said our state-sponsored medical plan probably wouldn’t cover my acne because it was “cosmetic,” but she never actually called to check to see if this was the case. The fact is, acne is covered by insurance. It’s not a simple “cosmetic” problem. Ugh.

My worth sunk. My sister’s new boyfriend called me an “eyesore,” my mom would cringe when she looked at me, and I didn’t know what to do. I spiraled into a deep depression. Lucky for me, around the same time I started spending time in Canada with my boyfriend’s grandparents, and the more dinners I had at their house, the more my face cleared up. Within a couple months, I was nearly all clear.

Around the time my face cleared up, my boyfriend told me he thought my sister had bulimia. I had no idea what bulimia even was, so he explained to me that she’s eating a ton of food and then throwing up in the shower. So I watched, and listened, and soon I knew he was right. I did what every responsible, loving sister would do: I told my mom. I confessed that I had been watching my sister binge on foods and then go throw up in the shower. Some weeks she’d go through tubs of peanut butter, maple syrup, and ketchup (which I later learned are preferred lubricants for vomiting), and she was literally eating what little food we had in the house until the cupboards were bare. Instead of my mom contacting a pediatrician, a psychologist, or a doctor, she just yelled at my sister. “You better not be throwing up in the shower!” she scolded.

Are you fucking kidding me? <==My actual thought at the time.

My sister was obviously in terrible pain. If she was going through the motions of binging and purging, then she’s got a serious mental problem. How did I know this? I read it on the internet! Her weight plummeted, and people admired how beautiful and skinny she was. No surprise. My sister was literally abusing herself and her body, and she was being openly celebrated for it.

Bulimia is a horrible disease. I watched her puke her body away and puke her teeth away. She puked her self-esteem away, even though she was using it to gain control over her life. I don’t know why she did it, but I suspected she was trying to escape from the years of fat shaming, the current abuse, and the lack of parental love. If she was skinny, my mom would value her. If she was skinny, she wouldn’t have to suck in for ballet pictures. If she was skinny, she’d be back in the limelight, just like she was in 6th grade. If she was skinny, she’d be happy, and so would everyone else.

But it didn’t make her happy. It made her angrier. She started lashing out and abusing other people. She started forging my mom’s checks to steal money which fueled her eating disorder, she lied to me, she lied to her friends and family, and she was lying to herself.

I ended up moving away to the Washington D.C. area as soon as I graduated from high school, and I was married and pregnant with my first child a few years later. My sister, still suffering from bulimia, stealing, and lying, came to live here too. As I gained weight during my pregnancy, I heard all kinds of passive aggressive comments about my weight. I heard comments like, “I don’t know why you’re gaining so much weight; you must be eating a lot,” and “when I’m pregnant someday, I’m not getting all fat (que side glances at me) because I’m going to stay really fit and work out every day.” I also got “the looks.” Oh! The looks I got! Little did she know, my hormones, not my eating habits, caused me to gain nearly 50 pounds each pregnancy. In fact, three weeks after giving birth I had lost 45 of the 50 pounds, illustrating that my weight gain was water weight, not stored fat. Every time I would wake up from a nap, I’d have a GIANT pee and lose 3 pounds. Seriously. My sister was fat shaming me (for water weight due to hormones) at the most critical time of my life – when I was growing a baby.

By the time I was pregnant I had completely lost my inclination and desire to control my weight. I knew it was healthy to gain weight during pregnancy, and breastfeeding required a high caloric intake. My entire focus had changed. Instead of trying to keep my perfect size 00 body, I exercised, cooked and ate healthy meals, and allowed my ego to be annihilated by falling in love with marriage and motherhood. My mother’s voice in my head faded away… …at least for a few years…

When I seriously got into my career, I noticed something very frightening. The skinny (or fit), and pretty people had the best jobs, were taken the most seriously, and seemed to be the most successful. Maybe my mom was just preparing me for the reality of life? Maybe I unfairly judged her tough love, catty comments about looking “sloppy,” or acne triggered looks of disgust. In reality, she and all the other female role models were being shaped by society. Only the strongest and most present were able to talk themselves out of the negative messages and view their bodies as something that should be nurtured and respected. Society (especially Corporate America) still has it wrong, and the only way to change the message is to be the change we want to see.

Here’s the simple truth:

Our body is a temple for the spirit that connects us all. You are the entire universe manifested in human form. You are enough. You are a success. Right now. As is. Without caveats. And no one can tell you anything different.

Because of Transcendental Meditation, I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime to free myself from these dysfunctional thoughts. I have come to realize that the destructive comments that people make about others illustrates the relationship they have with themselves. It’s not you. It’s never you. It’s them.

…and today, when I’m PMSing and feel like I’m a sausage shoved in a casing, or when I don’t have makeup on, I can still feel that voice creeping up and telling me I’m a failure. I acknowledge these thoughts without judgement when I live presently; I let them go as they bubble up; and I practice self-acceptance. When someone has labeled you as the “pimple-infested, overweight, ugly-duckling,” you know that what’s on the outside is just a small piece of who you are. Once you get right on the inside, it doesn’t matter how the outside looks.

Once you understand the truth, you will always feel perfect. Because you ARE!

Remember that. Love yourself. Heal yourself. You’re a success.

With all my love,

The Guru Girl

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3 thoughts on “The Lies of My Life – Success Means Being Skinny and Pretty

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