Open Letter from a Former Skinny Girl

I know you didn’t mean to call me gross when you grabbed your non-existent gut and exclaimed how disgusting you were, but you, a current skinny girl, were standing right next to me, a former one.

If I had to objectively assess myself I would say I am medium build and somewhat athletic, since I am hitting the gym, seeing a personal trainer, and finally putting some tone back on my body. So, this letter is not from someone who is morbidly obese or might be considered overweight by others, but according to what my scale says, and according to what my personal trainer has been paid to tell me, I’m technically overweight.

I have struggled with my body image for years, even when I was a size 0 and could stuff my face with cookies and chicken nuggets for dinner on a regular basis if I had wanted. Now, reaching my mid-thirties and coming to terms with my altered metabolism, even while eating regimented salads, burgers with no bun, quinoa, zucchini pasta, and lean chicken, I can’t seem to win. I probably workout approximately four to five times a week and have hardly seen results. I don’t buy bread anymore, I choose salmon over pasta, and make spinach and kale smoothies nearly every morning.

Most people do not mean to hurt the feelings of others when talking about their own bodies, but it happens. I am not writing to call someone out on bullying; I am writing because I used to be her: the skinny girl with maybe two ounces of fat on her body, who complained about her looks to garner the attention of those around her.

People who are unhappy with their bodies don’t go around lifting their shirts up to show their flesh. We are the ones in the corner quietly shaming ourselves for being pieces of garbage and thinking about how we should not have indulged in that slice of pizza, placing unrealistic and undoubtedly harsh expectations on ourselves.

I don’t want to be taunted by my guy friends, asking where my six-pack is (which is rock-solid and hiding under a small layer, by the way), and I don’t want to be the invisible female in the room, because the tinier, more fit one is standing a couple of feet away.

I realize that someone commenting on my body when I didn’t ask them to is not my fault, and I no longer have this strong desire to caper around men, begging for attention. I just don’t. Some of it might be because I have some extra weight I don’t feel comfortable with, but mostly, it’s because I realize who I used to be, and I don’t like that person.

I used to be that girl who saw something in a magazine and knew if I bought it, it would almost always look the same way on me.

I was that girl who felt uncomfortable when I was around people who legitimately complained about their weight, because I knew I was a poser only seeking attention. Trust me, I had body issues even when I was 105 lbs, but my weight problem has changed from a mental one to an actual physical one.

When I was in my twenties, my fiancé at the time referred to me as a “miniature supermodel”, because I was only 5’2” instead of 5’9”, yet perfectly proportioned. He also happened to control what I wore fairly often. I couldn’t wear short shorts, and I wasn’t allowed to show off my legs in tiny dresses.

Within a year or two of when we broke up, I began to put on weight. There’s a part of me that still feels animosity that I couldn’t “show it off” when I had the chance. The only thing I get to show off these days is my cleavage, because one of the benefits of gaining weight is that I grew two cup sizes.

I have this interesting perspective about my weight gain, because I haven’t had this issue my whole life. Until I turned 30, I was nearly too thin, by no fault of my own; it was just my genetics. I see the girls around me who are like this, and may stay like this, and think about how I was so insensitive to others’ feelings with the way I acted around men and the way I talked about my own body.

For that, I openly apologize.

It’s not fun to be on the other side.

And I know, even as I write this, there is someone else out there possibly reading who is struggling a lot harder than me. I can’t change the way our bodies look, but I can give you the silent nod and the verbal reassurance that even if you aren’t content with your appearance, there are so many people out there who think you are drop-dead gorgeous. And, naturally, you should think so, too, but as is clearly evident by this letter, we can’t always control our emotions or negative thoughts.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a size 0 again, and my choice to work on my weight is solely mine, not to be judged by how anyone else treats their body, but even if I do lose some weight, what I will never lose is the humility I gained in understanding what a huge impact a few innocent words have on those around us.

Sincerely,

A girl continually learning compassion

I Won’t Grow Up!

Several months back, I listened to a podcast about creature comforts. You know, the tattered, well-loved scraps of cloth or worn, matted fur of a stuffed animal we’ve adored since our childhood.

I have a few: a white crocheted blanket with pastel-colored trim, a stuffed golden retriever named Mutsy, and a glow pet in the form of a unicorn. The first two I’ve had practically my entire life. There have been a handful of others that have run in and out of circulation over the years, but these are the three items I curl into, wrap myself up in, and nuzzle as I drift off to sleep each night.

I also happen to be 34 years old.

The woman narrating the first segment of the podcast on NPR’s Hidden Brain episode, “Creature Comforts”, battles criticism from her mother about wanting her blankey with her each night, although she is a 40-year-old married woman with a kid.

I had never really thought about it, since I’m not yet forty or married, nor do I have children, but if I’m not willing to part with my creature comforts now, will I ever be? Is it so wrong if I don’t?

As a child, it is societally the norm to have a blankey or favorite stuffed animal that goes everywhere with us. As a teenager, we might get crap from our friends about it, but often, our room still holds pieces of nostalgia from our youth. In college, it might even be considered mildly adorable if your favorite childhood comfort accompanies you to a new environment.

As an adult, well, my past boyfriends have made comments.

My ex fiancé never forced me to leave bedtime for just the two of us, but I would sometimes wake up to the sound and silhouette of my stuffed dog whizzing past my head because he ended up in J’s territory.

Another one of my boyfriends, albeit extremely fond of my adorable nature, would roll his eyes as he tucked me in with my entourage of sleep aids and read me bedtime stories to help me fall asleep.

My current boyfriend has not made any comments thus far, but I do wonder what he really thinks about sharing the bed with me and my motley array of plush and yarn.

The woman narrating the NPR podcast discloses that she happens to be lucky, since her husband finds it endearing that she still sleeps with her blankey. How when she’s not around, he actually will snuggle it because it reminds him of her.

Is there something wrong with holding onto our old blankeys? Why must we wean ourselves off of something that makes some of us so incredibly happy and comforted when we go to bed?

The world is a scary place, and, in my opinion, with the current events and state of affairs with our new presidency, is becoming more frightening and fragile by the minute.

When I am curled under my comforter with the glow of my night-light moon, waxing or waning in the corner (yes, I have a Moon In My Room, advertised for children… I also have Mars), I feel ageless and safe. I am eternally the child that is afraid of things and is assuaged when the pressures of the world don’t exist for a few hours in the dark with my favorite stuffed dog resting under my cheek.

I might also be the only adult, who at a Yankee Gift Swap, was excited to get the gag gift: a glow in the dark, plush unicorn. I actually squealed.

These facts do not make me less of an adult. I am a well-adjusted, secure, and independent woman who happens to love blankets and stuffed animals.

We may change shape and gain responsibilities as we get older, but we still need to feel loved and nurtured. Those things never subside. I can even argue that with the surmounting level of responsibility as an adult and dose of reality comes an even greater need to surround ourselves with things that bring us relief and comfort.

Will my future children someday ask me why I sleep with a stuffed animal just like they do? Sure, maybe. And I’ll tell them because hugging things rocks and it’s never wrong to want to love something.

When Dreams Shift into Nightmares

I remember thinking, “There’s no way out of this one.” And then I woke up.

My dreams never make a lot of sense.

When I go to explain them to someone, I often can’t describe them linearly, and the details become muddled. However, when I am in my dream, they seem clear to me, and last night was a series of nightmares that left me feeling very emotionally uncomfortable.

Both were apocalyptic in nature, but at the end of the first one, a single, white horse was stampeding towards me. I stood at the end of a very high cliff with a breath-taking view, knowing I needed to get out of the way, so I hung over the side of the cliff.

It went successfully, but then for some reason, after pulling myself up, I had that urge to just jump. I knew I would be killing myself if I did (and I was not aware it was a dream at the time; it felt very real), but I chose to jump.

I remember closing my eyes and soaring downward very fast, my back facing the ground. I felt scared, but I came to complete peace with what I had chosen and knew what might come at the end would not necessarily be painless, because how can you know unless you’ve done it? I talked to God, I remembered people I loved, and I pressed my eyes shut very tightly, so I wouldn’t know when I would hit the bottom.

I never hit the bottom.

That dream scared the shit out of me. Covered in sweat, I lay in bed for a few minutes completely freaked out that I made that decision, dream or not, and then had to coax myself back to sleep with meditation.

A little later, seemingly half-awake, I felt Bryan next to me and said, “hey.” He woke up and acknowledged me, and I asked him, “How did you get here? I was hoping you would be here,” because he was not at my place last night. I think I needed the comfort from the previous dream.

I remember being completely amazed at this magic trick he performed (appearing in my apartment at 4am), and I made him come with me to the mirror, so I could turn on the light and prove he was there. He was.

Of course, I was dreaming, but it was one of those dreams where the lines between reality and fantasy are extremely blurred. I was looking at my own hands. I was sitting up in my own bed. I remember thinking about how this time it wasn’t a dream.

I walked out into the living room and other people started to enter my apartment. Friends needing refuge. There was some catastrophe that took place in London, and it was beginning to take effect globally. I scrambled to get cots and blankets for people, and Bryan was helping me.

At one point, I tried to use the telephone to contact work (because of the emergency) but the lines were dead…

And yet again, I awoke, and realized no apocalypse was taking place outside my window. No immediate need for fight or flight. No boyfriend there comforting me after my bad dream.

A night of dreams such as those feels less like rest and more like a long trek, and I am worse for wear this morning. The lingering emotions will wind down as daylight continues, and I will forget the nightmarish ghouls that snuck into my bedroom and made me think the unimaginable.

Pain Is Beauty

Yesterday, I was harassed by a female I can only describe as plebeian and insulting to the senses.

I met her about a year and a half or two years ago through a mutual friend, and from, literally, the first few minutes of hearing her speak, I couldn’t stand her. Having said that, I still was kind to her; she just rubbed me the wrong way. She is immature, half-witted, emotionally unstable, and manipulative, and I have never had any desire to be in her presence.

After a very exhausting argument between her and several of my friends (involving her wanting a friend who was intoxicated to drive her home), she had decided she didn’t like me. Fair enough. It also might have had something to do with the fact that not only do I outwit her in intelligence and rationality, she is fiercely jealous of the attention I receive from a guy who later became her boyfriend for a period of time.

To her, she sees a pretty girl who is confident, smart, and has the respect of a man she so desperately wants for herself. She sees me as a threat, when I am not. I am not interested in my friend, but we do have a strong bond and connection, which she cannot have with him, because she has never earned his respect.

I have witnessed the benefits of being kind to others, not inciting anger, staying away from drama, and going the extra mile to reach out, even when it’s the last thing I want to do. Notwithstanding, I have learned that no matter how pure our intentions, people will always feel what they want to feel.

Yesterday, that resulted in harassment. It came out of nowhere, but I am not surprised. What is so frustrating to me is that it is about nothing. I have not done a single act to upset her, but her perceived image of me as a threatening female is enough for her to flash her insecure talons and rip into me.

More than anything, it is really annoying. I don’t have time for useless drama about nothing from a person I feel nothing for and have no issue with so long as she doesn’t talk to me.

This has been happening to me since high school. Being nice doesn’t always get you nice things. Nor does having compassion. Do not read that the wrong way; I am not suggesting that kindness and compassion are futile—I am affirming that, sometimes, having those skills makes us so powerful we intimidate others and they are unkind to us.

Confident and mature humans feel exalted by the compassion and love of others, because they can clearly see its intent. However, humans who are weak and easily triggered only see the world as a battlefield, seeking out those who pose a threat.

The more beautiful and revered we are, well, the more dangerous we appear.

It is something that I am used to, but I will never be used to the unnecessary pain it causes. I don’t mean the ersatz, feigned pain of the antagonizer, I mean being bullied and harassed by other females who do not have the strength to recognize the beauty in others and, therefore, always see other females as enemies instead of compatriots.

This person was never my friend, but I have lost friendships over this very thing. We are all connected and can be support for one another if only people were vulnerable enough to listen. Instead, we use our fear to attempt to break into the psyches of others and grind them down until they are on our own level—a level of obscurity and misery.

Being beautiful (in any combination of ways) is always going to be a burden until we, as a human race, learn to appreciate and respect each other, instead of defaulting to fear. Fearfulness is not an admirable fight. It is pain-inducing cowardice.

We hurt others with our fears, but we also stifle ourselves from reaching a place of peace and truth. Her words yesterday held no truth, yet, sadly, they were her created truth, which speared up through her being and out into the world, due to her insecurity. So much unnecessary hurtfulness sewn into the world because we don’t seek actual truth.

I know I am not done being stabbed by others who aren’t strong enough to confront their own personal demons; it is the hand I have been seemingly dealt, at times.

I hope this chick climbs out of her useless wreckage of self-damage, but chances are, she won’t. I can eventually brush off her slanderous words, but she will never be able to cleanse herself of the hatred she feels as long as she sees beauty as a threat.

Antidote

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post about my ex’s brother and his girlfriend “in a relationship”. They have been dating since the summer but finally made it “Facebook official”.

My ex’s mother responded to the post: “The best thing to ever happen to this family!” Although I agree that his girlfriend is simply amazing and a genuine sweetheart, it stung. Why?

Well, because for years, I was the best thing that ever happened to that family.

I was the glowing spectacle in the eyes of his mother, brought in from the world into her undeserving son’s arms, hopefully to remain indefinitely. Obviously, he and I broke up. More than once, in fact, because at the time, he simply didn’t know what he wanted, couldn’t own up to his emotions, or wasn’t ready.

While I can accept that and know it was he who cast me out, why did it sting so much to read that comment?

It’s the phrasing; in particular, the word “family”. Why would she be the best thing for the family? Wouldn’t she merely be the best thing for my ex’s brother? Similarly, why was I the best thing that ever happened to the family and not just to my ex?

The thing is, I may have been the best thing that happened to my ex in years, but I also received so much warmth and approval from his family that it really felt like I was the new bulb replaced on the string of lights that made things once again bright.

I never had his affections and emotions in an open sort of way. He hid himself from me and rarely made me feel very loved or special, so having his family’s acceptance was part of what kept me going. I needed it to have the patience required to wait for him to shape up.

That’s why the comment scraped the inside of my heart: I was just as much in a relationship with the family as I was with my ex, and in some ways, more connected to them than I was to him, at times. Breaking up with him was breaking up with three other people all at once.

Now I have the devotion of a man who isn’t afraid to tell me how he feels. He tells me I’m beautiful, sweet, cute, and amazing every day. He even says I’m the “most beautiful” he’s ever seen. Although I like his parents, I don’t need them in the way that I relied so heavily upon the relationship I had with my ex’s family, because with Bryan, I am given more than enough adulation and support. I don’t feel like I’m wading in a pool of my own emotions for someone else, while they are on the shore holding the life raft, like I did with my ex. I was always waiting for him to jump into the depths with me or at least scoop me out to the beach to be with him.

In that way, I very much required the acceptance of his family, because without that, I was swimming alone in my love for him. Buffered by their love, I could be strong enough to hold on a bit longer.

That’s why it stung.

It’s completely personal and nothing to do with my ex’s brother’s girlfriend. She is beyond a blessing to be around. It’s nothing more than coming to terms with my own insecurity I felt in my past relationship.

Realizing that I am now submersed in the warm cocoon of a submarine barrack with a man who openly and unabashedly loves me gives me security. His acceptance is the one I need, and it has finally been found.

Chemical Cocktail, Please

His hand is outstretched with an ornament in his palm; he says, “Do you want to hang this one?”

A week ago, Bryan and I put up the Christmas tree in my living room.

With the new Gilmore Girls Series playing in the background, we spread all of the ornaments across the floor and began to hang.

It was a home-made ornament from my co-worker Heather with one of my favorite photos of Zen and me on it: I’m in my thread-bare bathrobe, snuggling him in a deep embrace while smiling.

me-and-zen

I immediately broke out into tears. Big alligator tears.

I don’t know if it was that I was completely taken by surprise or that it was the beginning of the week where my hormones get all wacky thanks to my silent passenger, PMDD. It probably was a combination of the two, but I was a tiny ball on my living room rug, crying hard while apologizing through snotty wails.

Losing Zen a month before Christmas last year was such a whirlwind that I had erased from my memory that I ever received that ornament. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one. After I recovered myself, we continued to hang ornaments, and minutes later, Bryan finds another customized Zen ornament that my sister had made. Another one I had forgotten about. He hands it to me, and once again, I am on the floor, tears streaming down my face.

I have always been “highly sensitive” and “overly emotional” since I was a child. In the past few years, it has intensified. Recently, I’ve discovered I have what is labeled as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, where my hormones go hay-wire for approximately a week to a week and a half each month, usually during ovulation.

So, it makes me wonder, was I really that distraught over my deceased cat or was it just my crazy hormones acting up?

Knowing that I have a hormone imbalance and being able to regulate it with birth control and natural remedies, such as exercise, dietary changes, and herbal supplements, has basically saved me from losing my mind and firing off at people with no self-control. Yet, it has also enabled me to use it as a crutch or an excuse when I do act ‘roided up on emotions.

That bothers me, sometimes.

Some of the magic of life’s moments are blanched when I have the knowledge that a specific combination of neurochemicals and hormones are having a rager in my body and that’s the reason why something makes me wistful, depressed, nostalgic, deeply affected, or impassioned. Things like my libido and emotional acuity can be altered with the application of a pill each day.

However, I cannot deny that PMDD is a real thing and I can actually see the signs of it now that I know what it is. It’s not just a made-up crutch with which I scapegoat my behaviors. I’ll come home from work and have that “I just want to go to bed now” feeling that I used to attribute to laziness and always gave myself a hard time about, but I know now that it is the onset of PMDD. Knowing that helps me get through it and actually motivates me to go to yoga, start cleaning the apartment, or make dinner. These subtle signs always happen during a specific time of the month, providing some proof that the chemical cocktail is coursing through my body.

Crying over Zen was unexpected and real. It may have been heightened by my levels of hormones in that moment, but I love and miss him fiercely.

I refuse to let the knowledge that we’re all varying mixtures of chemicals ruin the incredible luster that is cherishing a lost one, smiling because a memory with an old partner feels painfully beautiful, or hurting because my heart is breaking. It might not always be a fun feeling, but it’s me.

It’s always been me.

Chicken Little

I finally told him.

I told him and the sky didn’t come crashing down as a feared Chicken Little might have suspected. I wasn’t engulfed by volcanic ash. No earthquakes shook and rattled tall buildings to the earth.

I don’t know why I told him. The only purpose it served was so that I no longer had to hold it in, pressed against my gums all the time, wanting to be released.

I have come to the realization that saying it isn’t the scariest or hardest thing in the world. I’ve said it in the past and not had it returned. I’ve been laughed at and rocked back and forth in an embrace of confusion and patronization.

I survived.

The most arduous undertaking is knowing that it needs to be said and not expressing it out of fear or self-preservation.

I didn’t say it because I wanted him to say it back. I didn’t tell him because I wanted a hollywood romance moment, where all the messy pieces of my life are placed exactly where they always needed it be. I wasn’t attempting to bargain him back into my arms. There was no ulterior motive.

I declared it because he deserved to be told.