This is one of the final – and best – blog posts I shared on my old site. This is still a topic that I think about and struggle with every day.
There are many reasons why I haven’t blogged in well over a year, but today I’m going to address one of the main reasons. One of the main reasons I decided to blog in the first place was simply to address issues most important to me, and with the issues of body image and infertility, I’ve failed to do just that. How do you address something that affects every single aspect of your life? How do you address something so overwhelming that no one, not even those who love you the most, wants to hear it? The thing is that the longer I let these thoughts fester, let these words go unsaid, the longer I wonder if there is something I could’ve done for girls and women dealing with the same issues.
As a child, I can precisely pinpoint the moment when I was told my body wasn’t good enough; it was the day I entered kindergarten. Prior to kindergarten, no one called me fat or felt the need to constantly remind me just how short I was. Sure, I was a “stocky” kid, but I was also active. I played outside constantly with my little sister, cousins, etc. I never felt self-conscious in a bathing suit; I was having too much fun swimming. I never felt the need to compare myself to anyone else. Did I envy my older cousins? Of course I did! I looked up to all four of them (all female), but even as a small child I knew that to compare myself to someone so much older simply didn’t make sense.
Everything changed in kindergarten. In gym, I was always picked last for teams. When we had to line up by height (again, in gym), I was inevitably last or next to last. Sadly, I was compared to a little girl who was much larger than me. I just remember the anger and outrage of such an unjust comparison, and yet, I felt empathy for the other girl. Was that really how other kids saw me? As time wore on, kids started making rhymes about my body. 25 years later, and I still remember it all: “Short, fat, and squatty; got no face, got no body.”
In some ways things got better in junior high. I went from being bullied to being mostly ignored. As others paired off and experimented, I just threw myself into my school work and books. Sports were never much of an option for me, and unfortunately, sports at the junior high/high school I attended were the key to popularity, especially if you were a girl. I wasted my time on crushes who couldn’t be bothered to even talk to me, much less date me. Once my little sister joined me at the same school, I was bombarded with comments such as: “I can’t believe you two are sisters! Your sister is so pretty and popular!” The implication, of course, being that I was the exact opposite: ugly and unpopular.
As an adolescent, I would’ve given anything to look like my Mom and sister, both of whom I considered relatively thin (though they would both fight me on that one), beautiful, and popular. At the time, I wanted blonde hair and blue eyes if it meant acceptance. I remember driving with my Mom in her new red Grand Prix as a young teenager. GM had completely redesigned the Grand Prix, and my Mom had one of the first redesigned models in the area. My Mom had lost a lot of weight, and frankly, looked great. Every time I went somewhere with my Mom, it seemed as though we would get stares, mainly from men. I couldn’t help but wish I was the one making heads turn, not my Mom. Despite all of the disparaging remarks my Mom would make about her own weight, I never saw her as anything but beautiful.
Adolescence is hard, but it is even harder if you are short and fat. At the time, I thought I was huge, and that there was no chance I’d ever lose the weight. Today, I’d love to weigh what I did in high school. In college, I proved myself wrong and lost a lot of weight due to walking Michigan State’s campus and walking all over Spain during my semester there. What I wasn’t prepared for was how I would be treated differently. People were interested in me, in my life – even a few men.
After college, after moving to Houston, Texas for my first “real” job, things changed. I took all of the stress of that job, the joy of being in a relationship, and the loneliness I felt before Brian joined me in Houston, and I did what I do best: I used it as a license to eat. The desk job didn’t help either. Not only did I gain back all of the weight I lost, I kept gaining more too. It got to the point that my Dad and Grandma were shocked when I returned to Michigan. They couldn’t even hide it as I’d gained that much weight.
Today I’m at a point in my life where I’d love to lose the weight again. I’m single, and frankly, happier than I’ve been in a very long time. The thing is that I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that I’m scared: I’m scared of all of the attention I’d receive if I did lose the weight. The experience of having lived through that once left me angry. Am I really that much more of an interesting person if I am relatively thin? As I thought through all of that, I realized that losing weight would only be temporary (again) if I didn’t deal with my own body issues. I’m left wondering how I am supposed to do that when everything in our society states, quite bluntly, that my body, even at its best, will never be good enough on account of my height alone.
If there is anything I want girls and women to take from this, it is this:
We should not feel we have to be a certain weight to feel loved and accepted for who we are, society be damned. Never let anyone tell you differently.
We as a society need to come to accept the simple fact that people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Words hurt much more than most people realize.
Is this what we want for girls?
Through all of this over-thinking of body image as of late, I came to realize that I’ve never truly even liked my body, and much of the reason stems from infertility. The first thing I ever remember wanting out of life was to be a mom. At no point in my life did I ever not want a family of my own. Unfortunately, biologically, it just isn’t going to happen. Fortunately, I came to terms with the fact adoption is a wonderful alternative a long time ago. And yet, I’ve never quite forgiven my body for so fundamentally betraying me.
If I resemble anyone on either side of my family, it would be my Great-Grandma Suszko, my Dad’s maternal grandmother. At nineteen, I was working with my Grandma (her daughter) when she opened a package from a niece containing her parents’ wedding photo, newly redone. My Grandma kept staring at the photo and then back at me. It was clear she thought I looked like her Mom, although the fact that I was the same age as the girl in the photograph probably helped. As someone deeply interested in family history, I have a copy of Great-Grandma Suszko’s naturalization papers. Her physical description could fit me perfectly, with one exception: she was two inches taller than I am. My Great-Grandma Suszko had ten children, all but one of whom lived well into their 70s. Add in the fact that my Mom has four sisters, and I came up with one conclusion: My body should be built to bear children. It just isn’t.
What people who don’t have infertility fail to realize is that dealing with it is an on-going process, not a one-time deal. Just when you feel you are fine with it, accepted it fully, and have moved on, something happens that forces you to deal with it all over again. For me, one of the hardest things to deal with was the day I realized that I fully met the medical definition of infertile (I’ll spare you the details). There just wasn’t anyone I could share that deep sense of loss with at the time, even my boyfriend. I’ve talked a lot about my experiences with body image, but it just wasn’t complete without discussing infertility as well. There was a time in my life that dealing with infertility was so painful that I downplayed my desire for a family of my own. I downplayed it to the point that my own sister never realized that I wanted children. It saddens me that those I love most can never fully understand due to the simple fact that they are parents.