21 February 2013

Transforming The Teen Girl

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Today I got an e-mail message from a young woman who wishes to remain anonymous.  She confided in me that she has been plus-size her whole life, and that as a member of a thin family, she has struggled with her weight for as long as she can remember.  This young woman, who is only 18, has been battling a serious eating disorder for the past five years.  She’s tried to become “skinny” as a means of becoming “beautiful” but finds herself miserable and wishing she could simply learn to love herself as a plus-size woman.

Reading her message, it occurred to me that I have kept something from you all – not because I wished to lie or omit the truth, but because it’s a difficult subject to discuss, and because it feels like it was so long ago, and part of someone’s life who wasn’t really me.  It’s funny: I’m so comfortable in my body these days that it’s easy to forget that wasn’t always the case.  I’ve mentioned in passing that I dealt with the typical teenage weight-related issues most girls undergo, but it was nowhere near as simple as that – well, things are never that simple I suppose.

Though I was bullied and made to feel somewhat of a black sheep as a child for being overweight, it wasn’t until I was 13 and hit junior high that it truly got to me.  I couldn’t stand being known as the “chubby” girl in class – even though that’s all I was, really; just a little chubby.  I couldn’t stand not delving into the dating world, or receiving my first kiss when so many of my classmates were starting to experiment with the opposite sex.  I couldn’t stand being patted on the belly by relatives who’d mention my belly, calling it “cute” with an apparent air of distaste -- or constantly being told I should join sports in order to lose weight.  And so I did what so many do – I plunged into an eating disorder that would shape the beginning of my adolescence.

I don’t blame anyone for this.  Ultimately, it was my choice to stop eating.  I ate the bare minimum to keep myself going – a piece of bread, some cheese perhaps, occasionally a granola bar.  I spent the better part of a year and a half going on 200 calories a day (at most).  And I lost the weight.  I lost every bit of baby fat and fit into those tiny jeans all the other girls could wear.  I started getting asked out on dates – even had a date to the 8th grade graduation and freshman year homecoming dances.  But I was, you guessed it, miserable.

It must’ve been 18 months or so (after numerous fainting spells, a diagnosis of anemia and consistent complaints of nausea) when people realized what was going on and I was forced into therapy by both my school and my relatives.  At the time, of course, I was infuriated.  I refused to believe I had a problem, and would barely grant my therapist the occasional grunt.  I’d go days without speaking to anyone in my household.  My meals started being monitored by a guidance counselor in the cafeteria at school, and that kind of monitoring made me more embarrassed than being a little fat ever did.  I knew I had to start eating and putting on weight if I was ever to escape the watchful cafeteria patrol or the supervised meals at home; so I did.

At first, I hated getting bigger again.  I hated going from 200 to 2000 calories a day.  I hated not being allowed to exercise as excessively as I had been (I'd grown addicted to the treadmill in those 18 months).  But I loved that the more I gained, the more people left me alone.  I wasn’t gaining weight for the right reasons, at first, and for most of high school I remained unhappy at my heavier body.  But as you all know, four years post high school, I couldn’t be happier.  I can’t really pinpoint the change in my psyche to one specific event.  Going to college certainly helped; meeting open-minded people and leaving the small town I grew up in where "thin is in" most definitely helped; dating helped (and I know you should never base your self-worth on a man but what woman doesn’t enjoy being admired and complimented?); studying abroad where I saw how much other cultures value a thicker figure helped; and falling in love helped.  But ultimately, growing up helped the most.  Realizing how over-rated and quite frankly, boring, body image issues are helped me move on and not want to spend another second hating myself.  I didn’t want to be a cliché anymore.  I didn’t want to strive to be thinner, because I felt like that made me no different than the thousands of women who want that.  I wanted things for myself – not because anyone else wanted them or told me I should want them.

I’m not devaluing the seriousness of eating disorders – there’s a reason so many men and women seep into them – whether because of the media, bullies, “friends” or relatives who tell them they look wrong.  But in response to that young woman who e-mailed me, asking how I went about becoming confident being plus-size, the long and the short of it is what I’ve said: I chose to step away from the cliché and become my own person.  I chose to sort of grow up – and I say sort of because I really have no interest in being a grown-up but I do have interest in learning and expanding my train of thought.  I’d like to say it was easy, but no, obviously it wasn’t easy.  But it did happen – and it can happen.  The key is to just stop caring about everyone else; stop wanting what everyone wants you to want; and live for you.


  1. I’m going to print this post out and read it every morning before I get ready.

    As someone who has struggled with anorexia and later bulimia, I have to say that this is one of the most powerful posts I’ve ever read on the topic (and I’ve read a lot of ED blogs and self-help books) Thank you so much, Marie. You’ve summed up everything. Life is about growing and learning. I’m slowly beginning to realize that the only person I should be trying to make happy is myself and that my body deserves to be loved and treated with respect.

    It’s a constant struggle. But again, thank you for this.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your struggles, fortunately you learned from your struggles and they have made you into a strong and confident person. I so very glad that you are here now, a better person, helping to guide and support others.

  3. I'm still struggling with my bulimia, but this post makes me feel...well, good. It takes a lot to not only stop caving in to those negative habits, but to turn around and say, "You know what? Screw this, I'm pretty. Gimme a cupcake and let's do something that doesn't suck." You've gotten to a point that most American women (size 2 to size 20) never get to. We all focus on our flaws, and assume that "fixing" them will make us happy, but that never quite works out. You've got to be happy with you NOW.
    So go you for overcoming those negative feelings and loving your body the way it is! :D

  4. I love you Marie, you are an amazing young lady! God bless you and bring many wonderful opportunities in your life to keep growing. Life is about that growing and loving yourself. People who mistreat others are pathetic and ignorant. The best solution is ignore them. Keep your head up and keep walking toward your dreams. You are a child of God, so you are perfect! We are perfect in God's eyes.
    God bless you.

  5. Realizing you need to make yourself happy is such a huge step in and of itself, and unfortunately a lot of people never reach that. The fact that you're realizing it is so impressive and I'm super happy for you. You are absolutely gorgeous, and I know it's a constant struggle, but for me, time is the best help.

  6. Thank you, as always, for your support Elizabeth!

  7. Hi Liz, thank you for commenting. I'm sorry to hear of your struggles. I know how difficult it can be, but if you ever need anything, just someone to talk to even, please feel free to get in touch. It's so difficult to say, "screw this, I'm pretty," and eat without feeling guilty in the world we live in. But everyone has flaws, and in my opinion, being big is NOT a flaw. We are all physically different, and with the amount of terrible things in our world, honing in on body weight as a flaw is just absurd to me. There are much more important things to worry about.

  8. [...] actually sick when I was thin (but that’s a whole other story you guys have probably already heard me go on about).  If there’s one thing I learned from being on both sides of the weight spectrum, [...]


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