Is it just me, or do we all have that person in our family we love, but who just constantly judges? You care about them, you want the best for them, but they can keep their opinions and side eye to themselves. For me, that’s my grandmother. She raised me and was really more of a mother to me, but she’s from a different generation. Early on, she instilled in me a well of shame I would later draw on heavily when my body no longer met a harsh standard for shape and size.
Growing up, I remember the comments constantly dropped about how fat so-and-so looks in that dress, how he should exercise more, or that no one would want to date her looking like that. The message was clear: your worth is in how you look. Then she’d pat me on the hand and say, “Not like you, dear, you’re so thin, you can eat what you want.”
She never asked how I was so thin, so she probably had no idea it was due to my anorexic tendencies. I was a dancer, so whenever a show or competition would come around, I would severely restrict my eating so I could look the part. The dance world was just as mean spirited as my grandmother could be, and I controlled how they responded to my body by denying it what she needed.
For the most part, I liked how people responded to my body. Guys were attracted to me, girls were often jealous, and people praised the way I looked. The one time I remember questioning whether my body was good enough, my best friend was describing me to a guy. The two of them were dating, and they decided to set me up with one of his friends. “What does she look like?” he asked. “Well, she’s not skinny, but she’s, like, fit,” she claimed over the speaker. Right in front of me, she basically said I wasn’t thin enough. At the time, I was probably a size two, but I took her assessment with me as a stamp of “not quite good enough.”
Most of us have a story like that, where shame was stamped onto our identity out of jealousy, frustration, carelessness, or spite. It’s funny how we let other people’s issues shape our relationship with ourselves.
Fast forward a few years, and my life took a sudden, excruciating turn. I lost someone very close to me, and the grief and numbness threatened to drown me. For a few months, I was able to shove them down, but slowly I began to question everything I believed about God, myself, and the world, and the toxicity of invalidated emotions bubbled up inside my soul like poison.
I began to walk away from every relationship in my life, claiming that I needed space. In reality, my heart was shutting down, and I couldn’t stand to let anyone watch me fall apart.
At the same time, my body revolted as well. I’d had symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis since I was nineteen years old, but all of a sudden, they inflamed with a vengeance. Along with the loss of friendships, my ability to go adventuring was stolen away from me, as it hurt to do much more than sit on my couch.
Depression rose like a tidal wave, and everything that made me who I was washed away. In self-pity, I let myself eat whatever I wanted in a desperate attempt to feel better, to feel good, to feel anything. My body took on weight as my heart took on water, and I nearly allowed my hopeless drifting in isolation to corner me into making a very final decision regarding how I felt about where life had taken me.
Finally, I decided to get help. As a last resort, I saw a psychiatrist and got on medication. Slowly, the fog lifted enough for me to allow a few key people back into my life. One of them pulled me into her recovery group, where I faced my inability to control my life, and my powerlessness over my emotions. I found a glimpse of hope there, and a group of women who accepted me for who and where I was in life.
But as I began to rebuild, I still clung to the hope life could return to its old normal, where I felt fearless, and my body felt as light as my heart. In a guest closet in my house, I kept all of my favorite clothes from all the sizes I had flown through over the past couple of years. I figured that I’d continue to get better on my meds and in community, then I’d be disciplined again with food, and I’d make my body drop all the weight she’d accumulated.
Two years later, it still hadn’t happened. I finally launched my dream business, Wolf and Bloom, and I’d continued seeking healing in therapy, but my body and heart have not responded the way I thought they would.
Then, a few days ago, I opened the door to that closet with all my old clothes, searching for an outfit for a friend who was going on a date. Somehow, the entire bar holding all those hangars had crashed to the floor, and years of holding out and holding on laid in a crumpled heap on the floor.
To me, it was a sign that it was time to let go of who I used to be, and what I used to look like. If I was ever to accept myself and my shape as I am, I needed to relinquish my hold on my expectations of myself to fit back into an old mold of a person who’d not gone through what I have.
So with a sad determination, I bagged up thousands of dollars of clothing, and gave it all away. My current self deserves a real chance to be who I really am, a woman who’s been through hell and back, and carries her scars to prove it. While I still want to be at a healthy weight, I won’t ever be able to make the necessary sacrificial decisions if I can’t accept who I am and where my body is in her health journey.
I know I need to love my body for keeping me alive and allowing me to endure so much suffering, bringing me through to the other side. I hope that step of saying goodbye to all those hopes in the form of clothes empowers me to release the resentment I’ve had for my body, as I’ve blamed her for so many of my problems.
Maybe I can start with compassion for her, and a little acceptance. Honestly, I don’t know. How do I have love and compassion for the thing I blame for my pain and suffering? Do I need to blame something else, or am I somehow relying on blame to function?
I don’t have answers for these questions, but I hope to find them. Either way, I’m done comparing myself to that girl who had not yet been bereaved, nor had her health and well-being stolen from her in a matter of months. Comparison has eaten me alive the last few years, and I’m done allowing the devil’s bitch to run my life like that.
Twenty twenty-one feels like a good year to begin anew, leaving behind the old with all its good, bad, and hard. I’m ready for this new year, and ready to own the skin and the story of this new(er) me.
My name is Heather Stout, welcome to my little digital home! I live and work in sunny Austin, Texas with my three large, goofy pups. I love hosting, decorating, and creating lasting memories with the people who matter most to me. Most days when I'm not crafting or designing, you can find me hiking with my pups, catching up on my favorite shows, or commanding my kitchen dance floor. I've also been known to craft some scrumptious, spur-of-the-moment cocktails!
My name is Heather Stout, welcome to my little digital home! I live and work in sunny Austin, Texas with my three large, goofy pups. I love hosting, decorating, and creating lasting memories with the people who matter most to me. Most days when I'm not crafting or designing, you can find me hiking with my pups, catching up on my favorite shows, or commanding my kitchen dance floor. I've also been known to craft some scrumptious, spur-of-the-moment cocktails! But let's go deeper...