My weight has been a constant topic of conversation for as long as I can remember. One of the earliest memories I have of this realization was when I was around 8 or 9. I went to visit my great-aunts (a trio of unwed sisters bound together by their love of judging other people) who I hadn't seen in a few years.
"Oh bambina! What a beautiful face you have!" they gushed, tipping my chin upward to get a better look at me. "But, you better watch that weight! You're getting chubby like your father was." They nodded in agreement, ignoring the color rising to my fleshy cheeks. I was angry, humiliated, and disgusted with myself.
As I got older, I continued to be the target of unsolicited remarks in regard to my weight. While insults like "fatty" or "porky" stung, those surprisingly weren't the comments that left a mark. It was those subtle, backhanded compliments — the "warm fuzzies with the cold pricklies" as my mother would say — that really did permanent damage. What I believe were meant to be friendly observations such as "You have such a pretty face" or "You'd be perfect if you just lost like 20 pounds" made me feel completely inadequate. In my head, these words translated to me being almost good enough, almost worthy enough.
It was like the weight was an anchor hindering me from living the life I wanted. In high school, I began to measure my self-worth strictly in inches and pounds gained or lost. I meticulously watched every morsel that went into my mouth, became vigilant about exercising, and compulsively weighed myself. By the time I had reached my junior year, I had lost 40 pounds. I expected a total life transformation, including a giant surge of self-esteem. I waited for it to come, but it never did. Of course my clothes fit better and I felt a little more comfortable in my skin, but I still wasn't confident. I felt deflated. I had lost all of this weight, so why did I still feel insecure?
Throughout college and after I graduated, I had also been diagnosed with severe depression, and as a result, my weight fluctuated with my moods. All of the ups and downs made me feel like I was on a dizzying roller coaster with no end in sight. Finally, when I got engaged and started to plan my wedding, I began to focus on making healthy choices and felt a renewed sense of motivation. The weight came off and stayed off. Two years ago, I got married and I was at my lowest weight I had ever been. I was madly in love, was able to wear clothes I had never dreamed of wearing, and heard people refer to me as "tiny." Sounds like life was perfect, right? Wrong. Even though I knew I was thinner, I still didn't look in the mirror and see a person I was happy or even satisfied with. I saw the 8-year-old girl with the pretty face, who was almost but not quite good enough. My depression revealed itself once again, and slowly but surely the weight — and the guilt and shame associated with it — came right on back.
What makes you the kickass human being you are has nothing to do with what you look like on the outside.
Today, I am 30 pounds heavier than I was on my wedding day, but for the first time in my life, I am working on healing what is on the inside. In hindsight, I believe my biggest mistake was convincing myself a number on a scale or someone else's opinion of my body would repair the damage of years of self-deprecation. For me, losing weight wasn't a gift I was giving myself — it wasn't about getting fit or healthy — but instead it was a desperate search for internal and external approval. With the help of a therapist, I'm focusing on replacing negative self-talk and damaging thoughts with those of love and kindness. I am also focusing on eating not to reach a numeric goal on the scale but to make my body feel nourished, energetic, and whole. I try not to beat myself up for not torching calories at the gym but instead celebrate the fact I am moving a little more every day.
This journey to self-love is the hardest one I've been on, but I am hopeful the benefits will outweigh any of the struggles I am facing now. If there is any lesson to be learned from my story, it is this: who you are as a person, what makes you the wonderful, tough, kickass human being you are, has nothing to do with what you look like on the outside. If you love yourself on the inside, if you truly focus on sculpting a beautiful soul instead of the "perfect" body, then I believe you will be the person you have always wanted to be. Anything that follows after that is just a bonus.