All my life I thought I had to be skinny to be loved and wanted.
After all, that’s what my mother believed in her you-have-to-have-a-man-to-live-happily-ever-after view of the world. That’s what she was saying when she warned me,
“No man will ever want you with those hips.”
Or when she bought me girdles when I was in Junior High to “smooth out the bumps” or when she told me not to stand with my “back-side” showing. That’s what she was concerned about when she took me to the doctor to see if he could “help” me.
When she saw me and my big hips she saw a problem that needed to be fixed and growing up hers was the mirror through which I saw myself.
When I married the first time I was a nervous, insecure, ashamed of myself girl of 19 years with a 19 inch waist to match.
No doubt I was skinny.
Then I had three babies within five years and the post-pregnancy fat left me feeling as if I weighed twice as much as everyone around me. Inside my fat body I was a stranger to myself and terrified of where gaining all those pounds would lead me.
Desperate to lose the weight I had gained and literally afraid my then husband would abandon me because of it, I dieted in the only way I could think of.
I pretty much just stopped eating.
My goal was a “reasonable” 120 pounds and it didn’t take me long to get there—and beyond.
I was having a thrilling, heady experience.
The process of not eating had become more important to me than the content of my weight. Losing weight gave me the illusion that I had control over my body, and by extension, control over my life.
Never mind that I was losing weight by starving myself.
One afternoon, I put my 3-year-old daughter down for a nap and went to lay on the bed in my own room. I was on the pillow a few moments, drowsing in that dreamy land of pre-sleep when, as if it was the most natural thing, I felt myself float slowly up and away from myself to a corner of the ceiling.
Without surprise or alarm I calmly I looked down from there at my form on the bed. The me on the bed was empty and tired—tired to death. The me on the ceiling didn’t want to go back into that starved, unloved body. She wanted to leave.
I remained detached from the whole thing, as if whether I lived or died was merely music coming from the next room.
A sound broke through when I heard my daughter calling me from the next room.
With the slow, heavy effort it takes to move from one view of the world to another, the me on the bed pulled on the string that was attached to the me on the ceiling and the two of us got up and headed down the hall to tend to my little girl.
When I was skinny I always felt several pounds that belonged to me were floating around somewhere outside of me waiting to inhabit me. It would take until I was 50 years old before I would claim my size and feel all my weight become fully integrated.
Through a combination of meditation, therapy, grief work, breath work, 12 step programs, and a really good job, I came to realize that confidence and beauty had nothing to do with the size of my hips and everything to do with the size of my self-esteem.
It took about seven years of constant, focused personal work for me to get there. But I did get there.
In the process I realized that I didn’t have to hide myself behind a girdle and that I could stand anyway I wanted—even with my “back-side” showing. I also realized that there was nothing wrong with me in the first place that a doctor could fix in the second place. I was fine. Just the way I was.
In the end I learned that my poor mother, in her desire for me that I have a fairy tale ending, was wrong. People would want me and love me, exactly as I was. In fact, they did, including me.
This article first appeared in elephantjournal.com.