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One of my least favorite childhood memories took place in middle school (I believe I had just reached the tail end of the 6th grade) during gym class. An interesting thing about my middle school was the fact that students were required to take physical education and health each year without fail. This was my first time taking a gym class with people I did not necessarily grow up with and that put me on high alert and made me instantly feel a sense of anxiety.
I am not a small girl. Currently I hover around 200lb with a height of 5'0" and most of it was gained from stress eating in college. At the time of 6th grade, I weighed between 140-150lb and I always felt self conscious about my weight and the way people saw me. When we would change in the locker room, I tended to wait for an available stall because I didn't want others to see my body. I didn't want people to openly stare or make fun of me for being bigger than most people in the class. That brings me back to the memory. Because gym had to be co-ed, both girls and boys sat on the left side of the gym in rows, stretching out and talking among each other. My shirt that day had been a deep shade of green coupled with black running pants. I doubt I'll ever forget that outfit. One of the boys, I repressed his name a long time ago, but the moment he saw my shirt as I sat down, he found it the perfect opportunity to ridicule me.
"You look like Shrek." And that had to be the moment I really felt hurt the most. I bit my lip and stared at the wall and as the tears welled in my eyes, I wanted to find a bathroom stall and sob until there was nothing left but the ache in my chest. He said he'd been joking, probably as a way to diffuse the situation and the fact that the tears were moments away from spilling. All it took was one silly joke from a silly little boy to break what little confidence I had in my young self. And the sad part is that this happens often to little girls who do not fit the mold of what is deemed beautiful. From a young age, they aren't small or the right complexion and they are made to feel as if they need to change for reasons other than they want to. They are forced to feel that they are in the wrong for being the way they are. It's a negative cycle of fat-shaming and waking up in the morning with anxiety over having to see other kids in school. I've been there- I understand all of you who still feel this way and who battle with this emotion every day.
Sometime after that, I stopped eating as much. The thought of digesting food in order to only get fatter became disgusting to me. I hated the way I looked, felt, hated that I ate so much even when I'd barely eaten anything all day. I hated that I not only felt unwanted at school but even in my own home. My family was not understanding of my weight, they blatantly called me fat and told me I needed to lose weight, pointing out my flaws and making me feel even smaller than before. I began to throw back up my meals, ignoring the burn in my throat from stomach acid, quick to brush my teeth afterward, and even quicker to pretend that I didn't feel as if a hole was burning its way in my stomach. I'd sleep earlier to avoid eating dinner. I'd skip breakfast, walk and exercise, always thinking in the back of my mind that maybe if I lost all of this weight, that I'd be happy. I wanted so badly to feel small.
At my worst, I lost around 8-10lb in a single week simply from cutting meals and ignoring the hunger pains with bottles of water. I battled this monster inside of me for years, the need to destroy my body coming and going, always stronger the next time it hit me. I wanted to lose those inches and that stomach and the flabby arms even if it cost me my mental and physical health. I wanted to wear the cute, little outfits all the smaller girls could because they could fit into that size 8 and the sizing rack doesn't go up to my size. It was self-destructive and I regret those thoughts that used to race through my head.
It wasn't until I made it to college that I began to break the hold of the twisted view I had of myself. I joined an Honor Fraternity, walked more, began to fill my body back up with the healthy food I needed (and the sweets during finals and midterm weeks). I gained friends that only spoke of body positivity, and I finally looked myself in the mirror long enough to see how full my face is, how warm my eyes are, how nicely I can fill out a dress. It took me a long time, but even when I slip up sometimes and feel that obsession with being skinny coming back, I remind myself that in my own time, with my own strength, I can reach that goal I've always wanted.