If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?
In my childhood, I was shielded from many things. My grandmother, who I had lived with since I was a baby, hid the horrors of the world from me. After the life-threatening events of my infantile years, I don’t blame her for trying to protect me. Looking back, however, I believe that hiding the dark truths of the world from me may have actually been damaging. Regardless, as a child I was mellow and easy to deal with. It wasn’t until puberty crept up on me that this perceived age of innocence faded.
At age eleven, I began seventh grade. I was much younger than most of my classmates. Since my birthday was in October, I started school at age four instead of when most people start at age five. Middle school may have been the most traumatic time in my life. As a kid, I was scrawny. My high metabolism kept me in the shape of a pole. My rail-thin figure had become normal to me. Little did I know, this was all going to change.
When I was twelve, I began to undergo major growth spurts. Whenever I would go to the doctor’s office for a routine checkup, the ladies at Dr. Hawkins’ practice would consistently praise me for my newly gained height. After their approval, I was given a sticker to add to the collection I had started when I was little.
My body slowly came into maturity. For the most part, I did not notice the subtle change in my height. Compared to the other kids in my school, I was quite short. One of my friends who happened to be a track and cross-country star affirmed that I was not short – just vertically challenged.
One day after school, I took the bus home. I cannot recall the events that happened at school but I do remember specifically what happened on that afternoon. I walked into the back door and entered the kitchen. Our ceiling was slanted throughout the house and the architecture reminded me of a circus funhouse.
My aunt Lillian was already home from the High School and was sitting at the dining room table. On the table, she had books sprawled out and it appeared that she was doing homework. I remember how greatly I desired such a privilege when I was a kid. Now, I loathed having to cart home all the heavy textbooks in my backpack.
We began a short conversation, the details of which I have long forgotten save one line she said: “You’re getting a little chubby.” That was preposterous! There was no way I was gaining weight. In a subtle manner, I retreated into the bathroom. Once alone, I lifted my shirt in order to survey my body. There, in that cursed mirror, my thin, curvaceous frame had an ounce of pudge protruding around my mid-section. She was right. It was bad enough that I was vertically challenged. I was getting fat and it needed to stop.
For weeks, I refused meals. I would not eat breakfast in the mornings. During lunch time, I would retreat to the bathroom stalls and wait for the long period to end, hoping that nobody would discover me. Dinner would come, and I would pick at my plate managing to consume a bite or two before exclaiming that I was full. My hard work began to pay off. Soon, I would gaze into that medicine cabinet mirror and the deplorable signs of obesity would fade. My face thinned back out and I could once again see my ribs protrude proudly from my chest.
Before long, puberty had started running its full course. Hair had begun to sprout up in strange places and disgusting red pustules began to spread on my skin. My aunt would trap me in the bathroom and pop the pus-filled lesions. The pain was unbearable at times and drove me to tears. My peers became more intense in their teasing and called me pizza-face. Whenever I happen to come across my pictures of middle school, I scowl at the zits scattered on my face and sneer at the fat oozing out of my cheeks. These images bring back the memories of the torment. Sometimes, I wish that could incinerate any and all evidence of my middle school years and force the bad experiences to fade away.
Looking back, I feel foolish for letting others dictate my life. Eventually, the growth spurts evened out and my chubbiness faded. I wish now that my peers and I had been allowed to take a college-level course on adolescent development to address many of these key issues. In health class, we learned about how our bodies were changing but this information only breached the surface of the knowledge I have attained. I felt more alone when I was twelve than I have ever felt in my entire life. I desperately sought acceptance from my peers even when they harassed me. As a result of their actions, the shadow of that fat pizza-faced kid stares at me from the other side of the funhouse mirror. He is fearful of other’s judgments and attempts to drag me down into his depression.
When the growth spurts subsided, I evened out at 120 pounds. As I near my mid-twenties, my metabolism has slowed down. According to my Aunt’s electric scale, I currently weigh 164 pounds. According to the Body Mass Index, I am still well within the range of normal weight. In fact, for the longest time, I was considered underweight. Currently, I am at the heaviest I’ve ever been. I still look into my bedroom mirror each day as I dress myself. The shadow that destroyed my self-esteem ten years ago taunts me. I simply smile because I know he can’t tie me down.
Whenever I visit my family, they compliment my filled out figure and praise me for being healthy. The negative feelings resonate, and the desire for self-starvation is always there but I am much stronger now. The only person I need to impress is myself. I am happy with who I am and don’t feel I need to restrict myself over a little bit of pudge. It has taken a decade, but I am finally okay with just being me.