First, you should probably go and read Delilah Dawson’s post. I’ll give the same admonishment here: I’m not posting this for bravery accolades, or to be told I’m wrong, or that I’m right, so I’m asking you to refrain from those types of comments. I’m saying this because it needs to be said.
I first heard of Delilah Dawson at Jordancon two years ago. She was on some panels I attended, and I wondered who this gorgeous woman was with the long dark hair and the big expressive eyes. She was thinner than me, and pretty, and published, and my first honest instinct was to dislike and dismiss her.
I have a friend who’s a volunteer at JCon and she gave me some background: Delilah had had a baby, written a book, and gotten published on her first try. Yep, I was definitely ready at that point to write her off. She was too perfect, too lucky. Then I actually listened to her speak, and I found out that this woman was also smart, and sweet, and as nice as pie. She was literally one of those people who seemed too nice to hate.
After the con, I started following her on social media and read some of her stuff. This was an intelligent, geeky, feminist woman with some wonderful, whimsical work. In other words: completely in sync with my areas of interest. And I’d almost dismissed her because of some misguided notion that there was only so much beauty and success to go around.
Society teaches us to hate more than our bodies and ourselves. There is a slow mind-poison that whispers to us that if someone else is cuter, or richer, or more successful, that it diminishes our own value. And even though many of us know it’s a lie, it’s still hard to resist the whispers in our own minds.
Growing up, I was the “smart” one. I was thin, all angles, awkward and gawky and anxious around people. When I was in elementary school, my parents told me they didn’t know where I’d gotten my smart genes, they certainly weren’t from them. So I learned being smart wasn’t something you did, it was something you were. And the first time I ran into a class that was too hard, I gave up, believing I didn’t have what it takes.
When I hit puberty, and started developing, I was bullied for stuffing my bra. I didn’t, of course, and was bewildered that anyone might believe I’d want *more* attention. All I got for that “attention” was my straps snapped, giggles from behind hands, and laughing questions from the back of the bus as to whether I “had a tissue”. At twelve years old, I was called a slut just for being audacious enough to develop a chest.
My whole identity at home was in being the skinny one. My sister was heavier, more athletic, she rode her bike and ran with friends and tanned in the sun. I was the waif: thin and frail and pale, left indoors to moulder with my books. So I spent high school barely eating lunch and skipping dinner on the nights when my parents worked. I took too many caffeine pills on an empty stomach in an effort to be anywhere but inside my own body.
I didn’t know anything about makeup, wore Wal-Mart clothes, and had no idea what to do with my hair besides dye it into a rainbow of colors. I would sarcastically quip that I wore all black because my clothes were easier to match in the dark, but honestly it was from a lack of knowledge of what went well together, and an intense desire to fade into the background and disappear. The worst thing I could imagine was being noticed, because when I was, I was ridiculed, tripped, or lured into verbal traps so I could be laughed at some more.
My first boyfriend out of high school liked to eat fast food for every meal. I went with him, and I even footed most of the bills. It wasn’t long before he was admonishing me to finish my plate. When I inevitably started gaining weight because of it, he told me I was too fat for him and dumped me, which mostly meant he hit on every girl in sight while simultaneously telling me he still loved me so I’d have sex with him and pay for things.
I started recovering my self esteem over a decade ago, when I met my current group of friends, including my husband, who has always encouraged me to be healthy while never telling me I was too big to be loved. But between the extra “honeymoon” weight, being cooked real meals for the first time in my life, and hitting my thirties, I am also now nearly a hundred pounds over the BMI my height says I should weigh. Even taking into account that being that slim makes my collar bones stick out grotesquely and I feel healthier at a much more substantial 150, I am overweight.
As much as I tell myself that I don’t care what other people think, I do. I wonder if my friends think of me as the fat one. I wonder if my husband is embarrassed to be seen out with me. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. Mostly just when I’m confronted with a mirror.
Certain people like to make fun of Tumbler “Social Justice Warriors”, but it honestly wasn’t until I joined there that I really started to understand the constant barrage of not good enough that I’d been absorbing my entire life. Magazines that assured me that if I was just thin enough, hungry enough, empty enough, that I would be happy. Articles that said I had to give up everything in bed to be an empty vessel for a man’s fantasies while not even mentioning that I might want to be on the receiving end of pleasure myself.
The love and acceptance of the culture I’ve seen at Tumblr has been a wonderful boon to me. Delilah’s post has been the same. What age and wisdom has imparted to me is that no matter who we are or what we look like, we’ve all been poisoned to believe that we’re not enough. Knowing that even the woman I thought was beautiful doesn’t see herself that way, gives me hope that maybe, somewhere, someone thinks that about me. And maybe — just maybe — they could be right.
We have to be honest with ourselves before we can get better. We have to admit that we’re sick before we can heal. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe talking about it is the first step.