When I was thirteen or so, I think I weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 lbs. (I was then pretty close to the goal weight I’d like to be right now). I was one of those soft and un-athletic looking kids and I was overweight for that age, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it is right now.
I grew up in the era of Guess jeans, Esprit sweaters and Tretorn sneakers (that had to be laced just so). The era of big socks and leggings with a huge sweater pulled over top. Remember that look? It gave even skinny girls the appearance of a gigantic Easter egg. My favorite huge sweater was dark pink and black in vertical stripes – I shudder just to think about how that must have looked, especially with my big 80’s hair and Madonna chic jelly bracelets.
At the time, though I wasn’t huge, I was huge for the era and look. The average girl around my age was at that time fighting to stay under 100 lbs. It was a serious status symbol if you could break into double digits on the scale.
I remember at one time I was hanging out at my best friend Jackie’s house and we got to talking about appearance. Jackie looked a lot like Tracey Ullman (in a cute way) and had what boys considered at the time to be the perfect body. She was tall and athletic, she ran regularly and played sports and she had a crazy orange hydrogen peroxide dye job (I still can’t believe we used to do that to our hair). She could walk into any of our favorite stores at the mall, put on anything and have it look fantastic on her as I looked on in supportive best friend envy.
In a fit of teenaged morbidity I asked her that day if she would kill herself is she weighed what I did. She considered it for a couple of moments, and then gave me an honest answer: yes, she would. I know how bad that sounds, but Jackie wasn’t being mean and she certainly wasn’t recommending I go home and swallow a handful of pills. She was simply answering me honestly, and I think even as she said it part of her realized how crazy the honest answer was. But that’s what it was like, that’s how much pressure she felt to keep her body perfect, to stay slim so that boys would notice her (because her parents certainly never did). No wonder she ran all the time – she was running away from not just social suicide but real suicide as well.
Of the two of us she’s really the one who deserved the pity, and I know that now. Yeah I was bummed and sad because boys found me invisible – but I was so young. As I’ve learned since then that kind of attention can wait. And when it comes for real it’s so much better than a pimply teenaged boy sweating on you at a roller rink. And the reason why I never got so dangerously desperate for their attention can entirely be attributed to my parent’s unconditional love for me. Yeah they encouraged me to try to get slimmer, but it was encouragement for my well being – not because they didn’t always love and accept exactly who and what I was. I will always be grateful to them for that.
I can’t stress this belief enough; when a father loves and cherishes his daughter he teaches her that she has every right to expect her future husband to cherish her. When she learns how valuable she is from the first man in her life – it sets her up to never, ever settle for anything less from other men as the years go by.
When a mother looks at her daughter with blind eyes to every single flaw and says to her “you are so beautiful” with every ounce of love in her heart, then that daughter knows it’s true, even if she’s an obnoxious teenager who wants attention by insisting otherwise.
I had that, and I’m pretty sure that Jackie didn’t. So though I was bummed about my social life, I much more importantly knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I was truly and safely loved at home. What did she have? All she had was the transient, flimsy attention of teenaged boys who had years to go before they’d even begin to start developing a clue about how to support a woman they love.
I think about Jackie now and wonder where and how she is – I hope she’s okay, and that she found someone who loves her regardless of whether her body is still perfect or not.