“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.”

Every day is a battle with my physical appearance — for the most part, anyway.  This isn’t news, nor is it anything out of the ordinary. I know that it’s something we all struggle with, or have at one point.  But, we shouldn’t feel we have to be silent about it, pretend it’s not a big deal, or suppress those thoughts until they take their tole, because they do, time and time again. It’s exhausting.

Because it matters. How we feel about ourselves matters. It’s a conversation we shouldn’t be afraid of having, but we are.

My weight and how I feel about myself has fluctuated most of my life.

Growing up, I was one of those girls who was the first to go through everything: puberty, body transformations, growth spurts, you name it.

For example: I got my period when I was nine years old — a few months shy of my tenth birthday — and I had no idea what it was. I’d never had ‘the talk’ before about what it was and I thought I was dying. I stayed home from school that day and my mom didn’t find out for a couple of days what had actually happened. For her it was a relief, for me it was what-the-hell-is-going-on with-my-body-I-still-don’t-understand. But, here I am.

I was heavier, but I wasn’t fat and it singled me out in a lot of ways.  I ended up being bullied and shamed by a lot of girls my age, I don’t know if any of it was correlated or not, but I remember being shamed for ridiculous things, like the clothing I wore, and that made me feel even worse.  One time I was the only girl in a group not wearing jeans, I may have been wearing tights or leggings. The head honcho of the group announced “everyone who is wearing jeans today is my friend,” and she smirked directly at me.

It wasn’t the first or last time I received that level of treatment from her, but that’s neither here nor there.

I remember being 11 years old and people thinking I was 14. My brother was born when I was 11.  It wouldn’t surprise me if anyone ever thought he was my own child, because I looked old enough to be a teen mom at that point.

I think by the time I was 12 or 13 years old, I was the height I am today, and I towered over everyone else for a few years. A few years when you’re barely a teenager feels like a very long time, and it never feels like anyone is going to catch up with you.  I spent those years looking like I was much older than I am, and that made me incredibly self conscious. In bathing suits at the pool I was always covering myself up an crossing my hands over my chest because my body was different than most girls my age.

By the time everyone ‘caught up’ with me in high school,  the transformations all the other girls were going through were normal, it was okay. Everyone else was going through the same things, so they didn’t have to feel alone, but I guess I still did. I’d felt alone between the ages nine and 13  until the things that had happened to me already started happening to everyone else. I’d been singled out before for things my body had no control over, and now everyone was was ‘in it together’ except me.

After I got over having been the first-to-go-through-weird-body changes, I felt relatively okay about myself. Throughout high school, I didn’t necessarily fall victim to body image issues or the pressure to diet. It’s not something that I particularly cared about back then because I was thin, for the most part, and felt ‘normal’ once all of the other girls’ bodies caught up with me.

It wasn’t until I moved out at 19 and in with my boyfriend at the time and a roommate that my body took another turn, and I started gaining a lot of weight. I adapted to eating habits that weren’t mine and I ballooned rather quickly.

Instead of doing something about the transformation, I spiraled into a deep depression that I hid from everyone else and carried on the path to further self-loathing.

I’d never before identified myself so heavily — no pun intended — with weight, until I gained a lot of it.  When you’re thinner, it doesn’t matter as much because it’s more socially acceptable, so it doesn’t cross your mind as much.  As soon as you’re on the other end of it, it  matters a whole helluva a lot and then identifying and putting all of your self worth into how much you weigh sounds about as ridiculous as it is. In total, I think I’d gained over 80 pounds in about five years.

I spent a long time wanting to do something about it, but never being able to get myself to make those steps because I feared being judged. I hated my body because it was fat and not what it used to be and I wanted to get it back to what it was before because that’s the way I thought it was supposed to be.

I finally took steps in November 2009 to lose some weight because I hated myself so much for letting myself go, but I also wanted to do it to be healthy, more than anything. I refrained stepping on a scale for so long prior to that decision because I was afraid of what the number would be. I won’t lie, the number on the scale left a huge, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach because I couldn’t believe I’d let it go that bad. Caring about the number on the scale seemed just as ridiculous. It’s just a number. It’s just a number. But it wasn’t a number I wanted attached to my identity.

About a month after I made the decision to start losing weight, I lost about 300  or so extra pounds when I broke up with my boyfriend I’d been with for almost 9 years. We still remain friends, but our relationship had reached the end long before it actually ended; after I started making positive changes, I just couldn’t seem to stop, I guess.

I moved to Vancouver a few months after that, and had lost 25 or so pounds by that point — I started feeling like I was finally finding myself and I felt great for the first time in years. The compliments started rolling in — and they still do today — but I look at them differently because I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum.

If I was heavy, people looked at me differently and people treated me differently than if I were thin. As soon as I started losing weight, I started receiving compliments I never received when I was heavy. Jocelyn, you look so great! Wow, you’re looking really good! We’re so proud of you!  You get the idea.

Current me has also been told that heavy me ‘just didn’t look [my] best.’ That comment has never left my mind, because I am so much more than my physical appearance. These comments don’t help trying to see past that, though.

It sounds silly, perhaps, to complain about receiving compliments, but rest assured, I’m not — it’s the timing, and the why, and the way they’re worded.  A lot of comments I’ve received over the years have made former me feel worthless, and that I was never good enough. A lot of comments have made me feel like if I don’t look how I do now, then it doesn’t matter what kind of person I am inside.

I know a lot of it it probably isn’t true, but it’s the way society and pressures to look thin have made us feel, and sometimes those pressures extend to comments from people who are close to us; maybe they just don’t realise it.

I’ve changed a lot in the last several years, losing weight was part of it, I won’t deny this.  It gave me a level of confidence I maybe didn’t have before to get out there and make friends when I moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone. I’m not saying that heavy women can’t be confident and self-assured, but I was not one of those people. My entire look has changed — whether that has anything to do with weight or not — but the way I dress, the glasses I wear and how I do my hair are a lot different than they were five years ago.

My weight continues to fluctuate and I hate that I look in the mirror every day to try and make myself appear as thin as possible, because every day I’m afraid of turning back into who I was before.  Some days I’m more okay with myself than other days, but I have bad days where I just don’t want to be seen in any capacity because I feel hideous. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  It’s okay to feel this way once in awhile; trying not to let it consume you is harder because we are people underneath what we look like, and that matters a helluva lot more.

Maybe one day I’ll see it fully for myself. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying.

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Author: Jocelyn Aspa

early 30-something. journalist. sports fan. puns. cats. mental health advocate. not taking myself seriously (most of the time)

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