I sat at the picnic table, in the shade of the shelter, pretending to read my book while I was *really* eavesdropping on the four very large ladies a couple of tables over who were planning their upcoming Weekend at the Lake.
Lady 1: “It’s going to be warm, make sure you bring your swimsuits. We can pull out the floats.”
Lady 2: “Oh, I NEVER wear a swimsuit. I’m too fat!”
Lady 3: “I don’t even OWN a swimsuit. I don’t even get in the water.”
Lady 4: “I don’t think I’ve ever owned a swimsuit. I’ve always been too fat to swim.”
Lady 1: “Oh, ok. We’ll do something else instead.”
I was appalled and sad for these ladies. I was mad at them, too. Why? Because they were letting their weight and their poor self-image rob them of what could have been a really great time.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m the FIRST person to tell you that I’ve had my share of self-image ‘issues’. I am constantly at war with my alter-ego, Alice (yes, I’ve even named her). She looks a lot like the character that Charlize Theron played in “Monster”, and she is constantly second-guessing every positive thought that I have. It’s a daily battle for me, and one that, for a while, I waged on a moment-to-moment basis. That was a very dark time for me, indeed, and I often have to pull myself back from going there again.
That’s why I was so angry with these women. Even the first one, who, instead of confronting her friends, simply allowed their negative attitudes to stand, unchallenged.
What should she have said? How about, “What are you talking about? Swimming is fun. It’s only going to be us there, and we’re going there to have a good time. If you don’t have suits, bring shorts and a shirt to wear. And don’t worry about what you look like, because I think you’re all beautiful.”
Yes, you laugh. But think about it honestly… these were large women. Very large women. When was the last time that ANYONE told them they were beautiful, and meant it?
Now think about yourself. When was the last time anyone told YOU that you were beautiful (or handsome)? And here’s the one for all the points….
When was the last time that YOU – honestly and without any reservations or caveats or “except fors”, meaning every syllable – told yourself that YOU are beautiful (or handsome)?
It’s a powerful thing, telling someone what they so desperately want and need to hear, but what, at the same time, is so pathetically un-PC. Society doesn’t want us “regular people” to think we’re attractive – we might quit worshipping the Jennifer Anistons and Angelina Jolies and Brad Pitts of the world, and start appreciating our OWN talents for a change. The magazines, movies and television have a vested interest in keeping our self-image as low as it can possibly be, so their bottom line is as high as it can possibly be.
And you know what? Sadly, it’s working. Very well. Statistics for eating disorders show that girls as young as 8 are not only dieting, they’re showing signs – already! – of eating disorders. Lately, everywhere you turn, you hear that Americans are fat! Lazy! Ugly!
Is it true? Or is it a marketing ploy? Either way, it’s crushing us. And there’s only one way to combat it. Intimate warfare.
Try it. Try it today. Tell someone else that they’re beautiful… AND MEAN IT. Tell your husband, your wife, your kids. Tell that grumpy lady in the gas station, and see what happens. Bet she smiles. Bet YOU smile.
And now, here’s the hard part. (you thought telling those folks was hard?) Look at yourself in the mirror, and tell yourself that you’re gorgeous. And MEAN it. Because we’re not just talking about physical beauty anymore. We’re talking about YOU – inside and out. Top to bottom. Your hair that never does what you want it to do. Your beer belly. Your mom’s nose and your dad’s ears. Your quirky sense of humor, your quick wit, your eyes that are so embarrassingly quick to tear up. Yeah? Got those? Good – they’re all a part of you. And every single one of them is beautiful. Go tell yourself that. Right now.
I just wish I could go back and tell it to those ladies at that picnic table. Because you know what? They were all beautiful – they just didn’t know it, because they believed the hype.
This post was inspired by The Society Series and by Operation Beautiful. And by me, because that stuff really did happen. And for the record, I’ve tied Alice up and shoved her in the corner with her mouth duct-taped shut. She’s not very happy, but she’s silent.
“She has a great personality” has been code talk for guys ever since I can remember.
I’ve been so emotional all day long and this did make me tear up. I can’t write tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow.
I think part of it is why SHOULD we care? We are the most important people we know and our opinions should count most.
I also think alot of it comes from “unfair fighting” as couples.
The names girlfriends/boyfriends, husbands/wives call each other when they are very angry and in an extremely heated arguement.
I (sadly) admit that I am guilty of some pretty cruel “unfair fighting.”
We learned that term during counseling one time.
Well, on that one day a month that I feel my best and everything fits right and my hair actually did something and my makeup looks good, then I tell myself I’m not all that bad! As for these women, part of me feels for them, but then the other part of me says if you don’t like something then change it.
Your post was “beautiful”. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
This is funny, because just today I sent an email to a friend who is large and does don a swimsuit and go swimming. And my email said that yesterday, for the first time in years, I put on a swimsuit to take my girls swimming. And how self-conscious I felt. Not because I looked horrible, but just because someone might look at me. I talked myself into it by reminding myself that every other time I’ve gone there, there was hardly anyone there, and none of them were from the cover of Vogue. But as luck would have it, there was a big meeting on the other side of the glass wall of the pool area. All those people were dressed and they were looking at me half nekkid. Yuck. But I lived through it.
I have also had big self-esteem problems throughout much of my life. I had this idea that there were physically perfect people all around me and my imperfections must have really stood out. In reality, I’m just ordinary. For the most part, I’ve been OK with that in recent years.
So yeah, there are many times when I look in the mirror and say, dang, I’m not too bad for a 43-year-old without make-up. I say, if used all the techniques others do to look good, I’d be “hot.” Not that I have any reason to need to be “hot,” but once in a long while, I feel like it would be nice to actually catch someone’s eye (provided that I could duck away before having to say hello!). I don’t think I could say “I’m beautiful” because that’s too mushy for me. But at this stage in my life, I feel pretty OK about myself, most of the time.
This morning, the topic of skin color came up between my kids. And one of them said “I’m different from Sissy. I’m almost white.” To which I said, “you have brown skin, and it’s beautiful.” And then she said, as if to reassure me, “but, white skin is beautiful, too.” Aww.
I should add that when she saw my bathing suit, and me in it, she said sincerely, “it’s so pretty!” Out of the mouths of babes – it must be true – right?
That’s right 🙂
That is so dang cute. It’s really too bad that we can’t sometimes behave like children.
Important stuff here Laura. Thanks for taking the time to put this one together. The older I get the more I realize how powerful the unspoken thoughts I have rumbling around in my head are, and how it is possible to change those negative messages I have in my head, it doesn’t happen automatically, but change can happen. I just realized earlier this year, I’d been living with a thought “I am ugly” for as long as I remember…I’d never realized it, it was just there and I’d accepted it as truth. That’s 9/10ths of the battle for me- identifying them.
I love your compassion DM. It’s a quality I look up to more than any other. If you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, I’d rather skip knowing you. I also love that you’re not afraid to say it.
What a great post, Laura. It’s like that song, Beautiful by Christina Aguilera.
I think it all comes to what your parents told you when you were young. My parents were very down to earth. No compliments, that makes you vain and self-satisfied. And that was almost a sin. But, by accident, they could say, Ellen, you are like a sunshine, always smiling and cheerful. And I heard them once saying to each other, doesn’t Ellen has a cute little nose Literally, these two lines gave me enough confidence to not make me feel bad about myself. I believe, that too much compliments are not necessary. I think no matter how you look, you are beautiful, because you are you.
Luckily, my husband tell me all the time I am beautiful, which I still do not believe, but it is wonderful to hear it 🙂 And, I can say without any hesitation, what I like about other people’s apparency. Every body is so interesting to look at. I am glad I am a people person so that it feels natural to give compliments.
I agree with you Ellen. I feel is very important what children are told. It does mold how you feel about yourself. I used to tell my grandchildren that they were cute all the time. Then one day I thought, it’s not soooooo great to be cute, it’s more important to be smart and to go to school and college. So now I tell them they are smart AND cute and I love them to pieces.
What your parents/grandparents tell you while you’re growing up has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves later in life. I’m so glad you brought that into the conversation. Thank you.
I don’t understand people that are overweight or even obese, most of them sit around and feel sorry for themselves and avoid doing things because there afraid of being made fun of but they do nothing at all to change the way they look. I understand that some people have a medical problem that contributes to there weight but most people see it coming and do nothing to stop it until it’s almost too late. I was watching the Discovery Health Channel last week and there was a 900 lb. man on there. “WTF” This guy can’t even leave his bed or even hardly roll over on his side. He has people do everything for him. What he eats for a “snack” would feed me for a week.
I’m sorry, Shane. I can’t let this stand.
“Most [people who are overweight] of them sit around and feel sorry for themselves and avoid doing things because there (sic) afraid of being made fun of but they do nothing at all to change the way they look.”
Most people are not overweight because they enjoy it (although there is a segment of society which revels in it), but because they have so many issues surrounding it that they can’t break the cycle that makes them that way.
I have struggled with my weight my entire life. Truthfully, I remember being around six years old, and having someone in my family tell me, “you’re getting a bit of a belly, you should start running.” I still remember exactly where I was when those words were said to me. I remember exactly how I felt when it was said: worthless. Here I was – a SIX YEAR OLD little girl who ran instead of walked, who was a skinny little string bean, who had the typical belly that six year olds have – because they haven’t learned yet that society requires them to “suck it in” at all times – who was not fat by ANY standard, being told that I needed to start running because I was “getting a bit of a belly.”
From that day on, every time I looked in the mirror, I thought, “wow, I’m fat.” Shortly after that, I learned that food makes me feel better. Food fills that emotional emptiness, assuages the hurt, dulls the pain. Through grade school, high school, and even college, it wasn’t a problem, mostly because I was young, and my metabolism was fast. But over the years, that emotional eating – that addiction – has caught up with me. I am probably one of those people that you look at and think, “lazy. Why don’t you just stop eating? Why don’t you just go for a run?”
Would you look at an alcoholic with that contempt and say, “just quit drinking!” Would you look at a cigarette smoker and say, “just quit smoking. It’s easy.” Would you look at a drug addict and say, “just quit shooting up”? No. Because we have learned over the years that these addictions are chemical, biological, mental. In many ways, they are illnesses and require treatment. We encourage those people to get help. We support them by not drinking or smoking around them. By trying very hard not to trigger whatever it is that starts a drug binge. But the same is not afforded to those who have problems with food and eating because food is a necessity of life. (“You’re on a diet? Have a cookie. It’s made with love, so there are no calories. Ha ha.”) And, I really believe, because it requires us to look at ourselves. There but by the grace of God go most people.
Yes, some people are just plain lazy. I don’t dispute that. But some people – the majority of those who are morbidly obese, I’d wager – have more problems than just laziness. They are emotionally messed up and addicted to the food… the one thing that fills the emptiness and soothes the hurt that comes from the constant barrage from every direction – including inside their own heads – that they are lazy, ugly, worthless. An attitude that our society does nothing to combat.
We are told, daily, that we should look beyond a person’s skin color, disability and disfigurement, and see the beautiful soul beneath. We look at the addict with sympathy. We regard the deformed with compassion. But those who are overweight are looked upon, and often treated, with contempt. Even the First Lady feels no guilt whatsoever when discussing her “fat” daughter (who is anything BUT fat) on national television.
Perhaps if we afforded ‘those people’ with the same indulgence that we do the rest of the flawed but beautiful people around us, there would be fewer fat people to offend your eyes. Because they’d start believing the new hype – that their worth lies inside, in their personalities, their talents, and their intelligence, and not in the size of their clothing. And when that happens, they can start to gain control over that inner voice that agrees with the external abuse.
The physiology and psychology of “overweight” are so complicated. Not everyone is overweight for the same reason(s).
Being naturally NOT overweight, I didn’t realize that it was easier for me because of biology. Now that I have kids, I have to admit that there are some people who are going to be heavy unless they cut back from infancy. And yet nobody supports a mom who tries to put her infant on a diet. She’s accused of abuse, neglect, mental issues, dislike of her child, etc. Then when the child is old enough to be cognizant of what others are doing, she sees everyone else having an ice cream, and she wants one too. Telling her “yes” makes her fatter. Telling her “no” makes her overly concerned about food and that ends up making her fatter. Either way, you’re a witch of a mother.
Add a medical condition, and it’s 10x worse.
Then there are those of us who had it easy up to a certain age, and then the stuff we ate started to stick. And it sticks more every year. And we have less time to exercise, and when we do exercise, our hips and knees hurt. Maybe God intended people to put on a few pounds as they get older.
But besides that, society is about as unhelpful as it could be. I am a healthy weight, but I hover between 5 & 10 lbs over my “ideal.” I try to be careful what I eat. But I take a lot of crap for that. Since most people are heavier and less careful, they insist that I can eat whatever they eat and not be bothered. Of course, if I did that, I’d be fat, but I get pressured at least several times a week to eat something I don’t want to eat. Sometimes I have to eat it to avoid offending someone. Or, the restaurant they decide to go to has no healthy, palateable choices. So it’s a constant struggle. I don’t think people should just give into the fat culture, but I also think people should stop putting their friends/family into those kinds of situations. Once in a while is OK, but several times a week is not.
And then there are those who won’t let me decide what my kids are going to eat. If I make an exception for a special occasion and say they can have a hotdog OR a hamburger, someone will give them a hotdog AND a hamburger. Which the heavier kid will gladly eat, while the slimmer one will hand it off to someone who doesn’t need it. I don’t see how people think this is kind. But it’s everywhere. We make kids fat, and then we punish them for it. Thanks for nothing!
I work pretty hard at figuring out a healthy message for my kids. But every kid is different, and you never know which comment they are going to cling to as they grow up. I just wish people around us would help by not making food seem so important all the time.
I have a daycare girl who is 7, and has always been on the chunky side. She will eat her lunch in a matter of minutes and want more. Her parents let her eat 3 bowls of sugary cereal, 5 pancakes….you name it, they let her eat it. I believe in watching what they eat at an early age. That doesn’t mean that you should focus on appearances, it’s about being healthy. She will, no doubt, suffer from being obese when she is older. But her parents don’t look at the long term picture. Help her now, to eat right and be kind to her body. It will only help her in the long run.
That was very well written Laura. I was not and am not trying to offend people that have a weight problem. I understand that people need to fill a void and to some people that’s alcohol, other people nicotine, drugs, etc. And to some it’s eating. But 50% of the population is overweight or obese, you can’t tell me that it’s no different than alcoholism. I would bet a huge % of them are to lazy to cook healthy meals, instead they go to Mcdonalds. Everyone has choices an apple or a donut? What I’m trying to say is why is it only America that has a huge problem with obesity? My brother who’s based in Japan said that hardly anybody over there is overweight compared to here. Why? In any big city there’s a fast food place every 1/2 mile and when you walk into a gas station the first thing you see is the donuts. It’s not like that in other countries.
Beautiful post Laura. Wow.
I feel the most beautiful when my son tells me I am. He does quite often, he’s thoughtful like that. The last time I looked in the mirror and told myself I was beautiful, never. I was teased my whole life by friends, family, strangers. All in fun, right? I was teased for being too skinny, flat chested, big nose. My entire life. You would think I would grow thicker skin, form it. But I didn’t. All that did, was make me want to change myself. Growing up, all I wanted to do was change myself. I still do.
I never had a problem with being over weight until I had Bailey. That was entirely MY fault. I ate too much. And even after 10 years, I still struggle to keep it off. I may not work out every day, or even once a week, but I am not lazy. People say to me, “oh you look great, don’t worry about it. Go put a swim suit on.” Easy for YOU to say! I may look great with clothes on, but a swim suit?! It took a lot for me to even go shopping for one. I’m a size 8, and I don’t feel like I should be wearing a bathing suit. Self confidence is a hard thing to learn, but I am trying. It starts from within. I know how I feel, so I can’t imagine what someone over weight feels.
I do feel bad for people who are obese, I feel bad for what people say and think. I know that they can change it, but sometimes it takes years to feel like they are worth the change. And NO ONE knows the situation another person is on, what medical history they have. No one know what that person is struggling with in life….which almost always ends up affecting their weight. You cannot look at an obese person and say….well she MUST want to be that fat. Are you kidding me?! I’m pretty sure they don’t, I’m pretty sure they want to be as healthy as that thin lady down the beach in her skimpy bikini. Oh and by the way, stick skinny doesn’t look very appealing either! Maybe all they need is for one person to make them feel worthy. Be that person, instead of judging and making fun of them.
This post reminds me of that Christina Aguilera song, You Are Beautiful. Great post Laura, thank you for writing it!
I should add, I do know that there ARE people out there that simply do not care how big they are. I have a cousin who is very overweight, but she doesn’t see it. She sees a beautiful women…my only concern is her health. I admire her self confidence. I also know that there are lazy people out there, and they will most likely die from complications due to being obese. But one cannot assume anything about any other person, without walking a mile in their shoes.
I was also teased relentlessly for being very skinny and flat chested. It sucked. I never wore shorts to school until like 7th grade and even then I made sure to wear socks and tennis shoes so that you couldn’t see my bony ankles. I still think I have yucky legs and don’t always like wearing sandals. My ankles and elbows are still bony and stick out and I don’t think it’s attractive, but I can’t do much about it. It’s not like you can tell weight where on your body to deposit!
I’m kind of surprised at a few or your responses. When I first read this post, I thought it would be more of a kumbaya-lets all have a group hug type of post. I never thought people would read this as being overweight, not obese but overweight, would be a person’s choice. I didn’t think people would just say it was a choice, change it or it’s your own fault if you’re fat. I”m sorry but I just don’t think that’s nice. Overeating and overindulging is a bad habit. Either you have that bad habit or you don’t. If you live a healthy life and don’t have any bad habits, I’m happy for you but I’ll bet we all have “stuff” that we should watch. Or things we all do that “we can’t seem to help.” We all have “issues.” I’ve known “heavy” people and no matter how much weight they lose, they still have the wide hips or the short legs or whatever. People to a certain degree are who they are and no amount of changing will change some of those genetics.
I feel this is more about how you feel about yourself. I’ve been thin and fat and I’m fat right now and NO, I don’t feel beautiful. But there were more days than not when I was thin I didn’t feel beautiful either. I honest to God feel how we look on the outside radiates from from the inside. It’s how we feel and how we carry ourselves. If I’m happy and confident, I feel more beautiful than if I haven’t slept or am in a bad mood, then I don’t feel beautiful. Does that make sense to anyone? When I’m fat, I’d rather stay home. I feel more reclusive. Nothing fits. Nothing feels good. When I was thin, I’d rather be around other people and I enjoyed being more active but I don’t believe “beauty” is how you look. I felt healthier and went more places but as far as feeling beautiful, whether I’m fat or thin, that beauty comes from inside.
I know how stupid that sounds but it’s really how I feel.
That’s true, and when you stay home because you’re too self-conscious to be involved in sports or swimming or whatever, chances are, you’re not on the treadmill but getting the munchies!
I should have added that folks need to remember that even if someone is overweight due to his/her own choices, he didn’t get that way overnight and can’t fix it overnight. The overweight person you see and think “yuck” may be working hard on losing. It’s hard enough when you set a goal but you know you can’t possibly reach it for years! So if someone is unkind in spite of your efforts (maybe that dish of ice cream you’re eating is a fraction of what you feel like eating), that can make a person think, “why bother? Who wants to wait until 2015 to eat a dish of ice cream?”
Bottom line, the worth of a person has nothing to do with his/her weight. I have an obese sister and she’s struggled with self-worth all her life. She has so many wonderful qualities! My kids just love her. I love her. I am sorry that she has health issues and I wish she’d go lighter on the fat, but that doesn’t take away from her value as a person. I think she is now to the point where she feels that way too – though I’m not sure. Getting a job is hard, for one thing. Again, nobody can tell by looking whether she’s trying her best or just a huge hedonist.
It does come within. I whole heartedly believe that. Also, I won’t starve myself (I have in the past) or work my body so hard to fit into someone else’s vision of what I should look like. I eat good, and I am active. Take me as I am…or get to steppin!
I have heard of opperation Beautiful. I think as a society we have a lot to learn on this subject. Our prioritys have been askewed for a long time. Compassion for everyone regardless thin or over weight or the many shapes and sizes people come in. It’s a harsh reality what the media focuses on. Leaving a lot of people probably feeling less then, sad really. The addiction to consuming proably plays into this drive for creating the feelings of looking a certain way. I think things are changing slowly and that’s a good thing.
Laura, this is absolutely incredible. This piece should be published on billboards everywhere, and put in every fashion magazine out there. I’m still battling my own eating disorder, and I hate the fact that somewhere in my subconscious is this stupid need to look a certain way in order to be worth something. Because that’s pure BS.
I tell people they’re beautiful quite often. I tell my mom and my friends, and I always mean it. I know that when I’ve been told by friends that I’m beautiful, it made me feel wonderful, so I’ve taken to doing it as well. It’s worth it, just to see the smile on someone’s face, someone you care about.
You’re right, though – looking in the mirror and saying that to yourself is much harder than telling others…
I had to think about the way I wanted to word my response. I feel that if a person’s weight is restricting their lifestyle and it makes them unhappy then they should do all they can to make a better life for themselves. Now let me state that I am specifically talking about the people who go out to eat at fast food restaurants everyday, have a desk job, don’t have any medical issues that prevent them from exercising, and say that if only I was 50lbs lighter I would go swimming. I would personally support any friend or family member no matter which path they decided to take, but I also could not sit by and listen to someone complain about their weight while doing nothing about it. I am sorry if this offends anyone, but this is my view on the subject.
I agree with that Jason.