Monday, August 12, 2013

The comment that saved my life

To expel the last bit of energy my two youngest had bottled up inside them, I decided to take them to the park.  It was 7:30, their usual bedtime, but since the beginning of the summer, (and in the absence of my husband) bedtime had slipped an hour...or two.  We were the only ones there and the boys were busy running in circles until a woman showed up with her son. Within 3 minutes we were talking and in the entirety of those 3 minutes she expressed so much self hatred.  She mentioned how her toe nails were not painted because she didn't have time.  How her hair fell out after she had her son and it hasn't grown back, and how she was so fat that she doesn't even look in the mirror any more.   What is odd is that we were talking about the Oscar Meyer wiener mobile when all this came out.  It was as if she was pointing out what she thought was obvious before I noticed. Which honestly, I thought she was kind of pretty and wouldn't have noticed her hair, weight and especially toes, if she had not mentioned it.
 I don't think I have ever had a conversation with any woman who didn't put herself down. Granted I don't know many super models, but I'm sure they would have something bad to say about themselves too.  It is normal, accepted and even encouraged when in the company of other woman.  In the ladies room you never hear a woman say to another, "I am really happy with the way my hair turned out" or
"I cannot get over how great my butt looks in these pants". If I did hear those things I would have a  heart attack because I would assume I had walked in the Men's room (again). I don't really know what goes on in the Men's restroom,  although I have found myself in one at a club in Hollywood, but I got kicked out.  That is an entirely different blog post. Moving on.
Poor self image and eating disorders run in my family.  I'm not entirely innocent in the self hatred talk. But most of the time its in my head.
When I was in third grade our school was participating in the Presidential Fitness Awards.  It was something I was really good at, in fact the best. One of the challenges was to see how long you could hold your chin about a bar while the gym teacher timed you.  I could have stayed up there twice as long as I did, but I got bored.  It included jumping jacks, sit ups, push ups.   Part of the challenge was that you had to get your height and weight taken.  I remember sitting in the hallway with all the little girls in my class waiting. I was toward the end of the line and the girls started coming out announcing their weight.  I don't remember what it was but probably around 65 or 70 lbs.   Since all the girls were getting around the same number they started the 65 club and were laughing and talking.
When it was my turn to go in I stepped in the nurses office and got on the scale.  It was a good 10 lbs over what the other girls weighed.
I let out a moan and hung my head.  My teacher asked me what was wrong. I told her that I was fat and ugly.  She got really serious and looked me in the eye and said I was the strongest little girl she knew. She reminded me all the great things my body did over the course of the challenge and  how great I was at soccer.  She said the scale is just a number.
When I went out to the hall and didn't announce my weight the girls snickered. Looking back at pictures, I was a really normal looking girl, but never skinny.  My acceptance to the 65 club was denied and I ate lunch alone.  It's funny what hurts you as a kid.  As I sat alone on the playground I thought about what the gym teacher told me.  Was she right?   Sure I was strong, but who cares?  Boys were suppose to be strong, girls were suppose to be skinny.  I started doing things on the playground just to see if she was right.  I could beat anyone running, and I won almost all the arm wrestling contests. Except with Adam....but that was because I liked him.
I started to realize that she was right.   I was strong.   I carried her statement with me through high school and college.  It not only helped me when I realized that my body wasn't what I saw in magazines, but emotionally when I thought I was weak.  I even surprised myself when I was able to break free from an inebriated guy who pulled me down on his lap when I was a cocktail waitress.  Apparently my strength surprised him too.  Not as much as the bouncer that took him out though.
Kids believe what you tell them. Good or bad.
I repeated my mantra  with me during birth, surgeries and some horrible losses.  I have taken ownership of it and after so many years it is a quality I take pride in.
I'm scared to think about where I would be if my gym teacher would have just let me insult myself.  Brushed it off, as something that all girls say.  Nobody had ever told me I was strong and I would have been so caught up in the things I "wasn't", that I wouldn't have noticed the things I "was".
It took one positive comment in the hay stack of negatives that stuck with me.
I don't know if Ms. Mack knows how her comment changed the course of my life.  Can you imagine if her comment towards me in that situation would have been derogatory? There was a 50/50 chance and I would have believed her either way.
I don't have daughters so I don't know if things have changed in regards to body acceptance but I doubt it. I have a niece who mentioned she needed to lose weight and I made sure to ignore that and mention what a beautiful unique voice she has. And I wasn't just referring to her tone, but in general. She has a voice that needs to be heard.
When I hear my friends put themselves down it makes me wish they had had a Mrs. Mack moment.  As much as I can identify with distain for muffin tops, I try not to indulge because the more you tell yourself something you are only solidifying it into a truth. I would rather talk about what they are good at.
After 20 minutes or so I decided it was time to get the boys home.  Jack ran over and gave both of us a bouquet of bark, grass, mulch and a lily he had picked from the landscape.  I thanked him but while I was  looking for a discreet place to toss it, she had found a paper cup by the trash bin and was putting her bouquet in it. It reminded me that kids not only are listening, but watching.  I decided to put my mulch in the my pocket until we got home. She was so touched that he did that. She may feel like she wasn't  anything to look at, but through the eyes of a 6 year old she certainly was.