If you are like me, you are mentally calculating the days until you have to ditch those Covid sweats for a swimsuit. Part of me is excited for that kind of weather. But warm weather leads to water, water leads to a swimsuit, and swimsuit leads to me fretting over what suit is best for my current bod status. Perusing village shops that are currently open I can see out of the corner of my eye that the fashion trend of swimsuits with weird cut outs and forty two straps has not died yet. Who knew pushing play dough back into its shrinking yellow container was going to bode so well for summer fashion? Lets all take a moment and mentally thank whatever woman made the one-piece fashionable again. We all know it was a woman, and she deserves a raise. Wherever you are girl, I love you more than you know. Now, if we can just make the Golden-Girls-style-caftans perfectly sexy and acceptable beach wear, we will be in business. Until then, I will delve deep into my mental psyche to unpack the battle with my body image. Who is with me? Grab a cocktail, because I am not cutting out alcohol no matter what my body looks like. Thats just silly.
I have never been a tiny person. Ever. I'm pretty sure I have been this size since birth. In elementary school, my friends would sit around in a circle at my feet and each take turns letting me fling them around like rag dolls. I was a commodity in those days. I loved that people always thought I was older because of my size, until I reached a certain age when Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears made me realize that what was "sexy," was to be pin thin and pocket sized. I was neither. You know that theory that an average girl looks more attractive when her friends are aesthetically challenged? It applies to size too. Because most of my friends where bite-sized, the disparity between us made me look even more Super-sized then was probably reality. It wasn't so bad but for the fact that every boy I ever had a crush on, would respond with a "she's too tall," when made aware of my bleeding heart. If they were confident, and able to look past the truth that I could eat off the top of their head, our love story usually ended after their friends would poke fun of them at the school dance. Imagine that scene from the movie Sixteen Candles, where Long-Duk-Dong has met the love of his life at the dance. That is what I imagined we looked like. Photo below. There are a few times in those days that I can recall hearing boy feedback that crushed me, "She's got a pretty face, she's just too tall" or "She's not my type, she's kind of boyish." I couldn't wait for high school when I assumed everyone got taller and I would blend in with the pubescent landscape.
How do I put this... High school is not the place to find your self confidence. It just isn't. It was where I felt the full force of body image blues. Sure, when I arrived there were certainly kids taller than me, and that felt good. But as much as I was able to blend in, I also recognized that getting noticed could be a dangerous game. One day you're an innocent by-stander, and the next day, "they" find the chink in your armor and you're crying in a dingy bathroom during lunch period. Who is the "they" you ask? Fair question, but we all know them, we all dealt with them. "They" are kids that will eat you alive when you are still trying to figure out who you are. No mercy for the young. At C.E.Byrd High School, "they" came in the form of a gang of scary smart and wealthy boys that could sniff out insecurity over the stench of the cafeteria. They all donned polos, Sperry Top Siders and swoosh bangs, when that was cool. For almost my entire freshman year, I had watched them attempt humor by light hearted humiliation. One in particular, could have given a masterclass on making the punch line feel like a punch to the gut. He scared the shit out of me, even though I probably outweighed him by thirty plus pounds. My days of blending in around these boys ended my Sophomore year, when I began to make more friends and they discovered I was dating a fellow football player. Practicing on the back field one day, the ring leader walked behind me on the way to the football team's water station. "Hey Bay Mac... You going out for the football team?" My maiden name was McClaran, which got shortened to Mac, and then added to the shortened version of my first name. Nick names are weird. The bigger picture was, he SPOTTED me. I was on his radar so much so, that he knew my nickname which made me nervous. As time went on, he began to pick up on what was the most effective way to pick at me and get my attention. "Hey Bay Mac, I'm going to start calling you Mac Truck... You should think about quitin' cheerleading and go out for the football team. You'd probably make a better corner-back than your boyfriend." Then escalation, "Hey Mac Truck, are you sure you're a girl? You got bigger legs than my Dad." Queue high school girl heartbreak. Had I been brave, I would have offered to kick his ass. Instead, I did the polite southern girl thing and told him that when he called me "Mac Truck" it hurt my feelings. If you are wondering how that went down, no surprise, it was a lot like a turd in the punch bowl. My attempt at being diplomatic only fueled him to seek me out, and make small talk that eventually led to cleverly painted jabs. I hope this kid became a detective, because he surely had a knack for finding well hidden insecurities. When you're insecure, it doesn't take much to set off a tornado of self doubt when it's discovered. You try to cover it in plaster, and paint, and wall paper, and at a point you tell yourself it's a silly thing to be concerned about in the first place. Then someone, sometimes unknowingly, takes a razor sharp blade and cuts you and all your insecurities wide open. For self preservation, you pretend it doesn't hurt as you frantically search for a rag to clean up the mess and get the hell out of there. Looking back, I am quite sure that boy had a world of hurt I knew nothing about. If I were to guess, I bet he has no idea how long I have carried his voice around in my head. But isn't that way? The ones at the tip of the spear remember the wound and those that wielded the weapon have no idea the damage. My encounter with this boy, completely changed my self talk. What had made me stand out, was what I wanted to hide the most. Furthermore it became all I could see staring back at me in the mirror. A big, boyish, square shouldered, flat chested and fat legged loser. I stopped wearing my favorite platform style Birkenstocks in exchange for thin flat flip flops. Anything to be shorter. I made a valiant attempt at looking smaller by slumping my head and neck forward, and vowing to never wear a spaghetti strapped shirt as it only magnified my broad shoulders. I prescribed to this self torture through high school and the summer before I went to college it started to change.
One summer night, I drove two friends to a small college town so they could meet up with two college boys. I was always the designated driver because I did not drink and tended to keep everybody in line even when they would have prefer I didn't. We arrived at our location and I was nervous as my two friends were social-goliaths, and so comfortable with talking to anyone, even if the "anyone" were boys much more sophisticated and older than us. That was the night I first briefly met Zac. He would later say that he fell out of his chair leaning back to get a peek of the girl with "the longest legs he had ever seen." You see, Zac was the first boy that wanted me to take up space. My size didn't deter him, not even for a moment. He still wears a shit-eating grin when he sees me dive into my closet for a pair of strappy heels too tall to wear for too long. Even though reality is, and I stand firm on the fact, he is only taller than me by the spike in his hair and the inserts in his shoes. Doesn't matter, he proudly puts his arm around me like he won the biggest catch of the day. (He literally did in some ways.) While I know it is uncool to admit that a boy gave me back some of my confidence, it's the truth. It is my honest truth and the event that turned the tide. It lit a small and hopeful fire in my chest that I wouldn't spend the rest of my life trying to fit in a box that was never meant to hold me. The way he looked at me, beaming with school boy pride, was truly the catalyst to seek my own new self confidence. I stood a little taller in college because standing out didn't seem so scary anymore.
Well then, kids happened. And that boy way back when, didn't hold a candle to the weird ways my body would morph as I made, and pushed out two kids. Avah, my first, was a c-section, so I have had children come out of my body every way but through my ears. Each baby had me taking up more space, quite literally. Zac was almost impressed. One pregnancy, saw a sixty four pound weight gain that left me mystified. Zac quietly mentioned that maybe the sleeve of Oreos and giant glass of Country Time Lemonade before bed was part of the problem. I told him "to pound pavement, I was eating for two." He would later say I "was eating for myself AND a twelve year old, though not within ear shot". My weight waffled up and down for a solid 9 years. Between babies I hid behind oversized jackets, and stuffed myself into undersized Spanx until finally I decided that I couldn't go on feeling like garbage and looking like a stuffed sausage. At the time, I suffered sporadic headaches, exhaustion and sleeping soundly was a pipe dream due to heart burn and stomach pain. I was 34, and way too young to feel this old. It was time. I had to put up, or shut up. I signed up for a fitness program and thought, "we will see were this goes...I have to try something"
It has been a little over 2 years since I first attempted taking back control over my health. Sure, I lost weight, became much stronger and dropped a couple of pant sizes... but do you know what I never really lost? That voice inside my head that told me I was "too tall, too big, not like the rest of them." Isn't that the breaks? I finally got down to the smallest I had ever been in my life, even so, when looking through photos from that time I thought , I hate my broad shoulders, my legs are lumpy, my hips are too wide. I'm sorry, I need off this body image roller coaster. Folks, I learned a valuable lesson: being healthy, truly healthy, is half in your head. I was doing all the RIGHT things. Eating the right portions, doing something physical every day, balancing the right work and rest, but my mind hadn't graduated high school. Do you want to know what made me realize it the most? Seeing my own daughter, my beautiful first born baby, begin to try to shrink because she didn't want to be too tall. The experience was like looking in a mirror that was trapped in 1999... everyone, EVERYONE of every shape and size, has a tiny voice of doubt, that if fed, becomes the loudest voice in the crowd. Body issues are mind issues trapped in a body with issues. You got issues? Me too. You may look at me and think, "oh my gosh, I would kill to have her body" but I look at another and think, "I'd kill to have her body." And so we keep killing each other when really we just need to love and care for the body we are in.
So what is the answer? What is always the answer? I said it above... it's LOVE. I don't eat healthy to be skinny, I eat healthy because I feel a million times better when I do. I love feeling good, my headaches and heart burn are gone. Yes, you will see me "splurge" because I'm not living on a diet, I made a lifestyle change, and I want to enjoy dinners with my husband and drinks with my friends. I also refuse to miss out on dessert. Working out is so different. I no longer work out to punish my body, I work out because it makes me happy to move. I love the feeling of pride after a tough working out. These days, being physical empties my insides of stress and transforms my mind to focus on the positives in my world. I make time for exercise because it makes my time spent doing other things that much more impactful. I can really concentrate... and I can also keep up with my kids. Most of all, I wear the heels, the spaghetti straps, the shorts and I stand up tall and I proudly starve the voice that tells me all the things I am not. Nope little voice, you don't get dessert, but I do. I love heels, and I don't want to give them up. I can reach for the stars now! When I start to live in comparison and wish to be smaller, I take a breath. I tell myself something I love about my body and I focus on my body's amazing achievements like child birth and toe-touches. Thats right, the best of high school Baileigh lives on as a forever cheerleader. I know you're shocked.
So as we start swim suit shopping, whether we are searching for the perfect one piece, two piece, or we are willing to rock the dental floss and tiny triangle top, we need to remember a few key points. First, spandex is our friend. Second, our bodies are not our enemy. Third, being healthy is half in our heads, so feed your sweet soul and starve your self doubt.
Love & Hugs from London,
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PS. If you are interested in a health and fitness program, I can put you in touch with my friend who can help.