‘My name always came with ‘big-boned’ attached to it. ‘I’ll never be thin enough or built right for her.’: Woman shares struggle with body image, reminds parents ‘your words and actions matter’

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“When I was eight years old, I asked my mother if I could take ballet classes. ‘You’re not built to be a ballerina,’ she responded. She went on to explain how my body was ‘big-boned’ and ballerinas are supposed to be built smaller. When I was a child and into my pre-teen years, my mother often introduced me as ‘big-boned’ to her friends and co-workers. It was almost synonymous with my name.

The introduction usually went something like this, ‘This is my daughter, she is big for her age because she is big-boned.’ I remember feeling like she must have really been embarrassed by my size as a child because my name always came with ‘big-boned’ attached to it. It was as if she had to make an excuse right away for my very appearance before anyone could judge her for having a daughter that had a different body type than she did.

Around those pre-teen years is when I began an unhealthy relationship with food. I did not want to be an embarrassment. I did not want to be seen as big-boned. I just wanted to be me, to be loved for me. When I was a teenager, and at a very healthy weight, my mother took me to a chiropractor in town. He took me into a little room by myself and had a talk with me about food.

He told me what to eat and what not to eat to avoid ‘getting fat.’ My mother later explained the chiropractor told her I was the one she needed to worry about, that I would be a ‘fat person’ someday. He then had me sit and watch videos about what foods are acceptable and what foods are not. I still wasn’t good enough. I was being careful with food (and unhealthy about it at that), exercising, and was at a healthy weight. But, I still wasn’t the right body type. I would never be the right body type.

After marriage and babies came along, I gained quite a bit of weight and struggled to work the weight off. I was a happy wife and mom though, learning to love myself where I was. One year for my birthday in my late 20’s, my mother asked to take me out to celebrate. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and going out with my mom and sister sounded like a fun idea. My mom told me to get ready because she had a special surprise for me. I had no idea where we were going but it felt good to get dressed up, put make-up on, and do something pretty with my hair. My mom picked me up from my home. I excitedly asked where we were headed, and she told me it was a surprise.

It was definitely a surprise when we pulled into a gym parking lot. As we sat parked in her car, she informed me she wanted to purchase me a gym membership for my birthday. As I felt the tears well up in my eyes, she said, ‘Let’s just go in and see what they have to say. Let’s tour it.’ I couldn’t bring myself to move. I was overcome with emotion and asked her to take me home. I know some may not see this experience the same way I did, but given my mother’s outlook on my body from the time I was a child, it felt like another ‘I’ll never be thin enough or built right for her’ moment.

When I was in my 30’s, I lost all the extra weight through a lot of hard work with diet and exercise. I did it for me. But, it didn’t matter, I couldn’t see it. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a big-boned girl whose body would never be acceptable. So, the weight loss wasn’t permanent. Now, here I am in my early 40’s, working hard again to live my healthiest life and be the best version of myself I can be.

The question is, how can I stand before myself and see a woman who is worthy and good enough? Will I ever be able to see beauty in myself? Will I ever be able to look at myself and be proud for overcoming an unhealthy relationship with food? Or will I always feel like the girl who has to be prefaced when introduced because her body is so very unacceptable? Will I ever love me for me, right where I am?

Someday I hope I don’t mind being in pictures. Someday I hope I can let go of all the emotional baggage. Someday I hope I don’t mind being seen and that living in the background of life isn’t forever. Someday I hope I can look in the mirror and be so proud of what I see. If you are raising daughters, please know your words and actions matter. You can instill something beautiful, and you should because the world, social media, and their peers, will cause enough negative body feelings.

I know this sounds like I blame my mother. I do not blame her for my weight challenges as an adult. I am well aware the struggle is my own. But, I do wish she could have seen me differently from the time I was a child. I do wish my mother could have seen me as a dancer. I do wish she could have accepted me for who I was, always. I wish I would have known what it felt like to be loved unconditionally. I wish my view of my own body wasn’t established as negative from the time I was old enough to understand and remember. I hope 41-year-old me can accept that my body is my own at every stage of life, health, and weight… and know I am enough, I am worthy, and I am beautiful.”

Woman stands in black sports bra and underwear with one arm raised and bent toward her neck, standing in front of a brown and blue shaded backdrop.
Courtesy of Polina Tankilevitch (via Canva)

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