Yesterday at my field placement I had a client mention previous social workers that had worked with him. He mentioned the one before me who was chinese and spoke fondly of his relationship with her. The woman before her, he said, "Was a bigger girl, like you." His comment caught me off guard a little bit. You see, while I'm well aware that I'm not a stick figure, I suppose I didn't necessarily see myself as a bigger girl. It has lead me to a series of thoughts that I thought might be meaningful to write down. And perhaps, just perhaps, they might be of some use to someone else.
Part of the reason why he and I view my size differently is because he's probably comparing my size to previous social workers--in which case, I could quite possibly be larger than them. I, however, compare my size to previous me. You see, only a few years ago, I used to be a hefty version of my current self. I was going over the weight difference in my head and I hadn't realized until this week that I'm 50 pounds lighter than I was 5 years ago. Fifty sounded like a big number. I suppose it's weird to think about because I don't necessarily feel like I look drastically different. I enjoy going shopping more and I'm more comfortable with my body but I don't feel like I look like a completely different human being or anything.
Every now and then I reflect back on what it felt like to be that size. Random memories are very vivid for me. For some reason, I can picture very clearly the walk from our high school out to the seminary building. It wasn't a far walk on the sidewalk, up a few stairs and you enter through a pair of glass doors. While there's nothing particularly noteworthy about these doors, I remember very clearly how much I hated walking up to them on my way to seminary. I just didn't like my reflection and having to walk up to these doors and be reminded of what I looked like was awful. I made an effort to avoid all reflective surfaces. It made me angry and frustrated to see what I looked like.
People compliment my hair every now and then. It's always nice to receive compliments and feel like there's something lovely about you. What people maybe don't know is I have, perhaps an odd attachment to my hair. I remember being in high school, being a bigger girl and feeling like the only thing that was pretty or unique about me was my hair. So as silly as it may sound, it feels like my hair got me through some hard times. haha My hair didn't have a size or a weight, it was just my hair. It made me feel special at a time when I didn't think there was anything else special about me.
Dating was an interesting concept for me. I understood that in order to date, you had to be beautiful. And beauty, from my understanding, was to be itsy bitsy in size and have a beautiful, acne-free face. I grew up feeling like I just didn't fit that description. I went through phases when I was really working on my character--I tried to study and develop Christ-like attributes or I set goals to notice and get to know the quieter people in class, etc. I remember feeling frustrated at times, like no matter who I became, no one would see it or care if I wasn't attractive.
I moved to Paris for a study abroad when I was 20 years old. It was the first time I got followed and asked for my number. There were guys that thought I was beautiful and wanted to get to know me. I found it so odd and intriguing. Didn't they know I was tubbers? They weren't supposed to pay attention to me. This was breaking all of the rules that I understood. Looking back on those pictures, it's almost the biggest I've ever been, but I didn't feel unwanted or painfully unattractive. In fact, I felt pretty in Paris. It was a very new thing for me and I was scared to go back to Utah and not feel that way anymore.
Paris made me think that maybe the definition I had understood of beauty growing up wasn't true. Maybe it really didn't matter if I was as tiny as the Olsen twins. Maybe I didn't have to fit a certain mold to have value. Maybe the right person would notice me and find me worthwhile regardless of my size.
I have an aunt that pointed out something pretty interesting to me. She told me that she looks back on her wedding picture and laughs because she remembers feeling fat that day. She said what was funny is she's never been that size since. She laughed about how if only we could stop being so hard on ourselves in the present moment. Who knows where we'll be in the future, looking back on this phase of our lives thinking, "you weren't doing so bad, you know?"
Through a series of events with different key people in my life, I slowly shifted my mentality from caring what other people thought about me to caring what I thought about me. And perhaps more importantly, striving to have an accurate view of who am I and what matters. Clearly in junior high and high school I didn't have an accurate view of my worth or value. I was so certain that being attractive was what would get me friends and a boyfriend and give some sort of meaning to my life. It sounds pretty ridiculous right now. Over time, I learned that I wanted to strive to have a good relationship with God. I wanted to talk to Him about how I'm doing, things I'm working on, struggles I'm having, etc. I cared what He thought about me. And that's the only opinion that I wanted to matter. I knew that His love for me didn't change if my waistline did. He loved me regardless of how many friends I have, what my grades are, if I made the dance team or if I do well in the next piano competition. I wanted Him to be proud of me and for Him to love me. I was tired of not feeling good enough for other people--whether or not it was true. I wanted to get to a place where I no longer needed other people to think I was awesome or attractive or hilarious. I just needed to know that God was happy with who I am and I wanted to be in a place where I was happy being me. That's it.
So to my client who thinks that I'm a bigger girl, in some respects, you're right. I'm not tiny. I've definitely got some hips, thighs and boobs. But you know what? I'm okay with that. What's important to me is that I make an effort to eat healthy, exercise and take care of myself. I feel good. And I feel pretty just the way I am. I'm finally okay with where I'm at and how I look. Are there girls that are prettier and tinier than me? Sure. There always will be. But I don't see myself in comparison with them anymore. It's never been helpful to compare things like that anyways. What matters to me is that I can compare my current self to an earlier version of myself and see improvement--whether it be with weight, scripture study, organization, budgeting, time management, etc. Do I still feel a need to continue to eat healthier? Absolutely. Do I think I can do better at exercising? You betcha. But today, in this moment, I can be grateful that I've been worse off and the progress feels rewarding. Today I'm going to appreciate how far I've come rather than be overwhelmed by how far I have to go.
I suppose my takeaway for those who are reading would be that we could all be a little less hard on ourselves. Take a minute to look at your life and see what you've learned and how you've grown. You'll always want to do better and that's a good thing. But don't beat yourselves up and discredit all of the good that you've accomplished. You've come a long way. Be proud of that.
Alrighty then. Pep talk over.