It's Only Words
December 13, 2013
The problem with words is sometimes, if you are told something often enough or if you hear the same words from many different people, you can be misled into believing they are not simply “words” but “the truth”…
I know that it was the words and opinions of others which, from the age of 10, formed the foundations of my low self-esteem and the basis for my own issues with my appearance and I am sure I am not alone in battling that particular demon.
The weight-based issues which led me to WLR also took me back to a “headspace” that I thought I had escaped from many years ago…. but it seems not. This time I have the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of age to help me navigate the emotional aspect of being heavier than I would like… but that was not always the case.
The start of the situation came from the fact that I was born with the face of a grown up… stern and sharp featured. Not so much of a problem in adult life but when you are ten, well, it just looks weird. My nose and chin that earned me the nickname “Witchy” (which, when ‘Willo the Wisp’ came on TV changed to ‘Evil Edna’) and it didn’t help that Twin was born a beautiful baby and just kept improving (gaining her a far more flattering “Charlie’s Angels” based nickname). The teasing and taunting continued throughout secondary school on a daily, no, hourly basis… but somehow I made it through.
The next step was heading off to college. Twin and I decided that we needed to get out of the very small village we lived in and so, together with our closest friend (aka “BestBud”), we moved away from home and shared a house in the city. It was, for me, a new start.
School had been difficult because once the teasing and taunting started it became “the norm”; it was just something that “people did” and I “put up with”. Moving away gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself. I knew that my looks weren’t show-stopping so I concentrated drawing the focus away from my appearance by honing a quick wit and a way with words. It became a defence mechanism to get the digs and quips and insults in before other people could… If I was cracking the jokes and others were laughing, I could comfort myself with the knowledge they were laughing “with me” not “at me”.
College was a revelation. Everyone was a bit more “grown up” and so childhood teasing wasn’t an issue; my face didn’t look three decades older than my body… and I found myself gaining in confidence. Twin and BestBud were my two closest female friends and I didn’t let other people into my inner-circle easily. During my secondary years the boys had been particularly cruel and so I gave them a wide berth.
However, sharing a house with Twin and BestBud (who had inherited her mother’s Mediterranean looks) meant they were the source of the attention and there were always more admirers waiting in the wings. I became the one the would-be-boyfriends would confide in as they waited in the hope that perhaps they might stand a chance with my two gorgeous housemates. It was a good place for me… I laughed and joked with them; gave them insider information on how to win over Bestbud and Twin; and cultivated some really great male friends. Then one day, one of them said that he wanted to be more than friends.
You have no idea how much that threw me.
Even though I knew I had some good qualities, I had deemed myself “unattractive” based entirely on my physical appearance… and then, had somehow managed to replace “unattractive” with “unlovable” and developed a personality with defences built in so that I could by-pass the tricky circumstances of not being “conventionally attractive” and made sure the barriers were in place and locked down.
The reason this time of year always reminds me of him because there was one event that prompted a huge shift in my perception of myself. It was nothing out of the ordinary. I was in my room playing my records (yes, back in the days of scratched vinyl!) and singing along loudly to Spandau Ballet as I got ready for a College Christmas party. (“I’ll Fly For You” still takes me back thirty years whenever I hear it). It was then that my boyfriend came into my room and just looked at me before telling me I had no idea how beautiful I was.
I remember vividly making some flippant “joke” but realised from the look on his face that had he meant it and I had to believe it&ehllip; and that led to the start of a process which would make me completely review and rewrite my own opinion of myself.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do.
I have to say that, when I look back, he was absolutely the right person at the right time. He had an artistic nature and a quirky view on life. He wasn’t conventionally good looking but he attracted positive attention, particularly from girls. But he wasn’t superficial. He understood my demons and did his best to slay them… and I grew in confidence and self-worth as a result of him being such an important part of my life - not because he “validated” how I looked, but because he made me view myself differently and made me value who I was.
He still remains one of my best friends even though we were only “a couple” for ten months. Life meant that our relationship changed and whilst we both found new loves, he has remained one of my closest friend and confidantes. I know that it was thanks to his nurturing and understand that I was able to move forward with increased confidence and self-belief.
Time passed uneventfully… then, fast-forward seven years where I found myself on a night out in a different city with my amazing-boyfriend-at-the-time and a group of friends.
I was on the dance floor when a completely unknown twenty-something stood in front of me. He stared at me and then said… “you’re easily the best dancer here… Shame you’re the (bleep)-ing ugliest too”… and then he walked off.
As soon as I heard those words I was instantly twelve again. My mind immediately took me back to the days when I heard similar words over and over and over again…
It was frightening just how quickly one sentence wiped out years of learning to love myself. I was taken back to that place within me which I thought I had well and truly left behind. It was shocking just how easily my confidence and self-esteem could be destroyed… so utterly and completely… in a matter of seconds. Luckily the damage was limited by my ability to draw on all the positives I had learned to appreciate about myself, reinforced by yet another amazing boyfriend in my life, and the support of my closest friends (some of whom saw my vulnerability for the first time… and also realised why I had only six photos from the age of 11 to 18!)
I’m sharing this because it’s important you know my starting point; so I share everything… not just my delight when the scales show another 2lb loss… or when my belt needs a slightly tighter hole as my waistline decreases. It is about my entire journey which (as well as “eat less and move more” ) is absolutely about my “headspace” .
We are all here at WLR because we want to change something about our size or our shape. We are here because we are not entirely happy with what we see when we look in the mirror and we want to change that. But we also have to realise that for some of us, the basis of our own self-image (and self-worth) is formed by letting the opinion of others overrule our opinion of ourselves… and in the worst case allowing the opinion of others to become our opinion of ourselves.
If I could go back and talk to myself aged twelve, knowing what I know now, I would do my damnedest to persuade the pre-teen me that no matter how bad it is, no matter what cruel things people say, hold yourself in high esteem. I know that those school children and young adults who made me their target probably, all these years later, don’t even remember it… and I’m certain that I don’t feature in their thoughts or cause them to feel remorse.
If I could spend time with someone of that age going through the same thing now I would do my best to help them have the inner will and determination not to allow it to define them; to tell them that we live in a superficial world and the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood is made all the more difficult because of that… But, at any age, peer pressure; the opinions of others; even thoughtless or careless words from those close to us – they all have the capacity to chip away at our confidence, the erode value we place on ourselves, and they can take us to very dark places.
Whether you are fourteen, forty-four or seventy-four, the effect can be crushing and soul-destroying. The WLR journey is a quest to change our size or shape; a mission which will help to make us feel happier at what we see in the mirror… but on this journey it is also important to remember to try and reframe what goes on in your head as well.
No matter how much weight you lose, no matter how much your shape changes, no matter how many compliments you receive from those around you who witness your transformation… it means nothing if, in your head, you are still in a “dark place” in terms of how you view yourself.But, just as cruel and vindictive remarks can form a network which convinces you that it is “reality”… Positive comments and affirmations can do the same. It is reported that every negative comment requires five positives to “overrule” it (your own positive statements count towards that total).
And that’s why it’s so important to realise that, as much as the WLR journey is a physical process, it is also a mental process. Just as we are all very aware of the need to plan and prepare to get to goal, and once there, know that it will take discipline to “maintain” and not undo all our hard work… it is important to know that such discipline applies just as much to your mental and emotional goal.
So, as you make your way on this journey, as well as paying attention to your food and the exercise, pay attention to your own headspace. Find those things about yourself which you love, which you value and which make you proud of who you are. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant it seems…. find it; hold it; and refer to it often. When someone says something positive about you - hear it; accept it; savour it; store it. If someone says something negative or hurtful, override it with all that you have in your store of “the good stuff”.
When you look in the mirror, if you hear a negative comment from your inner voice… Banish it. Immediately. The world is full of people who may be mean-minded and cruel to you… do not add your own name to that list.
WLR has a wealth of tips and tools available to help you… but it doesn’t hurt to have tools of your own. Build up a store of positives. Keep them close and refer to them often. Banish bad memories to a small dark closed corner of your mind… you may never erase them completely... but you can make them darned hard to find.
And above all never ever forget that you… yes, YOU… ARE AMAZING!
And just as a postscript… My first boyfriend and I are still friends… we are 5000 miles apart but still part of each other’s lives.
As for the “amazing-boyfriend-at-the-time”, who picked up the pieces from the dance floor and stayed around as I put myself together again… he is the Lovely Husband that I write about often and who I love dearly.