I must have been ten years old when I overheard an older cousin of mine say “I bet Tova will struggle with her weight her entire life, just like her mother”. I had no idea what he meant obviously—as far as I was concerned, there was nothing wrong with my weight just like I didn’t see anything wrong with my mom’s either. I was just another average looking ten year old who loved skipping rope and playing hide and seek, as well as eating ice cream on hot days.
But something about that sentence stuck and I guess it’s fair to say it eventually became a reality and the “struggle” he mentioned has been haunting me my whole life.
My official first diet was at fifteen years old.
I don’t even think I was fat or majorly over weight at that point, but in my mind I did not look like I thought I was supposed to. Many of my friends were tall and naturally very thin, whereas I was always a bit more rounded and a very average height compared to them. It’s obvious to me now that we had completely different body types which shouldn’t really have been compared in the first place, but at the time I did not see this. So I decided to have one meal a day.
Sometimes that meal would be an ice lolly or three pieces of chocolate and as you can imagine, the weight came flying off. At some point my parents started worrying about it and got me to weigh myself every now and then just to make sure I didn’t go below whatever red line they had decided on.
Looking back I think I could have benefited more from someone actually asking me what was wrong or what I was trying to change or why I did not like my body, but I don’t blame them for not doing that. I don’t think parents in the eighties had those kind of conversations with their children and I am sure they were doing what they thought was best for me.
I came off that diet when my period stopped.
I freaked out and thought to myself, “I may not be able to ever have kids, I better start eating,” and went back to eating actual meals which got me my period back within a few months.
But I think something inside me changed after that experience. I suddenly realized that my weight could be controlled and that all it took was some willpower to lose it. So I started yo-yo dieting.
I’ve had times in my life I’ve been fat and times I’ve been thin. I have changed my wardrobe because clothes were either too small or too big more times than I can remember, and I had stretch marks on my stomach and my boobs even from before I become a mom from all the shrinking and expanding.
I have been on every single diet there is on this planet and I have even made up a few of my own. I have been to gyms, got into running, Pilates and other sports and I have spent a lot of money in therapy trying to understand my relationship with food.
But in all those years since hearing my cousin say I was going to struggle with my weight, never once did I stop and truly think about what that actually meant.
You see, for the past twenty-five years since my first diet, I have been focusing on my relationship with food. Why I eat when I eat. Why I choose to eat the things do. What makes me feel good, what makes me feel crap, why I eat when I am sad or when I’m happy, why I don’t stop when I’m full etc., etc.
In all that time it never occurred to me that perhaps I am focusing on the wrong thing.
I have thought about my weight for hours and days over my lifetime. I have stared at those scales and been happy or sad depending on the numbers I saw because some chart tells me what my number should be, but the truth is that no matter how low or how high that number has been—my feeling about myself has always been the same.
Even at my lowest weight when I was wearing tiny Guess jeans and totally rocking a bikini, even then I did not like my body.
I did not feel comfortable in my own skin. I was ashamed and embarrassed and I felt something about it was wrong. Whether is was my big breasts which were never perky, or my chicken wings, or the fact my stomach was never really flat, whatever it was—was enough to make me think it still wasn’t good enough.
I read recently that 91% of women do not like their bodies. That means that the majority of women you know right now are in some way unhappy with how they look.
How crazy is that?
This unhappiness which I too am ill with, has effected so many aspects of my life, from trivial to significant. Stuff like what I wear is determined by what I think will look okay on me, rather than what I actually like and want to wear. My confidence as a woman, participating in sport activities I love like swimming in public forums, my sex life and so many other things.
All because I never really asked the right questions, never really looked in the right direction. Well, I am finally seeing the light.
I am finally seeing the beauty from within that people speak about. The fact that my body is a tool and not an object. The fact that it is the only body I have and it deserves to be loved for everything it has done and is still doing for me. The fact that I cannot teach my own daughters self-love until I find self love myself. And the fact that the only real source of pressure to look any different from how I look is coming from me.
I have clung onto my UK size 12 for over a decade, when the truth is I am really a size 14 on a good day and would probably feel even better in a size 16. I am done feeling ashamed about that, because frankly I’d much rather spend the rest of my life enjoying the marvels of this body of mine which has given me three healthy children and still has some miles in it.
I have spent the last thirty years hating my body now matter what it actually looked like. My goal for the next thirty years and beyond is to live healthy, accept and love my body no matter what size it is, and enjoy my life.
I may be big, but I am also happy.
This post originally appeared on Tova Leigh. It has been reprinted with permission.