I remember the first time I thought I was fat… I was six.
This past weekend I attended a Healing Circle Dinner in Edmonton, Alberta with Energy Healer, Amber Kupina. The topic of the evening was body image. Something that I have struggled with for a very very long time. Amber has inspired me to share my own struggles and since I know so many women and men that have struggled alongside me… this is for you.
At age 5, I recognized that I was bigger than other children. I was taller, I was solid, I was a farm kid. I can recall the thought of feeling larger in kindergarten. However, I cannot recall a specific comment or incident that made me feel this way. But nonetheless, it was there.
At age 6, I was full-on body shaming myself. At the end of grade one, my teacher sent us home on summer vacation with two photos. One from the first day of class and one from the end of the school year. I remember the moment clearly. I looked at those side by side photos and the judgment entered. I AM FAT. That memory is as clear to me as it happened yesterday. I weep for that little girl. She has no idea. She has no idea the ramifications of that thought or how that single thought would shape the remainder of her life, how that thought would become her story for the next 26 years.
As a child, I was teased for being overweight. And I internalized every single hateful comment. The thing is that judgment does not stop when you leave elementary school, middle school, or even high school. Adults can be just as harsh as a 6th grader on a playground. Last year I attended a dinner party at a friend’s house and I met a woman who used to be a personal trainer. We had a wonderful conversation about health and nutrition. I confided in her the struggles of building a business. Her response was “Just get yourself in shape and the clients will come running to you.” Her remarks that evening cut me deep and left me so deep in shame that it took me a while to climb back out. I left that party in tears and let them fall as I drove home. I wanted so badly to tell her what I’ve been through. To tell her what my body has been through. To tell her what my body was capable of and that I appreciate it for what it does. To tell her that no matter how “out of shape” she thought my body was, it ran a marathon last month. To tell her that my body was strong. To tell her that the size and shape of MY BODY WAS NONE OF HER BUSINESS. But I wasn’t there yet. Reflecting back at the moment now, I can see that she was only projecting back to me what I was already telling myself.
I used food to cope with my emotions; which led me to 295 pounds. It wasn’t until I saw that number that I knew I couldn’t live like that any longer. Weight loss does not happen overnight and either does healing emotional wounds from when you were 6 years old. I had always assumed WEIGHT LOSS = BODY ACCEPTANCE, WEIGHT LOSS = HAPPINESS, WEIGHT LOSS = LOVE. Boy, was I mistaken. I have lost over 100 pounds. And I am here to tell you that weight loss DOES NOT equal body acceptance, happiness or love. Weight loss means that your body’s mass relative to the earth’s gravitational pull is less. Am I negating a 100-pound weight loss, no. Am I glad that I lost the weight, yes. My end-goal has ALWAYS ultimately been longevity. I want to be 70 and climbing a mountain. I want to be running marathons well into my 60’s. I want to LIVE. And at 295 pounds I truly don’t think that would have been possible.
It has been 5 years since my dramatic weight loss. And I have spent the majority of that time hating my body, criticizing my body and hiding my body just as much as I did at 295 pounds. My weight changed but my mentality stayed the same. Actually, truth be told it worsened….
I have never publicly talked about this and have really only discussed these feelings with close family members, friends, and my psychologist. But when you lose over 100 pounds, you have excess skin. I have felt cheated and wronged for not getting the body on the magazine cover after all my hard work and dedication. For still not having the bikini body that I so badly longed for. For not ever truly reaching the arbitrary number that I aimed for on the scale. I have also felt like a fraud because of my excess skin. In 2013, I lost 90 pounds in 7 months. That’s enough for people to stop and go “Woah, Jenna is that you???” At that point, I hadn’t even fully appreciated what I had accomplished. My first thought was “Uh.. yeah, I know my hair is way longer than I used to be.” I couldn't see the change when I looked in the mirror. What I saw was the 295-pound girl that I used to be and not the woman I had become. I was not proud of what I have accomplished. And I was far from happy. In fact, I was more depressed than I had ever been. And with each compliment, comment, and way-to-go on my weight loss, I cringed. I physically cringed. I hated it. I HATED EVERY SINGLE REMARK. Because they didn’t see it. They only saw what I showed them. They couldn’t see the excess skin. And they would never see my shame. I have stared at myself in the mirror and told myself the most hateful things. Things I would never even dream of saying to another human being. Things that today, I cannot bring myself to write down or say out loud.
I’m not going to lie, changing my thought patterns has been a LOT of work over the last 2 years. With the aid of my psychologist, daily affirmations, and the works of Louise Hay, Gabrielle Bernstein, Rebecca Campbell, and Brené Brown I was able to go from feelings of utter disgust of my body to liking my body. And since working with Amber Kupina and writing daily gratitude lists (for my body specifically) I have been able to appreciate all that my body has done and currently does for me. I am not my body. It is my vessel. It is a vessel that has taught me many many lessons in this lifetime. I know without a doubt that I would not be doing the work that I do without my body going through all that it has. With that, I am very grateful for the body I have.
Shame is my biggest trigger. It’s the message I tell myself in the dark hours. It’s the whispers of ‘I’m not good enough’ as I go throughout my day. I know that I am not alone with body image issues. I know you suffer too. I hope that you can find some compassion for your body through my story. Writing it was not easy. Saying it out loud is even harder. But keeping it in and hiding it is the hardest of all.
I share my story with you because in the words of Brené Brown, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame cannot survive.”
Please be gentle. I’m still healing.