I have always been a chubby kid. I was born very cuddly. The best part was I never had any idea I was overweight. Weight did not become something I even realized was an issue for me until I was almost 11 years old. I knew I was chunkier then the other girls in my class, but it never held me back. I still loved cheerleading camp and I was always hanging upside down from the monkey bars. I even remember going to basketball camp one summer between first and second grade. The baby feminist inside of me was so annoyed that only the boys could be on the “skins” team when we played shirts and skins. Well, I showed those coaches. Fortunately or unfortunately my body developed early so by that time I was already wearing a training bra. So when it was time for the drills to begin I very emphatically stated I was on the skins team and whipped off my shirt revealing my very cute white and pink flowered training bra. Needless to say I ended back on the shirts team and was quickly informed why I must keep my top on when I was at camp.
I started to realize I was overweight when I was about 11..my biological father and his wife were getting married and she decided to purchase mine and my sisters bridesmaids dresses for the wedding without us there to try them on. When we finally tried them on it was just over a month before the wedding. My sisters dress fit perfectly on her cute frame. Mine however, pulled and was too tight in the hips. The look of disappointment will forever be engrained in my mind. She tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but the alternative was taking one of her high school dresses from the late 80’s and taking it in and “modernizing” it. That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to be dressed like everyone else. My independent spirit never like dressing like everyone else, but I knew at a wedding I would stick out like the chunky, overweight thumb that I was. I knew I would be miserable if that was my fate. This was when I first learned to start skipping meals. I remembered an episode of Full House. The one where DJ starves herself…it made an impression on me. Up to this point in my life I loved food. But I had a fairly normal relationship with food. I wasn’t an emotional eater. I truly enjoyed the way food tasted. So I started skimming back and instead of enjoying playing outside I pushed myself to be overly active. Every movement had to count.
Weeks went by and when the “modernized” dress was finished I was supposed to try it on. It was way too large. So my biological fathers wife had me try on the original dress for kicks and giggles. It. Fit. Perfectly. The pride I felt when I made her proud of me and I accomplished the goal of wearing a dress like everyone else is a feeling I will also never forget. But what that feeling did was create a very unhealthy relationship with food, and my body from that moment forward. I never ate just for fun anymore. All of a sudden I realized I was so much heavier then all the other girls my age. At the ripe age of 12 my womanly curves had kicked in full force and I looked awkward. Clothes fit me funny because I was still chunky, but now I had boobs! I went from coasting at a B cup for a few years to overnight at 12 have a D cup.
The eating disorder took a form all its own. I spent years binging and purging until my Mom found out. But my relationship with my body and food was already tarnished at that point. I knew I was always beautiful to my parents. There was never a day that went by that my Papa or my Mama didn’t tell me how beautiful I was and how God created me so unique and perfect. Why aren’t those the voices that ended up recorded on the tapes in my head? Instead, I had the mean things boys would say and the mean things girls would say. Girls were the worst once I reached middle school and high school. I know now that they were on the same sort of journey I was on to figure out their relationship with their bodies. Unfortunately, a lot of girls chose to tear me down to make themselves feel better and it wasn’t just girls, grown women also had things to say.
There are some days I wish someone had taken my face in their hands and had told me that I was beautiful just the way I was. I wish someone had said “Ashley, God made us all different. But you are just as beautiful as the rest.” My parents tried to do that. Sadly, negative voices are always louder.
If I could go back in time and have a sit down conversation with my 11 year old self I would tell myself that..you are enough. You are beautiful. Beauty has all shapes and all sizes. You are loved for more than just your outward appearance. You are loved for your heart and your mind. The game of comparison is quicksand. Once you start with one thing you will never be able to get out. I would tell myself that I am going to have a wonderful life in spite of all the negative comments and unrealistic beauty standards that will be placed upon me. I would tell myself to live! Dance! Sing! Don’t stop dreaming!
The journey I am on now to learn how to love myself as I am as a 26 year old is a rocky one. Some days I just want to pick myself apart in the mirror. Other days I can recite Psalms 139:14 and believe it. I can’t go back in time, but I can start now. I can develop healthy self esteem now and help other girls and women realize its not too late. It’s never too late.