I feel lucky to have grown up in the ’90s and ‘00s for many reasons. I grew up without Instagram or social media. I grew up without iPads and cell phones. I was in grade 12 when MSN became popular and I would sit all night in front of the computer waiting for him to send me a message.
Of course, this was also a time when we were teased in person, on the playground, during recess, in front of anyone who would watch. My glasses, braces, and chubby physique blazed a trail for boys and girls to make fun of me. It didn’t help that I loved books, I was a teacher’s pet, and I thrived on being right.
They called me four-eyes, fat-ass, brace-face, loser—you name it. I hated them for it. I hated my body, my glasses, and most of all, my braces. My best friend at the time advised that I start replying to insults with this: “Yeah, I know I’m PHAT, P.H.A.T—pretty hot and tempting!”
This was a time when boys would run around at recess and yell “SUCK IT” while making an X with their arms and slamming it down on the crotches—comebacks lacked a certain amount of intelligence and wit at this age.
I’m not sure if I ever used that comeback, what I do know is that I’ve always thought there was something wrong with my body. I remember summer days spent swimming in my aunt and uncle’s pool with my cousin. My aunt often invited the daughters of a family friend. They were competitive swimmers so their bodies looked very different from my own. They were slim and muscular with broad shoulders and abs. I had never seen other girls with abs before. My cousin, on the other hand, was very skinny, all knees and elbows, but still, she was skinny.
I can still feel the jealousy, watching their fatless bodies glide through the water in their two-piece tankinis while I carried my doughy body around in a bright yellow one-piece bathing suit that I wished covered more of my skin. All I wanted was to look like them. I didn’t make the connection that two of them were competitive swimmers and my cousin probably had a wicked metabolism. I just saw them as thin and me as the opposite. I felt cheated. What was the deal?
Now that I think back and I have two young nieces, I am angry. I’m angry that in my mind a woman could only be one of two things: FAT or PHAT. I am furious that one of them was considered GOOD and the other BAD. Why weren’t “STRONG”, “HEALTHY”, and “SMART” part of my vocabulary? Why was I so obsessed with being small and skinny? Why did I feel like it was so important to lose my rolls, my softness? Why was the way I looked my biggest concern?
I remember going to family functions and having aunts or grandparents or great aunts comment on my weight, saying that I look healthy (I’ve gotten fat) or that I look too skinny. No size was ever the right size. I still don’t understand why people feel they have the right to comment on the way someone else looks, whether to their face or behind their backs.
I’d love to say that I grew up and fell in love with my body, that I have such a healthy relationship with my own skin that I ooze confidence. But that would be a lie. Over the years I’ve done the diets, I’ve worked out excessively, and I’ve even skipped meals. I am thirty-two years old and I still have days where I grab my arms or tummy and wish that I looked like x, y, or z. Days where I zoom in on my own photos and pick apart my appearance until there’s nothing left.
I like to think that I exude empathy and compassion but it seems to be for everyone but myself. My body has changed; she’s grown, but she keeps me alive. She got me through COVID—both having it and living in this new pandemic world. Why don’t I treat her with grace, love, and acceptance?
I’ve decided to create my own acronym for P.H.A.T—one that is more of a mantra for the child I was and the woman I want to become.
Patience—for myself and others
Heart—having the courage to fall in love with myself
Acceptance—of my body and all that it does for me
Time—to heal from the wounds caused by prepubescent boys and girls