“Mama,” he said in a hushed tone, his big brown eyes full of regret, unable to meet mine, “I need to tell you something. I had a bad thought about you and I need to tell you.”
“I looked at you and thought you are fat.”
You. Are. Fat.
Three, three letter words that have haunted me since I was 10 years old. Spoken from a place of true reverence from the mouth of my very sweet, very innocent, honest to a fault, 7-year-old son.
Stunned and completely caught off-guard, I think I just stared blankly at him, because he quickly hugged me tightly and added, “I’m sorry Mama, I just thought I should tell you the truth. But I’ve been watching you lift weights a lot and I’m proud of you, you are doing good.” And off he went.
I sat quite shaken, allowing his words to sink in. I tried fighting it, but like a phone cord getting sucked up in a Roomba, I was quickly pulled into my feelings. I found myself transported to middle school Susie, sitting in the cafeteria, swooning at my crush who had just called my name only to ask, “Can I slap your thigh and ride the wave?” To 19-year-old Susie, at my lowest weight ever, during the height of my disordered eating season, trying on dresses at Saks with my aunt in New York. Gazing at myself in the mirror, pleased with what I saw, only for her to say, “Lose about 10 more lbs. and it will look better on you.” To 29-year-old postpartum Susie, the size of a house, drowning in baby blues and Blue Bell.
On autopilot, I wandered straight to the pantry, armed and ready to stuff and divert the feelings, furiously twisting the jar of peanut butter open, spoon aimed and ready to dig in. And then, my 4-year-old daughter’s footsteps came running around the corner. I froze. Shame quickly began settling thickly within me. What am I doing? I know better now. I know better now.
Both kids now back outside, I watched from the window as they ran in the sunshine, not a care in the world on their precious little shoulders. My thoughts turned back to what had just happened. I’ve come so far, but I am still so broken. I knew what to do next. The thing my therapist taught me, but the thing I don’t like to do. The thing that’s not easy- the heavy lifting. The thing that makes me feel uncomfortable and antsy. Time to sit with it, allow the feelings to come, ask myself some questions about them, acknowledge them, honor them, and then release them.
Here’s what I discovered. His words cut me so deeply because I have been feeling really good about myself lately. Earlier that week over coffee with a dear friend, I had told her how I felt confident in my skin for the first time in so long, sexy even. And then from the mouth of a brutally honest babe came those three words, and I felt foolish. My new, bold and courageous narrative was drowned out by the familiar stories where I am only defined by my body. The ones who say, “You have a pretty face but you can’t be sexy because you’re too fat.” “You’ve accomplished a lot in your life, but you’re too lazy to ever get it together enough to really lose weight.” “You’re not enough because your body doesn’t look like what people in your life told you it should look like.”
If you are reading this and you’ve never dealt with body image issues or eating disorders, or chronically dieted, or felt like you weren’t enough because of your body, you may be feeling sorry for me or thinking I’m crazy. But as crazy and harsh as it sounds, I’ve lived those lies as truths for most of my life, and lies die hard.
Most of us have our own version of “You Are Fat,” and have accepted those lies as truths at some point in our lives, or maybe even our whole lives. But here’s the thing about that – you are not done living. As long as your two feet are hitting the floor each morning, you have a beautiful gift. The gift of life, the gift of a choice in how to live that life, and the gift of fight. If you are not stepping into your full potential because you are held back by limiting beliefs that either you or someone else put in your head, it is time to make a choice. Are you going to dig deep and find your inner fight and choose to write a new narrative for yourself that includes joy and self-love? Or are you going to settle for the same dangerous thoughts that are keeping you trapped and breeding negativity, insecurity, and fear?
That afternoon, it took me a minute, but I finally remembered, I have chosen to fight for my life. I have chosen to love myself. I have chosen my truth. When I fall into old thought traps, I imagine a large red stop sign and a car screeching to a halt. This visualization helps me stop the negative thoughts in their tracks. Then I look for gratitude in the moment. I pictured my stop sign, and said thank you to the universe and God for presenting me with the tools to choose better for myself now. And for presenting me with a teaching opportunity with my son.
Later that evening during tuck-in time, I asked him if I could talk to him about what he had said to me earlier in the day. I explained to him that all bodies are different and all bodies are good. I told him that a fat body is a body – home to someone’s heart, just like a skinny body is a body – home to someone’s heart. All bodies are different shapes and sizes and colors, and they’re all home to someone’s heart, which makes them all good. He got upset because he thought I was upset with him, but I reassured him that I was not. I told him gently that his opinion, nor anyone else’s opinion of me, does not define me. I told him that only my opinion of myself is what defines me, and that is that I am a happy, healthy person, who respects and loves herself and her body. “Ok, Mama” he said. We sat together quietly in that tender moment, each processing a new truth.
I have come so far, but I am still so broken. And you know what, I embrace that. I believe that broken beauty is still beautiful and that every hiccup is an opportunity for progress. I choose to live a life where progress trumps perfection, and that choice affords me ownership over my thoughts and my life.
What truths can you rewrite?
photo credits: Amanda Hurst, Ridgedog Designs, @ridgedogdesigns
Susie Trigg Tucker lives with her husband and two children on a ranch just outside of Austin, TX. Through her journey of recovery from disordered eating and lifelong perfectionism, Susie has found her voice in advocating for women’s mental, emotional and physical health. www.susietriggtucker.com, @susietriggtucker