Haunted Places of the Mind

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It’s a sign of my ongoing struggle with body image that I can still see the magazine layout in my head.

A pair of teenage girls roller-bladed in bathing suits in some now-defunct young teen magazine (because I was way too young for my mother to let me read Seventeen). (I think it was, in fact, Teen magazine.)

I couldn’t have been much older than 7th grade. I stared at that page mercilessly, willing myself to be small enough to wear a two-piece bathing suit. When I did get skinny, I would buy the exact one on the right of the spread: still modest, a coral-colored two piece with a unique, off-the-shoulder top. I’m not sure what deluded me to think if I were thinner I would suddenly have the body of a 17-year-old, but I was sure I would look just like the girl in that spread.

I’ve never worn a two-piece. Not even as a child, that I can remember.

The reason I remember that issue of the magazine so vividly is because it laid out a diet. One that WORKED! Of course! I carried the issue around, dog-eared, for weeks or even months. Trying, trying. Coral in mind.

I didn’t drop weight, not even with all the tuna and frozen peas and white-meat chicken.

Somewhere around eighth grade, I hit a growth spurt and thinned out a little. Not two-piece thin. But that magazine was during the lowest point, the hidden years, the year I was bullied and it makes me want to throw up to even think about. Until I had someone call after me the slogan of a popular weight-loss commercial, every day, for an entire school year, I’m not sure I even realized I was truly overweight.

I’m fairly certain not a day’s gone by since seventh grade when I thought of my body in a positive manner.

To remember my solitary focus on one coral-clad model makes me sick. But I still want that now grossly out-of-date bathing suit.

19 thoughts on “Haunted Places of the Mind

  1. I wish I could go back to that 7th grader… I wish I could whisper to her how beautiful and perfectly made she is. How clever and engaging. How amazing her body is… that it will one day sustain LIFE! But if I could do that… I would also want to find the 7th grade me and tell her that it's okay that she's a 32C when her friends don't need bras. I'd tell her not to fall victim to the false lure of control offered by an eating disorder. Sigh. (Beautiful stuff, Jessie. Raw, powerful.)

  2. These are not good things to think about when you're still in the fourth trimester!

    I've been annoyed with my body lately. How it doesn't fit into any of my pre-pregnancy clothes still. Just how it looks in general. It doesn't feel like me.

    And then I tell myself to shush it! That it's a body that has given birth twice and that is nourishing a little girl right now and making her grow.

    It's not easy though. Off to do my abs dvd now.

    Oh and swimsuits? Barf. I think this year I will get a rash guard shirt and some board shorts. Better sun protection 🙂

  3. Jessie, I'm so right there with you. I've only had a few (maybe four, total) years in my life in which my body was worth envying … and those years were due only to the most extreme of the fad diets, which is why the weight always came back.

    Now expecting my fourth child, my body image is completely in the toilet … again. I had such a visceral reaction to this post, simply because it rang true to the depths of my soul. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Reading this, with a flab of fat from the emergency c-section birth of my first child hanging off my 37 week pregnant belly, really pierces my heart. I purposely gained weight in 5th trying to hide the D cups none of my friends had yet. Then when my friends developed yet kept their thin frames I spent the next 15+ years trying to lose weight. Looking back at pictures of myself I had many years where I had a body to envy. Why, oh why, couldn't I see it.

    A lifetime later- after a successful career, marriage, health problems, miscarriages, the miracle of life and about to bring life into the world for a second time when I look at my incredible body and what it can do I still have to force myself not to focus on the sagging breasts and fat hanging from my belly. I can't help but wonder IF there is cure for this kind of thinking or if I'll have to force my thoughts elsewhere for the rest of my life. The only thing I do know is I am bound a determined to find a way to keep my daughter from ever starting this path in the first place.

  5. I wish I had words that would somehow magically make this difficulty disappear. But I don't. Only you can find your way to loving the body you have. I know you have faith and I think that is where you will find peace, someday.

    I've been blessed to have a fairly healthy body image. Sure there are days when I wish there was a little less here and there, but overall I can see the good more easily. I'm doing all I can to make sure my kids grow up knowing they are beautiful, no matter what. It is hard.

  6. Kids are so cruel. And the media is as bad or worse. I've always struggled. I fear I always will. I try so hard not to pass it down to my girls. I don't discuss weight. I don't place value judgments upon food – I just point out that some things are treats and we don't get to eat treats as often. I wish I had some magic wand that would give me the right words to make my girls always as confident as they are now when they are little – before someone has made them feel not good enough.

  7. I love your courage to put it all out there, Jessie! It's not easy facing these things in real life, let alone throwing it into the vast world wide web. I admire you for that.

    As a young girl, I was always the tall one, with "big bones", while my friends were all ridiculously petite. I hated it, and I did everything I could to be a size 8, just like some of my friends to no avail. My frame just wasn't made to be that size, and I just didn't understand.

    Society has such a twisted mindset on what women should LOOK like, instead of WHO they should be. Your Father says "You are Beautifully and Wonderfully Made"–and really, that's all that counts! 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing this Jessie. I share this haunted place as I have always struggled with body image and I've never worn a two piece! I hope you know you are not alone. From what I can tell already, you are beautiful both inside and out.


  9. Jessie, I've come back to this post several times today because it spoke to me. In fact, it made me sad – because I hear it, too. I've always had giant boobs and thunder thighs, and those are the things you internalize when you hear other people say them – not when they say that you are an awesome person who can do X, Y, and Z. Yes, today my jeans are a little tight – but I walked to work with these same legs. I stood on them to take a shower, and I bent down to open drawers. Remembering that? Hard. Very, very hard. When I get into those moods, I try and remember that I do have a few parts of my body that I really like – my hair and my teeth. Although, sigh, my hair is getting greys (at 26!) and my teeth aren't perfect – but my smile is mine and my hair is still beautiful.

    Also, Kacie, I think that rash guard/board shirt idea is brilliant and that I need to investigate it!

    – Molly

  10. I really appreciate everyone's comments. I post things like this because I do hope someone will relate — know they are not the only one who struggles.

    Molly- I have quite a bit of grey hair at 28. Eek! But you're right. I am proud of my body for giving birth. I like my dimples, my hair, and my feet. And I am finally getting to a place where I believe that my husband really does think my body is beautiful.

    One of my biggest struggles is yes, my chest is enormous when I am nursing. Even more so than usual. I have to constantly remember that it's doing its job–feeding my baby! Exclusively!

  11. Also, I think the *best* thing I've ever done for my self-esteem was decide that I deserved the pretty bras, too. It took me a while to get there, but I finally started looking at (part) of my body in a better light.

    – Molly

  12. Thank you for being so honest Jessie. Ever since i got pregnant and had a baby, my self esteem has sunk lower and lower. I was thin in high school and sometimes i feel so bitter that having a child and being on b/c make me bigger than i want to be. But slowly God's voice seeps into me, reminding me that I am beautiful and I am worthy of being called beautiful. Also, my hubby is extremely encouraging (saying I've only gained curves -ha 😉 )which helps alot.

  13. Jess: you are SO loved. I love what JessieLeigh said. It's just perfect and true.

    I wish I had something more profound to say. Love this post. Love you.

    And as trite as it is–God made you. He loves you. Every bit of you.

  14. I tried to comment yesterday, but apparently Blogger ate my post.

    Really great article. Totally hits close to home. I think I've only liked my body for about 2 years- during which I starved myself and exercised obsessively. I got down to a size 4, and am 5'10. That didn't last, and then I ballooned. I've been anywhere from that size 4 to a size 20. I never like what I see in the mirror. I'm tall, big boned, have thick frizzy dark hair, big feet, big hands, etc.

    I don't know when the battle for acceptance will end. Maybe never? I'm hoping after this baby to get down to a size I'm happier with.

    You get gray hair too?! I'm 26 and found my first at 13. It has really start to spread lately though, and I HATE it. Its just enough to draw attention, most of my hair is still really dark. I had it colored for the first time 2 weeks ago. What do you do about it?

  15. Thank you for being so open! It seems like more of us struggle with this then we let on. I don't ever remeber being happy with my body. Even when I was pregnant I would so others with that "perfect" baby belly wearing the most hip clothing knowing I could never look like that. Now the battle is trying to keep my children from going down that road.

  16. Oh, Jessie. I love you. And, you know, I identify with this struggle so much. And I think you're brave and beautiful to share this with us.

  17. I loved this post when I first read it on my phone, so I'm glad you linked to it at HH so I could revisit.

    You are so beautiful, inside and out, and a great writer.

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