As I made my way around the block this morning, I passed a young woman who was running — red top, pink shorts, orange shoes. Totally cool. I wondered if she was running to train for a sport she plays in school or running to stay fit or running to keep the pounds off or running because she loves it or ???
In a flash I was back in the summer of 6th grade. I saw myself riding my bike for hours in the circles of our dead end driveway turn-around. Riding for even more hours up and down our road, especially the big hill, which I always had to walk. I recall living on tuna fish, lettuce, Alba skimmed milk, Fresca and artificially sweetened kool-aid.
You see, I was chubby. And I was terrified. I was leaving my safe, secure elementary school and being thrown in with students from five other elementary schools in our town’s junior high school. I wanted to grow up and be a junior-high-schooler, even though I cried to leave my elementary school. At least there kids and teachers there knew me. What was I facing? I could NOT be chubby for another second. I starved myself that summer. No one talked about eating disorders in 1963. I was just “dieting”. My mother approved and did her best to keep me supplied in my “diet” food of choice.
I wanted to fit in. I sure didn’t fit into my family. On my mother’s side, the side that mattered, I was from a long line of svelte northern Italians. OK, my grandmother was a large woman, but she didn’t count. My cousins, mother, aunts, uncles, brother, sister and grandfather were all on the thin side. How did this happen to me?
Just before I began 7th grade, my dad took a Polaroid of me. I wish I could find it. My sister ran across it several years ago when we were going through family “artifacts” and showed it to me. I was in a brand new dress, holding one of our cats, newly grown out pixie to my shoulders in the flip of fashion. She remarked, “oh, you look so beautiful and happy in this picture!” I looked at it and gasped. I saw a scared little girl, terrified that she would be judged by her classmates. I recalled the feeling of just wanting to hide, but I knew I could never hide if I was chubby, everyone would notice me. So I opted for being invisible.
There was another side to this. I wanted something more than being invisible, which hoped would still be an option if all else failed. More than anything, I wanted to belong in my new school. Practically svelte me joined clubs, made new friends, tried out and became a cheerleader [the only thing remotely like a sport before Title 9], went back to dance class and did my best to look smart and pretty. All the while doing my best to hide my chubby, dumb self.
My heart aches for the girl I was and all the girls who have measured [and still do measure] their self-worth on how they look and what others think of them. It’s taken me years to heal the shadow of my self-image in my family. My quantum leap happened when I discovered Debbie Ford’s book, The Dark Side of The Light Chasers. I decided to study with her and become a coach so that I could help others learn that their story and their “shadow” have gifts beyond measure. I learned to I love the little girl inside me and the woman I’ve become, in all my shapes and re-creations. Healing is an ongoing journey. I delight in the twists and turns and new discoveries every day.
I thought back to the girl I saw this morning. I hope that she is encouraged to be healthy, to be herself, and find joy in her activities, whatever she chooses. It is this that I have discovered and claimed… many, many decades later.
[pictured above — me watching a basketball game at Ossining High School in 1966-7.]