I was 10 turning 11 in the summer of ’82, with an awkward tween body just beginning to look more womanly than girly. We were living in Verona, Italy because my dad was in the Air Force and we were stationed at a NATO air base. It was a surreal time to be living overseas. The Regan-era, big military, the dollar was strong and the American presence in Europe was even stronger. So it was in that swirly dream-like atmosphere that I found myself at Campo-Sportivo, an Italian water park with all my American friends.
I had just gotten out of the pool and was drying off in the warm mediterranean sun. I used my towel for a pillow and the natural rocky earth to heat me from underneath. And then, someone blocked my sun. I opened my eyes but could only see a shadow outline of a tall, thin girl. She stood there pointed at my groin and said, “ewwwww, you have a HUGE….” She trailed off, lowered her hand and sashayed away.
What the hell? I sat up and grabbed my pillow-towel and quickly covered my lower half. Then I sat there and looked around, trying not to appear creepy as I checked out my fellow tweens. Did I REALLY have a large, ahem, AREA? I mean, I had never even thought about it before that day. Yes I was taller than my classmates but I wasn’t overweight or out of shape. I played soccer and skied and was super active. But I had this nagging sensation that she was right.
So began my body shame and embarrassment years.
My dad was loving Europe and kept requesting a COT (Consecutive Overseas Tour) so we could travel the globe while he served our country. We ended up spending nearly 18 years abroad living in Turkey, England, Italy (twice), Greece, Germany and Spain. I guess that many COT’s in a row isn’t a thing anymore but back then, everyone was doing it.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic childhood. I am so lucky to have traveled to so many countries and encountered different cultures, religions, traditions and languages. But growing up can be both wonderful and sucky, as everyone who has ever been a teenager knows.
We moved to Germany in 1986 and I hated it. I had no reason to. It’s a beautiful country. But looking back, I guess I despised it because I didn’t really make friends. By the time I was in high school I was 5’8”—fairly tall for a girl back then. I wasn’t skinny. Nor was I fat—I was just big compared to everyone else. I tried to fit in by joining the soccer team, but the girls were brutal. One day while running laps, two girls behind me were talking loud on purpose: “Did you see her with Ritchie? They look like the Ant and the Cow!” Ritchie was my friend and fellow soccer player for the boys team. We hung out a lot. And yes, he was shorter and smaller than me. After they said that, I stopped seeing him.
A pattern was forming. Girls thought I was big. Therefore I thought I was big. (Later in life I ended up having a weight issue–self fulfilling prophecy?)
For the record, Ritchie always told me I was perfect just the way I was. Why didn’t I believe him over them?
I graduated high school in Zaragoza, Spain in 1989. I had gained weight, yet managed to stay active. I played varsity sports and was pretty good. I was even named Athlete of the Year, mind you there were only SIX kids in my graduating class! It was a small base.
Even though the air base was small, we still had a church and a BX (general store) and community pool. Oh, how I had come to detest the pool. Somehow I managed to get dragged there in the dead of summer by my best friend, Lissa. Now, Lissa was tall and slim and tanned golden brown—like a goddess. I was tall and—let’s say thick—and pasty white. Picture Eva Mendes standing next to Jim Gaffigan with longer, frizzy 80’s permed blonde hair.
We got to the pool and I figured, what the heck—I’ll have some fun. Then I heard a male voice snicker and say, “damn, you have a mom body.” And all-of-a-sudden I was 10 again wondering why do people point this stuff out to me all-the-time? What’s wrong with ME? (Never mind what’s wrong with THEM?)
Let’s just say, that crap stung.
I’ve been told I have thunder thighs, a giant ass and big boobs. My very first boyfriend–in Sicily—told me I was “cicciolina” while patting my butt. In other words, jiggly. I was 16.
Another boyfriend said he wasn’t sure why he was dating me because my boobs were kind of saggy. Saggy! I was 18! They. Weren’t. Saggy. YET.
A doctor told me, “hold on, I have to get the EXTRA LARGE blood pressure cuff.” Ok, so I am not a size 2 doc, but do you need to ANNOUNCE that you have to find the biggest damn cuff in the office. Just grab the cuff and take my blood pressure and shut up about it. I was 22.
A guy told me I might want to lose weight before I took a job he was offering me. I told him to go screw and declined the job. I was 25.
At age 30 a family member told me “you’re looking good these days, lose 20 and you’ll be perfect.”
Over the years I’ve heard variations of, “you have such a pretty face, but…..” or “It’s such a shame to have a pretty face and not be in great shape.” (Yes, someone said that to me.) I was 35.
And I believed it ALL despite the fact that I was a runner. I ran three marathons, six half-marathons, went sky-diving twice, did a Tough Mudder and several Warrior Dashes plus a duathlon and lots of 5k’s.
Now I’m 45. I’m done listening to what others have to say about me. Truth be told, I was in the best shape of my life at age 38 after running my third and final marathon. I may never be that fit again, and that’s ok. We have to take time EVERY DAY to be grateful for what we HAVE TODAY. Not what we USED TO HAVE yesterday. Or what we SHOULD HAVE tomorrow.
I’m grateful for my husband and sons who are NOTHING like the idiots I’ve encountered over the years. I realize I had to weed through the losers in order to find the man of my dreams. My husband really does treat me like a queen—as he should!
My sons are so much more understanding of women’s feelings than any kid I grew up with. My boys know women come in all shapes and sizes and are beautiful in every way. They know confidence is beautiful, not superficiality.
We all have painful experiences. The only way we learn and grow from tough times is to face them. It’s time to deal with those hurtful memories, write them down, then light a match and burn them up. Rid yourself of those bullies hanging on to you from years ago. I’m tougher now. Stupid things people say generally roll right off my back.
It’s taken me a long ass time to understand other people’s opinions don’t matter as much as MY OWN. My opinion of me is; I’m f**king fabulous!
And to all of the curvy girls who’ve suffered at the hands of cruel haters, hear our war cry “curvy is sexy, being true to yourself is sexy, and STRONG is SEXY.”
Oh, and 45 is the new 30!