From as way back as I can remember, I always had an obsession with my image. Being the daughter of a black woman and a Puerto Rican father, who looked like a Taino Indian, there was a “look” I was suppose to have. Of course, I didn’t create that idea, instead it was implanted in me by my elementary school classmates and random people I met growing up.
I remember being told, quite often, that I couldn’t be hispanic because I wasn’t light skinned. They expected me to be Selena Gomez’s when, mind you, my mother’s skin color is comparable to Denzel Washington’s and my father was darker than her! Sadly, it didn’t stop there. You see, my father had long, straight, black hair and I don’t. So, it became “you can’t be hispanic because your hair is too nappy.” As a seven-year-old, those words knocked bits of my self esteem away.
Fast forward three years later when puberty started. When I was younger, I expected to look a certain way physique-wise. I had been surrounded by voluptuous women my entire life and when little lumps appeared on my chest, I thought I’d be a D cup the very next day. Okay, maybe not the next day but when an entire year had passed and I resorted to stuffing my bra with toilet paper, I knew something was up.
A lot of the other girls in class seemed fully developed and I felt like nothing had changed for me. I’d overhear them talking about how annoying bras were while my bra was really just for show, a placeholder for what could be. I couldn’t understand how I had started puberty earlier than most of my classmates and was now the hare losing the race. The body I dreamed of was just that— a dream.
My teen years weren’t any better. The taller I got the more my weight evened out around my body. Being tall plus having a fast metabolism equaled out to be for one very skinny me. I was embarrassed. How in the world was I still looking like a little girl when I was supposed to be blooming into womanhood? I was pissed off and I was jealous, jealous of every girl that didn’t have my struggle.
I would see other females and pick out the parts of their bodies that I liked and imagined how I’d look with them. I was creating a Dena-Stein monster in my head. Even at seventeen I was sure that I’d still have a chance of looking like everyone else. But puberty was done. My body had missed the train to Voluptuous Vile and I was stuck in a body I did not want.
I was able to give myself some reassurance that my body wasn’t all bad. I had a thing for how I looked in lingerie and by gully I bought so many pairs of matching sexy underwear that I own less actual articles of clothing. But I didn’t care. You could’ve told me to wear bikinis everywhere I went and I would’ve gladly done it. My past boyfriends always complimented me on my pretty underwear and it felt amazing. Really, I should have known it wasn’t the underwear they were excited about.
I was searching for any reason to simply like my body. I was tall and thin and though I started getting praise for it by older women and mothers who just couldn’t lose their baby weight, I hated my body. I didn’t want it. I wanted the body I was so sure I would get once puberty hit. I didn’t get that and I resented every bit of the body I felt I was punished with. I was desperate to feel proud of it but I couldn’t help but loathe it.
I was like a spoiled child not getting what they wanted from the store when there was no promise of getting anything to begin with. I’d throw tantrums in the bathroom when the jeans I had just bought didn’t fit right or my bra didn’t quite hug my barely there girls. As dramatic as I acted, no one truly knew how I felt about my body and I tried really hard not to roll my eyes at comments like, “You’re so lucky! You can eat whatever you want and not gain a pound.” I didn’t feel lucky, I felt plagued.
The grass wasn’t green on my side, in fact it was brown! Sure, I got into a relationship with a guy that loved all of me but he was over 300 lbs and hated his own body. We were an insecure mess but I loved him just as he was and he loved me the same. It’s a strange thing to come across someone the complete opposite as you but they have the same body image crisis. It’s like the universe brought us together to learn from each other or as a joke.
About three years after we got together, I became pregnant with our daughter. After feelings of fright and excitement came thoughts of my perfect body. “All pregnant people gained a ton of weight”, I thought. Finally, I was going to gain weight! I was actually looking forward to that. Imagine my surprise when I found out that’s not how pregnancy worked and even with a bun in the oven, every body is not created equally.
Normally, I weighed 141 pounds the highest my weight got, while pregnant, was 156 pounds. The crazy thing is, I gained 15 pounds but my pants were falling off of me and shirts that were tight around my arms were now loose fitted. No doubt about it, I was upset. The one sure way for me to get child bearing hips didn’t work! My body had the audacity to betray me?! I felt defeated.
After my nine month pity party, labor and delivery went easy enough. It’s funny how at no point during my thirteen hour ordeal did I think about how my body looked. Not when the EMTs wheeled me into the hospital and told me how “lucky” I was to look four months pregnant instead of 39 weeks. Nor was I thinking about my physical appearance when my stomach felt like it was getting ripped apart or when I was in my birthday suit with strangers huddled around me screaming “PUSH.” Oh, no. I just hoped that my body wouldn’t fail me— that it would dig strength from the depths of my soul to help me bring my baby into the world.
As I laid with a tiny person on my chest, I couldn’t help but look at my sagging stomach with no regrets. And when a TV commercial came on for wounded soldiers and then for breast cancer survivors, I couldn’t help but weep. I was holding a life that the body I rejected created. How could I have been so ungrateful? I hadn’t gone through war that left me disabled or gone through a life threatening disease but somehow I had less of an appreciation for my body than the people who did. They were happy that their bodies survived— that they survived. Their bodies mustered up the strength to keep going. I cried and I cried.
When you look at life through insecure glasses, you tend to find every pathetic flaw within yourself. You build this idea that first and foremost you must be good enough for everyone else. You create the assumption that somehow what others think of you is more important than what you think of yourself. From an early age, lies about who I was suppose to be trickled into my mind and created a flood of unnecessary and preventable insecurities. Even on the days that I felt beautiful, I worried about whether or not others would think the same thing.
It took giving birth and being in such an open and exposed state for me to fall so madly in love with every part of me. It didn’t come from a family member, or friend, or even from a significant other. It came from the very body that was no good to me for years. There’s a certain kind of freedom that comes from being released mentally from something that weighed you done all your life. My body impressed me more in those thirteen hours than it did for twenty four years.
I’m not saying that if I woke up with junk in the trunk I wouldn’t be excited. What I am saying is that I love the body I have for what it is now. However it changes, I’ll love it then, too. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to tweak your body here and there: Get some abs, tone up, get a bigger butt(wink wink). I’ve just learned that I have to want it for myself and make sure it’s not some idea someone else tried shoving down my throat because they think God created me jacked up.
I’m unapologetically showing off my thin frame with pride, with the knowledge that it kicks ass. Yes, I am “lucky” to have my body but not because I’m skinny. I’m lucky because it hasn’t failed me— because after all those years of completely hating what I considered a corpse, I realized how valuable it is. I look back now and pity myself. I spent so much of my life incredibly insecure for no reason.
Now, I go out of my way to tell women how beautiful they are. It doesn’t matter if I know them or not. I struggled in silence pretending to have all the confidence in the world and if I had genuine compliments instead of sugar coated insults, growing up would have been a lot easier. The truth is, there’s no such thing as the perfect body. As cheesy as it may sound, we are different and that should be celebrated not judged. Heck, if you’re the only one celebrating your body that’s really all that matters. I learned that what I think of myself is far more important than what others think of me. Others might come to that conclusion in some other way but as long as they do, it’s a major win!