My post last week which introduced you to me and my journey of fat acceptance got me thinking.
When I was twenty, my best friend was consoling me over my failed relationship and all of the ways in which my life had fallen in a hole (they were many and varied). We had both recently come out of exhausting and abusive relationships, and had both always battled with our weight. Neither of these issues were things that we spent a lot of time talking about, but looking back I realise that it was because of these shared experiences I knew that I could trust her words and her wisdom. As I cried for the millionth time about how it must have been my fault that my drug addict boyfriend cheated on me, my best friend halted me in my tracks when she said to me:
At their core, everyone has something that holds them back. A question, a phrase, a belief – something that makes them think that they can’t achieve their wildest dreams, or anything even close. Once you figure out what that core belief is, you can work towards letting it go and reaching out for your potential.
In that moment, what she said resonated with truth. Without consciously thinking about it, I said:
I don’t deserve to be loved.
So there it was, at age twenty, I had discovered the deep-seated core belief that was holding me back. I don’t deserve to be loved. And not only that – I don’t deserve any of the wonderful things in my life.
So obviously, eight years later, I should have totally overcome this conviction, have it all sorted out and be killing it out there in the world.
I should preface the rest of this post with the comment that there are many contributing factors to this core belief than simply being fat, most of which I have previously recognised and attempted to deal with. Without going into too much detail, my childhood and adolescence was less than ideal in terms of familial relationships, and I know for certain that these early experiences contributed a great deal to my idea of love.
But after I wrote the post about my journey into fat acceptance, and particularly about those boys that I loved who didn’t love me back, it got me to thinking about how my experiences of being fat contributed to my belief that I don’t deserve love.
Those boys that I loved, that didn’t love me back … I know that they are part of the life experience that has made me who I am today. But right now I have to acknowledge that who I am today is a person who does not believe that she is deserving of love because she is fat. And that those experiences contributed to that.
I hold no grudge against those guys. Some of them I’m still friends with. But the fact remains that (at least in my head) the reason that they didn’t want to go out with me was because I was fat.
Actually, if I’m truly honest with myself, I’ll tell you that with most of those guys, I didn’t even admit to them that I liked them because I was so afraid of being ridiculed for being fat, even more than I already was, just for being me.
And those that I did tell – ‘Sorry Erin, I just don’t see you in that way’. Of course, in my head that went ‘Sorry Erin, I just don’t see you in that way, because you’re fat’. Maybe that was what they were saying. Maybe it wasn’t. I guess I’ll never know.
And if it didn’t come from them, where did that message come from? Was it my mother’s constant comments on my size? Was it the teenage magazines that I read even though none of it applied to me, because I was fat? Was it the way the boys used to dare each other to flirt with me, as if it was totally impossible that any of them would actually like me? Was it the fact that when I went clothes shopping I had to look in the middle-aged-woman friendly plus sized section or men’s section to find clothes that fit? Was it seeing all my girlfriends with the boyfriends and me sitting on the sidelines alone? Was it the stares and comments I got when I played sport, no matter how well I played? Was it people telling me I had such a pretty face? Was it the sense I had that it was important for me to do well academically so that I could stand out in some positive way?
It was probably all of these and more.
So in the eight intervening years, I’ve been through ups and downs of self acceptance and believing that I deserve to be loved. As any good life coach will tell you, the first step on the road to being loved by others is to love yourself, and that is a battle I have fought a thousand times. Most of those battles have taken place in the battlefield of my mind – charges against negative thoughts, skirmishes with past demons and out and out brawls with sheer untruths. Some of them though, have been against my body. Sometimes, when I’ve thought that I hate myself because of my size, I’ve waged war against my body, pushing it to physical extremes and withholding food from it – all in the name of loving and nurturing myself.
Funnily enough (or maybe not), it was when I was in Africa that I came to a place of understanding and acceptance of who I am. Cut off from my world, from the people who usually surround me and the usual events of my life, I was forced to look at myself and decide whether or not I liked the person I saw. I was surrounded by wonderful people who allowed me to see the truth of who I was, and I realised that I am okay exactly the way I am. In fact, I am more than okay, I am a wonder of nature.
I am loving. I am kind. I am gifted at music and singing. I have the ability to weave experiences and emotions into song. I am intelligent. Even my emotions – one thing I have battled my entire life – are wonderful. The way that I am able to openly express my feelings without restraint is a marvel. I am beautiful.
Let me say that last one again – I am beautiful. I look back at photos of myself when I was in Kenya – still fat, caked in dirt and sweat, having not washed my hair in over a week, and I see that I am beautiful.
I wish I could say that sense of inner peace I had found lasted, but it didn’t. I came home, suffered from severe reverse-entry culture shock was (finally) diagnosed with bipolar disorder and voila! Confidence completely shaken.
You see, something in me has been different from that moment on. Deep down I now know what it feels like to love myself, and I know that despite what is going on in society, and in my mind, that is truly how I feel about myself.
Do I believe that I deserve to be loved?
By myself, certainly yes. By other people? When I first got back, I believed that definitely, I was ready to be loved. But now … well, I’m still debating it.
I came back from Africa with my heart freshly broken by someone I had met over there. But I wasn’t going to let it stop me from getting out there and allowing myself to be loved. I finally got some closure with a long term ‘will-it/won’t it happen’ relationship, and I put myself out there for internet dating.
Almost immediately I met a guy who I hit it off with, and we’ve been together ever since.
Funnily enough, it has been during our relationship that the questions about deserving love and body image have reared their ugly heads again.
My BF is amazing. He loves me unconditionally, and loves my body. He tells me every day how beautiful I am, how sexy I am, how attractive he finds me. He tells me he loves me at least once an hour, and when I prevaricate on whether or not he does, he tells me in no uncertain terms to STOP, listen, and trust that what he says is real.
But that doesn’t always stop the questions in my head.
My BF is an attractive man. He is successful and interesting. He would certainly have no dearth of opportunities to meet conventionally attractive and interesting women. Why then, would he be with me? Me, who for the majority of my life has had to wait for people to ‘get to know me’ before they ‘saw me in that way’.
How can I possibly deserve his love, when all I’ve ever done is be me? And let’s face it, I’m not easy. I constantly question his feelings for me. I express all kinds of emotions – some of which are rational and some of which are not. I’m not attractive by society’s standards. Mostly, I’m just a giant (ha) pain in the ass.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that when I put in the effort, I scrub up real nice. But surely it would be easier to be with someone who people didn’t have to look past the fat to find attractive. And surely it would be easier to be with someone who wasn’t so hung up with how she looked.
At the end of the day, I realise that none of these are good excuses for not deserving love. In fact, when it comes to other people, I truly believe that everyone deserves to be loved. Because you know what – love is not about deeds or worth. It is something that people give of their own free will. I see the double standard I apply to myself when I say that while everyone else deserves love, I do not, because I am fat, or because I am damaged or because I am broken.
So I try to accept love where it is given, although it is hard, at times. And I try to look back at those realisations I had about myself when I was in Africa and apply them to myself again, with more success at some times than others.
I wish I could say that I had the demons under control, that I had truly conquered that deep seated core belief that I didn’t deserve love, or good things in my life, but the truth is that I will probably never completely overcome that. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to realise that fear as the root of a problem as soon as it comes up, and quash it as being untruth, but for now I’ll have to make do with the fact that it’s something that I will continue to struggle with, and attempt to remain aware of it. And I’ll remind myself of the words I give to other people whenever they struggle with loving themselves.
You are okay. You are more than okay. You are a wonder of nature. Whatever gifts or attributes or traits that give you your ‘you-ness’ are a marvel. You are loved more than you can imagine by more people than you dare to dream. Love is not something given based on worth, deeds or accomplishments. Love is something that is freely given whether you deserve it or not.
Love is a gift. Rejecting love is like leaving a beautifully wrapped package with the most perfectly chosen gift inside languishing on a rain-lashed doorstep simply because you felt you did not deserve any gift from the giver, let alone one so beautiful and so perfect. Whether or not you accept the gift is your choice – it doesn’t change the fact that the gift has been given. Will you choose to accept that love, or reject it, hurting both yourself and the giver?