“The surest way to lose your self worth is by trying to find it through the eyes of others.”
In my previous blog, I mentioned the fact that most dieting is rooted in body image issues. So, I started to think back to instances that stood out in my mind where poor body image and insecurity may have begun to rear their ugly heads.
I venture to guess that most people would never guess that I struggled with body image issues. My parents never made comments about my weight. My significant others all loved my body more that I ever did. My friends would comment on parts of me that they were envious of. Yet, or maybe because of that, I felt I had an image I had to uphold, ever since I was a little girl. I tried to blame an event or a comment or something in my childhood that flipped a switch for me to worry about my body in such a superficial and unnecessary way. As I came up with memories, it all came back to one person. Me.
You may look at me and think what would have made her so self-conscious?
2nd grade. Gym class weigh-ins to start off the year. I remember this like it was yesterday. I can see my gym teacher with her clipboard to my right. I can see my classmates lined up in front of me. And at the front of the gym I can see the tall, black metal scale. You know, the ones that would shake and bang when you stepped on them. What worried me the most about this was the boy behind me. I still remember his name and thanks to alphabetical order, I would continue to have him behind me for years to come. He was a great kid. We were friends. But, I had one problem with him at the time. He was SKINNY. All I could do was pray that he wouldn’t see what I weighed or hear my gym teacher say it. I wanted to get on and off that scale so fast, but obviously not fast enough for me to ever forget those feelings or embarrassment. Pretty sure a 7 year old girl shouldn’t be worrying about this.
This was the same feeling I would get EVERY TIME I had to be weighed for something or even fill out my weight on a form. One of the most terrifying moments of my life was always getting weighed! Not new gymnastics skills. Not broken bones. Not almost dying from a blood clot (a blog to come). Just getting weighed and even worse, having someone else know how much I weighed! I hated every annual physical. I can remember gaining 15 pounds one year and the doctor said nothing because I was growing. This was a pattern for a couple of years and I remember thinking, what happens when I stop growing? Am I going to keep gaining weight each year? How will I make sure that doesn’t happen? Pretty sure a 13 year old girl doesn’t need to worry about this.
See, I can’t really ever remember a time where I thought I was FAT. I just knew I was different. I wasn’t fat. But I wasn’t tiny. At gymnastics, I was taller than most of the girls and when I reached 5’5, I had to worry about my toes hitting the ceiling when I was swinging giants around the uneven bars. As gymnasts, one of the coaches would joke about measuring our butts if we were sitting down and measure them WHILE sitting down! I didn’t understand the difference at the time, but I do now! I used to look in the mirror in my leotard and want to take a knife and trim off my inner thighs. We used to have to jump rope in leotards and throw on our socks and sneakers and I was so concerned with how big my legs looked like that. No one ever said, “Lisa, you should watch your weight.” But there were comments made that stuck with me, that made me realize I was different. And while I could have taken it to make me feel special, I usually took it as something I better not lose. It became what I was known for.
At gymnastics camp, I got a nickname from one of the coaches almost instantly. He called me, “pipes.” I’m like, what? He said, your arm muscles. When someone has arms like you we call them pipes. Flattering? Maybe. But to a little girl, you are safe to assume it made me wonder at the very least.
My arms always get noticed. Leaving St. Lucia, the customs officer at security asked me if I have a license for my guns. In an already nerve wracking situation, I clearly didn’t assume he was making a joke about my arms.
In my years as a trainer, it hasn’t been uncommon for women to come in and say they DON’T want their arms to look like mine. Or male clients make comments about them. Or when employees at my favorite clothing stores ask my how much weight I can bench and squat and I reply with, “I don’t.” I have never loved the attention my arms got.
Any time I had to buy a coat growing up, I had to make sure it would fit over my shoulders/arms. There were some instances where all I could think to myself was “fat guy in a little coat.”
All my life I have been asked to flex for people. When I was student teaching 5th grade, the students asked me everyday to flex for them. I was always so self-conscious, but on my last day, I did.
The Senior class poll? It mattered to me if I got most athletic or not. That was who I was. Lisa Nicholas was the captain of sports teams. She could flip, run, hit, shoot and do handstands. If I wasn’t the athlete, who was I?
Then there are comments from people who don’t even know me. Once while trying on boots at the store, I heard a voice from an employee come out of nowhere, “We have those available in wide also!” Excuse me? I was helping myself and she must have been watching. Or in a store when sales girls give me pants to try on. I don’t want to but they insist. And when I can’t even get the pair over my calf, again I’m in that awkward situation. Both of these still happen today. I was always self-conscious about my foot size because of how they looked on the balance beam. And my coach would yell at “elephant steps” as I vaulted when I slowed down my run approaching the horse because I was scared of my own power.
Or when I ended up in the hospital with a blood clot that should have killed me. All the nurses told me I was lucky to be alive. My dad stayed by my side every night in the hospital that week and he would bring me my favorite foods. One night, he brought me a blizzard from Dairy Queen. I can still remember the nurse telling me, “You better watch out, if you keep eating like that you’re going to get fat!” I was 137 pounds. My lightest in ten years. And I almost died. But sure nurse, thank you.
When I competed in my figure competitions, I was trying to get down to 140 pounds while most of the other girls were starting there and trying to get down to 110 pounds! I was taller than almost all of them, but I was still only 5’5.
Today, most of these things don’t bother me. As I said before, I have stopped weighing myself. I have no problem telling my clients what I weigh, male or female. I laugh at my calf issue and not because it’s funny, but because I am not the only one with calves. Or shoulders. Or muscular arms. And maybe the problem doesn’t lie in our bodies but in our society’s dictation of our bodies. Why am I almost the largest size pants at my favorite workout gear store? Why can’t anyone a little bit larger than me wear those clothes too? Why do some people think negative comments are motivating? I was never motivated by feeling fat, slow, dumb, bad or anything negative. Encouragement and positivity has always been more of a benefit to me. We cannot rely on others to motivate, encourage or compliment us and we also must try not to let their comments or actions impact us to a point that effects our self worth.
This all played a role in why I dieted over the years. These thoughts I had led me to a poor body image which led me to try to change and control my body, which as I got older, I did by restricting food. It was never because I thought I was fat. It was more because of the pressure I put on myself to maintain a certain image based on what people thought of me. It is no one’s fault. You can see how all of these comments came back to me and my interpretation of them. I purely struggled with what I thought I should be and look like. I never saw myself in the positive way others saw me and I think many of you may have the same issue. We are all our worst critics. When you die, will your gravestone read that you lost 25 pounds or were a size 4? Do you think your friends wouldn’t be your friends if you have to wear a wide calf boot?
It wasn’t until I finally stopped fighting my body that this struggle decreased. When I started to embrace my arms and shoulders and legs and accept that they are what they are and they make Lisa who Lisa is, that a weight was lifted. I could see “pipes” and “jacked” as a compliment instead of a comment that made me feel like a man. I like being different. I like what my body can do. I like that my body is healthy. And I like the parts that make me, me. I am Lisa, the athletic, muscular blonde. And that is more than ok with me now.
Think about what insecurities you are carrying with you now. How are they serving you? Might they be worth letting go? Time is precious and so are you.
You are worth more than your body but you are worth nothing without your body.
Take care of her.