During periods wherein I find myself alone with perhaps a book or merely lying on my bed watching Food Network’s “Chopped,” I become incredibly introspective about my past choices, experiences, my family, and life. At times I can think so much that I find tears running down my face as emotions sit on my chest waiting to be spilled out to someone, anyone. However, I rarely speak about what goes through my mind because these small nuggets of intense feelings, after a few minutes, decrease in force and I just continue living. Throughout my ‘living’ I remain haunted by my past though.
One of the most common occurrences is the revisiting of vulnerable moments during those crucial adolescent years. Some people forget how odd being a teenager actually was. While hormones invaded everything and the adolescent body transformed, every teenager handled themselves differently. The typical route was perhaps engaging in experimental sexual activity in order to explore one’s body as well as another’s and turning to drugs for experimentation, but one also could shut oneself into the video game world, focus on being with friends, and many other paths. I chose to be reclusive, wanting only to remain in my room and read romance novels, either online stories (particularly Harry Potter-themed fan-fiction) or good old paperback novels. My mom would come into my room and ask me if I’d like to go to the park because our family was having a little get together which I would immediately reject much to her obvious disappointment. If my toddler aged cousins visited the apartment, I’d hide in my room—sometimes actually locking the door—and ignore them. Recently I was at a family party and my now teenaged little cousin said he thought I was “emo” simply because I would remove myself.
An inescapable factor throughout my adolescence was my body, and more specifically—my size. Looking back now, I was only slightly larger than typical middle schoolers or high schoolers, but a constant thought in the back of my mind was my family’s reaction to my larger-than-average size. Whenever my aunts, female cousins, and my mother would sit around and talk about people they hadn’t seen in a while or were merely conversing about people, they would always notice and remark “So-and-so has gotten fat! Wow! What happened?” or the more approving “Wow, so-and-so has lost some weight! [He/she] looks incredible!” I became aware of this hypercritical habit after being welcomed to the grownup table and observantly listening to this new side of the women in my family. Suddenly I started sucking in my stomach around these women and covering as best I could any flap. The monster zits permeating my young face served the dual function of making me visible to advice on home remedies while making me invisible which allowed me to sit and observe my family even more.
There are three specific moments wherein there was either a comment or one of many supposedly ‘encouraging’ advice from family that seared into me. One spring break as I was home from college, my uncle wanted to see me because he hadn’t seen me in a few months. I was in my standard wardrobe of pjs throughout the day and stepped out of my room excited to hug him. The moment I appeared before him he said “Wow! What are they feeding you in Albany?” with a joking tone and then he proceeded to hug me. During his visit I smiled and laughed when I was expected to, but inside I was dead and hated him for doing that to me. He continued to ‘tease’ me about my size several times after that visit, and it wasn’t until I told him to never invite me to his restaurant if he feared I would eat everything in sight that he realized how mean he was being. Never has he
commented on my size again.
The next memory was during another break from college, only this time it involved my aunt. My mom had just finished cooking a late lunch and I had finished showering because we were going to JC Penney. I walked to the kitchen and started serving myself what would be my breakfast of the day. As soon as I entered the kitchen my aunt made an uncharacteristically mean-spirited critique that only lasted perhaps five seconds, but hurt me more than I’ve ever been hurt by her. She said “You need to lose weight before you get older and it gets more difficult,” to which I replied with a non-committal ‘mmhmm’ and ended with her “Mmhmm? Is that all you have to say for yourself?” I walked back to my room as calmly and casually as I could before I could start crying in the kitchen. I put my food laden plate down and cried for a few seconds before trying to enjoy the food my mother made. As the day continued, my aunt and my mother went to JC Penney with me tagging along, remaining detached and quiet. The reason this moment was so hurtful was because if there had ever been someone in my family who would never criticize me it would be this aunt. But suddenly it was as though she were mad at me because of her own personal struggle with her weight. Displaced anger at its best, I guess.
The final memory was with an aunt during yet another visit home from college. Sitting in a room surrounded by approximately five cousins, two aunts, and my parents, I sat on a bed as my aunt began a pseudo-sympathetic entreaty to lose weight. She commented on how pretty I was and how my weight was keeping me from my full potential; she repeated that she loved me and she would stare into my eyes almost begging me to understand that she came from a place of love. I stared into her eyes almost incredulous that she would chose this public setting to speak to me about such a delicate subject. I forced a smile and nodded occasionally while gazing around the room at another aunt or cousin. No one else seemed to think the mini-speech was inappropriate. It was literally one of the worst moments of my life. As per routine, I walked away after she was done into the bathroom and shed the tears that’d been fighting for release.
One of the most difficult moments in my life was telling my mother about how hurt I was that she was present during moments like the above and she didn’t say anything. I had to pump myself up and I actually followed through, even though I cried one of those nasty hiccup-cries and forced her to realize how low my self-esteem had been. I didn’t want her to think I hated her because I don’t, and I love her, but I needed her to know that I was disappointed. In order to convince her of that I gave her her birthday present right after, and hugged her which allowed me to see the tears in her eyes.
I’m writing this as an attempt to purge myself of this resentment and of these minor nightmares that have occurred throughout my twenty-one years. Perhaps you are asking yourself if I feel more comfortable around my family and the truth is that I am not entirely there. Members of my family are prone to obesity and two individuals have succumbed to the easy-out of plastic surgery. I sympathize more for those unable to see around the physical. I am showing more of who I actually am to my family—a funny, awkward, compassionate, beautiful woman—and am trying to not focus on possible critiques on my body. The first thing anyone says to me if they haven’t seen me in a bit is the typical “You’ve sure grown up!” to which I can only laugh while wanting to tell them to shut the f@$% up. Growing pains do exist and sometimes the most pain is inflicted by family.