Anybody out there make it through junior high unscathed?
Yeah, me either. For starters, a girl named, if I remember correctly, Presumptuous Trollop—but I’ll call her “Jasmine” in this post to protect her identity*—demolished my self-concept in about sixty seconds one morning.
Once upon a time I was an adorable baby. Everyone cooed and fawned over me and called me “lovely.” The paparazzi, meaning my mom and aunts, flashed cameras so often that my world appeared veiled by strobe lighting. My first steps were applauded, my first laugh brought delight, and my inability to pronounce Ls was exploited for its astronomical cuteness. (I’m good with Ls now, by the way.) My whole childhood was painstakingly documented by loving parents. Endless pictures of me fill albums; it seems I was always goofing off with my dad, playing school, dancing, or dressing up. Dressing up was my unquestionable favorite. It’s all my best friend K and I ever did. Whether at her house or mine, our parents would rave, “You girls are so beautiful!” Our radiant grins would bask in their words, later repeating them in front of a mirror as we practiced full-lipped model pouts. “You girls are so beautiful, so beautiful!” Since K’s family and mine were always assuring us of our beauty, it never occurred to me to be self-conscious about my appearance. I knew I was beautiful just like I knew how to spell my name.
And then came Jasmine.
Jasmine and I both had third-period choir, and since we were altos with similar last names, we had to sit near each other. But proximity should not be mistaken for friendship: we rarely spoke because I was painfully shy, and she was a loud, rude cretin. Besides, my friend A was an alto too, so I usually just ignored Jasmine in favor of A. One morning A and I were gushing over a boy I liked when Jasmine butted into the conversation. “He will never like you, Amie. God, you are so fat. I mean, you have udders.” She spat the word as she gestured toward my chest, her cronies already laughing at the joke. She, too, dissolved into giggles. To this day, I can hear her words exactly the way she uttered them (pun fully intended). I remember what she was wearing, how her hair was fixed, the expression on her face. In that moment, at 12 years old, I began to loathe my body. It’s sad that in seconds someone could destroy the confidence my family had been building in me for years, but that’s exactly what happened. I took Jasmine’s word—someone I didn’t trust or even like—over the word of every friend and family member who loved me so dearly.
As soon as I was 13 and allowed to wear makeup, I applied it with wild abandon. After all, the problem Jasmine identified was fatness, not ugliness. Desperate to attract attention to my face—the salvageable part of me—I covered my skin with an inch of foundation and blush. I hoped that if my face were pretty enough, no one would ever look below my neck again. Preferably, I would never have to look below my neck again. Many mornings before heading to school, Jasmine’s words echoed in my ears. Eventually, though, they weren’t just her words anymore: I took over the job of berating myself. “Ugh, your legs are atrocious,” I would say to myself as I put on my jeans. When a guy showed me extra attention, I’d think, “It’s just pity; he feels sorry for you because you’re fat.” Mirrors and glass storefronts became my nemeses. Even on the hottest, most humid summer days, I selected pants or ankle-length skirts to cover my embarrassing body. Anytime it was possible, I hid behind others in pictures so that only my face peeked through. Couldn’t risk capturing those udders on film: the camera adds ten pounds, you know. My body shamed me.
And that didn’t change over the years. In fact, ten years after Jasmine’s announcement, I was counting down the days to my wedding, thinking, “I will hate all my wedding pictures because of my fat body.” And, even more appalling than the thought of the wedding album was the sex in my future. Sex, I knew, required complete nakedness with another human. To say this was “terrifying” is a gross understatement. I honestly considered the possibility that upon seeing my unclothed self, my new husband might say, “Wow, I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m not attracted to you at all,” and consequently annul the marriage. That is not an exaggeration; the message of Jasmine’s words so imbued me that I thought everyone must share her opinion. Allowing my husband to see me the night of our wedding was one of the single most difficult things I have ever done.
But do you know what happened? He didn’t annul the marriage. He was very gracious and respectful, assuring me over and over that he liked what he saw. However, this didn’t immediately solve the problem. In addition to these emotional issues with my body, very real physical complications with sex arose within days. (I’ll go there next.)
*Her name isn’t Jasmine, either. I really will protect her identity.