There are so many things I wish I could go back and tell you to save you from years of pain. I sit here at almost 26 thinking, perhaps a little arrogantly, about how much I’ve learned in the past year or so and how much I’ve changed. I think about how life would be different if these tiny revelations had happened just a year sooner, but then I realize there’s no point in wondering. It doesn’t change anything that happened in the past. It only changes how I move forward.
I remember you at your heaviest weight: in junior high, when the kids could be the most cruel, especially the boys. Their insults didn’t necessarily make sense, but you knew what they were getting at: you were fat, and they thought it was gross. They didn’t want anything to do with you, and in a small, Southern town where the expectation to marry young is prevalent, your fixation on the opinion of the opposite sex was ingrained early. Your obsession with size started when you realized you were the only one of your friends in the “plus” category, and you didn’t want to be different. So you decided to stop eating.
You dropped around 40 pounds and went into your freshman year of high school thinking it would change everything. I remember your face lighting up when the skinniest girl in your Geography class said, “God, Meredith, you’re so skinny,” and touched your hipbone that she could see sticking out from your jeans. You felt accomplished when you unpacked your lunch of a rice cake and a mini box of raisins and someone said, “That’s all you’re eating?” You thought you’d finally won. You were going to make up for all of those years you spent being fat, ugly, and undesirable. But it didn’t matter, because people are still cruel no matter how much you weigh. Eventually you were tormented for being too skinny and told that no boy would ever want a girl who resembles a telephone pole.
I wish I could have been there with you and told you that nothing any of these people said mattered, because even though you’ll leave that hellhole of a high school behind, you’ll carry that damaged self esteem with you for years. The moment you abruptly switched from a “normal” diet of homestyle meals to a cup of yogurt and some flavored cardboard was the moment your relationship with food changed forever; there will never be a time again in your life where you won’t think twice before taking a bite of something. I’m not blaming you, because I know it’s not your fault. There are so many societal ideals and specific people that I could trace this back to, but in the end, it doesn’t make a difference. I’m the only one who can heal the wounds that all of those years left open.
You'll spend entire relationships fixated on the girls who came before you, riddled with jealousy and convinced that you'll never measure up because they were somehow better than you. They were skinnier than you, their tits were bigger, their stomachs were flatter, and as a result, they were probably better in bed. Years of being looked over for other women led you to believe that despite the title of a relationship, you still weren’t enough. And even though most of those guys were never good for you in the first place, your self-destructive habits played a major role in the demise of your relationships. You obsessed until it became the only thing you could think about, until you realized that the bigger problem is your insecurity.
It’s so unfair, isn’t it? Your insecurities, which are a direct result of being called fat during the most formative years of your life, become the downfall of relationships because you don’t understand how to let them go. You can explain yourself and try to make someone understand where you’re coming from, but empathy isn’t always enough when you’re constantly picking fights about ex-girlfriends or other females that just happen to be in the same room breathing the same air. And while you had to learn those lessons the hard way in order for me to reach these conclusions now, I wish I could have spared you all of the torment of watching your exes move on from you and spending energy hating them for being happy. You would ask yourself, “Is it because she’s prettier or skinnier than me?” rather than, “Is it because she’s a better fit for him than me?” Or, the bigger, better question: “Do I still want to be with him in the first place?” That answer was almost always, “No.” But it would take you several years, and an integral year and a half of being single, to realize that.
Your appearance was always somehow at the root of every problem, but how could it not be? Your second-ever boyfriend made you watch porn with him that featured platinum blondes with giant, fake tits, because that’s what got him off: everything that you weren’t (and still aren’t). The next one was a photographer who wanted to take photos of every female except you. Someone with self-esteem built of steel might even find those hard hits to take. I wish I could have told you to leave both of them sooner, but you stayed because you didn’t know any better. You knew you felt horrible, but you were so used to it by that point that you couldn’t imagine what being treated with respect could possibly feel like. I wish I could have made you understand that jealousy is a necessary evil, but one that rides a fine line, and that other women aren’t (always) your enemies.
I remember when you used to look in the mirror and immediately break down into tears over what you saw. You would scream at your reflection and tell her how much you hated her, how much you resented the fact that she couldn’t look like the girls in the magazines, or even just the girls at school that everyone was jealous of. I wish I was there for you when you would grab your belly flab in your hands in a fit of rage and imagine taking a knife to it, slicing it off and watching your skin grow back over a new, taut stomach. Every year you would tell yourself that this was the year you’d wear a bikini and not feel self-conscious. If I could go back now, I would tell you that what kind of bathing suit you wear in the summer will be the least of your problems, and that a few years into the future, you’ll realize that you look pretty damn hot in a one-piece.
In college, at your healthiest weight, with your best haircut/color and your most stylish clothes, you still had so many days when you hated everything about how you look, and ultimately everything about who you were. Sometimes I look back on pictures of you then and wish I still looked that way, but I remember how unhappy you were: how gross you felt if you had a cheat day and ate too many Oreos, or how guilty you felt if you skipped the gym. I wouldn’t trade that “thin” old body, even though it was never your definition of perfect, for the security and peace of mind I feel now just standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror every morning and accepting that this is what I look like. This is who I am.
Sometimes I wonder how I got here, and I honestly don’t know. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment in time when I decided that I’m just going to buy bigger pants instead of throwing a tantrum when I can’t fit into my size 10’s. My weight is always changing; sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. If I want to do something about it, I can. I’d be lying if I said I don’t have bad days here and there, but I can’t remember the last time I looked in the mirror and cried, and that feels really damn good. So as much shit as my former self went through, she got me to this point, and I have to thank her for that.