After 30 years, I finally made peace with my appearance

I grew up in a brick ranch house in Mint Hill, a tiny suburb of Charlotte that had one traffic light. Behind my house were woods and a creek where my friends and I loved to explore and play. Across the street, behind my friend’s houses, were verdant cow pastures. I had a wonderful childhood in this peaceful neighborhood.  But what I loved most about my brick ranch home was that the front porch had double (french) doors complete with glass storm doors.  These doors were the perfect backdrop for taking pictures.

                    My friend Ashley and me in front of the storm doors

Standing on the front sidewalk and facing the doors, it was like looking in a mirror. My dream was to be a cheerleader at my junior high school, and these mirror-esque glass doors meant that I could practice my jumps and see how high I was getting. Jumps were always hard for me. I’m petite but solid so when I jumped I did not fly like my skinny-legged friends. It took many hours of practice for me to finally nail the holy grail of cheerleading – a Russian- but I was persistent. I finally did it.

Strangely, what I remember most about all of those years of hard work on my jumps is not the euphoria of achieving my goal of doing a Russian, but the unkind words that were uttered when I was trying but failing.   I can’t remember who said it, but I will never forget the words:

“Lisa, your butt is so big you can’t even get it off the ground.”Those words uttered by a child shamed my body shape. That shame entered my heart as a 13 year old girl and became a part of me. Every time I looked into a mirror for the next 30 years, that voice of shame would condemn and despise what I saw.  Especially when I was trying on a bathing suit or jeans!

For the majority of my life, I have been ashamed of my body shape.

Sadly, most women feel the same way. We look into the mirror and we are repulsed by what we see. Shame points out every little curve and bump and flaw that should not be there and reminds us of all of our imperfections.   Shame replays over and over again the unkind words that were said about us.

People who said we were fat.
People who said we were ugly.
People who made fun of  us.

We long to be something that we are not.  So we go on diets and work out incessantly and shove all of our cellulite into Spanx.

Even as a middle-schooler, I dieted so that I could change my body shape. I tried Dexatrim (a weigh loss supplement), I drank TaB (an artifically-sweetened precursor to Diet Coke), and I even remember trying a popcorn diet. None of it helped. I always loved being short, but I longed, like many people, for the thin, attractive physique of a model.   I didn’t want my chicken drumstick legs –  I wanted skinny legs.

Those powerful words that shamed my shape still hurt. They have hurt every time I have stood in front of a full length mirror and seen my body for the past 30 years. Shame drove me to cover up my body shape so that no one could see it.

I hid the real me under frumpy dumpy clothing.

I bought baggy pants in the petite department at Belk. I wore brands designed for elderly ladies – Alfred Dunner was my favorite – because the pants were large and loose and hid my shape. I also bought long shirts to hide whatever shapeliness my polyester elastic-waist Alfred Dunner’s didn’t cover. My fashion sense, even when I was in my 30s, was frumpy and dumpy. I have the pictures to prove it.

When my 70 year old mother was rocking her blue jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets, I was in my black polyester elastic waist Alfred’s. All of my friends were wearing flattering blue jeans with spandex and I couldn’t bring myself to wear blue jeans. I would be at homeschool conferences and see elderly women wearing the same clothes that I was wearing. And I was only 35 at the time.

On my 44th birthday, I went out for a girls night – shopping and dinner – with my best friend Nicole. I dressed up in one of my favorite outfits…black elastic waist pants and long shirt.  We were at the make-up counter at Belk and the clerk gave me an honest assessment of my old-lady fashion.

She said, “You look like you are dressed to go bowling.”

I never wore that shirt again. I gave it to my mother.

Thankfully my friend Nicole helped me learn to embrace the shape that God gave me. She told me that I was beautiful just the way that I was and that I didn’t have to cover up the real me.  For that birthday girls night out, her gift to me was to give me a makeover…to dress me head to toe in age-appropriate and fashionable clothing.

That night she bought clothes for me that were modest but that were not baggy and frumpy and dumpy. I still didn’t like how I looked in the mirror, but I trusted Nicole and the experienced salesperson that I didn’t look that bad. Nicole bought me two outfits and jewelry to match as well as my my first pair of boots.

That shopping trip started a long, healing journey of learning to embrace the shape that God gave me. If I’m honest, I still don’t really like it, but I am slowly making peace with my curves. I just try not to look at my lower half in full length mirrors.

I don’t know if I will ever get those mean girl words completely out of my head, but at least I’m not wearing polyester elastic-waist Alfred Dunner grandma pants before my time. I’m not trying to hide who I really am from the world. I dress like a forty-six year old woman instead of an eighty year old. And I like the new me and that is all that really matters.

What about you? Has someone said hurtful words that shamed your body shape?  Leave me a comment or send me an email at Lisa@CelebratingWeakness.com

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