"But, you ARE a big girl!": How one honest statement helped me explore my issues with my size
My husband said this to me, after I said to him, "I just feel like I'm so big!"
He told me, "but you ARE big… you're a BIG girl!"
What. The. Actual. F.
Who responds like that?
I'm a BIG girl?
Crushing. My soul died a bit.
He's also described me as "chunky" "thick" "fat" (no, babe, the good kind)… which, to him, is an assessment of my attractiveness… to me, it's a disturbing list of attributes I'm terrified of.
Before we go any further, I need to make it clear that my partner loves my body; he wouldn't want me to look any other way. This blog is about how I feel about this assessment, and how his honesty drove me to reflect and articulate my beliefs about what being "big" means to me.
Background about me:
I'm approximately 173cm (5'9") tall. That’s above average for women… in fact, it's the average height of men. I weigh between 69-71kg. I have been a group fitness instructor for over 10 years (Body Attack, Body Pump, CXWorx, RPM) and I lift heavy weights. I am not, nor have I ever been, fat/overweight according to any standardised measure. You can find photos of me on instagram: thinkgray.psychotherapy and make your own assessment of my figure; I'm only telling this to give you context (and help you hate my husband less ha ha).
My mother is at least a foot and a half shorter than me. She weighs 47kg. She has probably spent most of her life being underweight because it's her biggest fear to be fat. She is highly critical of fat people - according to her measurement of what "fat" means (which, let me tell you, is not fat!). She had charts in the kitchen cupboard where she ticked off daily what her intake of carbs, protein, fat, veggies, alcohol, "bad" foods, etc. were and also measured her gym attendance. The word "obsessive" barely makes a dent in describing this behaviour.
Perfect set up for an eating disorder, right?!
I grew up attaching my worth to my body shape; to a body shape I could never realistically achieve given my height and frame! At one point I did "achieve" 59kg… looking back I was emaciated, anaemic, unhappy… and I still called myself fat! That’s not a unique story; thanks to the wave of honesty on Instagram recently, more and more girls are sharing their 'before' and 'after' transition pictures from obsessively maintaining an underweight figure to a figure that's healthy for them.
(I love this movement, and the fact that we can now choose what we're exposed to)
So, now you can see why the idea of me being labelled as a "big girl" would feel awful to me.
What happened next? Well, I yelled at him (duh) and the comment has stuck with my ever since. I decided to write this blog in a 'self-question' style to explore why this bothers me… hopefully it can help you gain more clarity about how to reflect on your own reactions to why things bother you. Sometimes it seems obvious, but there's often something deeper going on.
(1) Do I think I'm a big girl?
Not when I look at myself in the mirror. I see a proportional body, muscular legs, and I see that there's a lot of strength in my figure.
When I am stood next to other people in photos or in the mirror, the visual comparison often reveals that I am bigger than other girls (height/frame)… except my other two tall friends (hey hey S.L.J & E.E.G!). I will never forget watching myself team teach Body Attack with a trainee who can't be much taller than 5'3" and all I could focus on was how I resembled Brianne of Tarth in comparison to her.
I felt broken for days seeing that video. I almost didn’t want to get up on stage again.
(2) So, I'm a big girl… what does being 'big' mean to me?
Big… big is BIG. Big things take up space. They are noticeable.
(3) Why does that matter?
If you take up space, or are noticeable, you are seen.
If I am big, I am seen.
I am visible.
That hit a nerve. Suddenly, my heart is pounding and my brain is working in short, sharp sentences. I feel weaker. I feel a desire to shrink away: to hunch over and make my body smaller. These physiological reactions tell you that something is happening in your unconscious - keep moving through it; walk the plank in its entirety.
I struggle with being seen - which you may think is a contradiction for a fitness instructor with tattoos, a half-shaved head and purple hair whose entire marketing 'strategy' (if you can call it that!) is based on taking selfies and posting them on social media with captions that often outline her flaws and failings.
Maybe it is a contradiction; if the world was a simple, black-and-white place, it would be. But the world isn't, and it's not. In some contexts, I want to be seen - but I want it to be on my terms, under my control.
I have never been afraid of my imperfect mental health, and I've never felt it necessary to hide my struggles there. I love 'personal decoration' like hair dye and tattoos because they're art that’s representative of things that are important to me - like my memorial VW Kombie van for my cousin who I didn’t get to say goodbye to.
…But being properly seen for who I am, without control, is terrifying to me. I am so afraid of rejection and being deemed unworthy that I struggle to be vulnerable unless it's on my terms. When my husband really sees me - looks into my eyes, or reads me like a book - I am terrified. He is so perceptive and I can't hide anything or control how he sees me. Likewise, when I think of myself as being seen as 'big', I stand out in a way that isn't on my terms or is controllable. I am transported back to watching my mother reject people for standing out, or being rejected by my 'friends' in primary school (I'm still not sure why those girls chose to bully me... maybe it started with my Yorkshire accent; I stood out there too).
The truth is, it's not about the weight, or the shape, or the 'fat' (existent or not). I wasn't happy at 59kg - and what I saw in the mirror wasn't even reflective of reality anyway! What matters is an underlying terror of being seen, being visible, being noticed… in a way that is uncontrollable, and being subsequently rejected for it. My unconscious - the part of me that's still stuck with my youth - is always waiting for the next bout of criticism.
But my consciousness knows that others' judgements come about because of their unconsciousness, not because of me. I am starting to embody this, slowly, although I do have to repeat it a few times to remind my unconscious of it. I'm also deliberately pushing myself to do things that get me seen in a way that's out of my comfort zone: I stand in the front row in Body Combat once a week, and I go to dance classes when I can (major fear for me!).
Now that I'm aware of where this fear of being "big" stems from, I am less afraid of it
It holds less power over me.
So, I AM a big girl. I stand out.
And I will continue to work on being ok with being seen.