me at 19 with a family friend
A few weeks back I was at my parent's home. My mom had been going through boxes and had found a photo album I hadn't seen in years; in it was this picture. I hated seeing this picture and could hardly look at it without feeling angry, sad, and disgusted. Just as we were looking at the albums my brother and his family showed up. My four-year-old nephew Jacob came barreling through the door and straight into my arms. "Come on Mia and play with me but first, … kisses," he said as he kissed me and hugged me as tight as he could.
At that moment the picture was still in my mind and I wanted to believe that I was a different person now; that I wouldn't be recognized now as that person. So, I picked up the picture hoping that if I showed it to Jacob he wouldn't know who it was.
"Jacob, do you know who this is?" I said pointing to myself. He was still hugging me tight but turned and glanced down, "Yeah, that's Tia Mia. Now come play with me." He was out of my arms and down the stairs in an instant.
I sat there a little taken aback with two conflicting thoughts and many emotions; the two thoughts being, "Dang it, I hate that he knew it was me." and second, "Wow, he didn't mention my size at all, it wasn't a big deal to him."
I've thought back to this experience many times over the past few weeks. As I look at this picture I see the worst time of my life. I was nineteen in this picture and having a complete mental breakdown but also keeping that hidden from most of my family and friends, I can put on a game face when I have to and it's pretty solid. I had been sexually abused at the age of eleven and never told anyone. A week after the abuse happened I had to go to a barbeque with my parents and my abusers would be there. I remember not wanting to go, fighting with my mom and hating being there. I also remember that barbeque being the first time in my life I ate to the point of making myself sick. Part of me looks at that moment now as me eating to make sure I didn't say anything and the other part believes I was eating to ease the panic, shame, and pain that was there for me as I was once again with people who had hurt me.
After this experience of eating to the point of making myself sick, I began to use food as the means to ease my hurt and stifle my never-ending panic. Eight years after those first few months of using food in that way is this picture and one can see what years of using food as a coping mechanism did to me. During that time in my life I had quit school for a semester and was living at home – I was panicking more and more and having angry outbursts I couldn't contain. I was afraid to go out in public and wanted to spend most of my time sleeping. These were dark days for me. My secret was killing me. My family still loved and supported me and tried to help anyway they could but I still couldn't say anything.
So, that is what I see when I look at the picture but Jacob just saw his Tia Mia. Jacob saw me as the person who loves him, hugs him, listens to him, and plays with him. I've thought often of his reaction and the matter of fact way he said it was me and how quickly that was forgotten, as he was off to more important things, off to play and create and live. I have thought often about why I can't just do that and how can I learn to be more like him. How do I leave behind the years of pain and damage done by myself and a society that seems to be hyper focused on weight and appearance?
I believe growing up society told me that I would have value as a human being based off of two things: appearance and relationship status. Those two topics were everywhere then and even more so now. Think about how many messages we get daily from T.V., music, movies, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, magazines, other people, and many other sources that discuss someone's appearance or relationship status. I'm reading a spy novel for heaven's sake and a psychiatrist in the book is talking about a female doctor that is his friend and he says, "She was too attractive to be single …" I hear endless songs about relationships and love and outward beauty. I follow inspirational fitness instagram accounts with daily sometimes hourly posts about the right way to exercise or what to eat but more often than not I end up feeling worse about myself because I'm not dedicating every moment to losing weight and when that happens I go back to what has always had the ability to comfort me: food.
Now, I'm not saying it's anyone's fault that I do that that I turn to food for comfort. What I am hoping to bring up is just to say why does weight and appearance always have to be a conversation? (I get the irony of that question as I'm writing this post :) ) When did we stop finding our worth in love of others and service and the intrinsic belief that because I am breathing I am worth it? When did we stop having the childlike ability to not see weight when we look at pictures – skinny or fat, healthy or unhealthy, toned or un-toned? I want to get back to the days when it didn't matter - when I, like Jacob, could look at a picture and see my mother or father, my uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and even someone famous and see them as the experiences and time they have offered me and not how big or small they are.
Doing that takes time, takes effort and work, and takes owning up to my own weaknesses and wanting to better them. Comparing myself to, competing with, or judging another is not something I want to continue to do. I admit it happens all the time and my judging someone who is "skinny" or "pretty" based off those qualities is just as bad as others judging me for being "fat". That reverse judgment is hardly talked about but just as valid, judging a person based on their appearance is just wrong – whatever that appearance is. I used to see someone skinny or pretty and, especially if they were in a relationship, think, "I hate you, why do you have to have everything. We'd never be friends you are too skinny or pretty to be friends with." What?!?!?! I was so wrong and allowed my own poor and crushed self-esteem as well as what I lacked in the form of a relationship to get in the way of seeing them as a person.
We are all people on this same journey trying to figure life out. What works for one doesn't have to work for all; if a person's passion is fitness – awesome, if a person's passion is makeup – wonderful, if a person's passion is teaching – fantastic, if a person's passion is Parks and Recreation – you are me, if a person's passion is reading – you are better than others ;) jk. . . . And, why can't a person's passion be all of these? I believe it can and a hundred other things.
I want to live a life where I am happy for others and myself in the exact moment they and I are living. I also want to live a life where it's ok and important for me and others to try and be better than we currently are in any aspect of life: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual . . It doesn't have to be one or the other . . . it can be both . . . it should be both.