When I turned 50, I found my voice. I spoke my mind. I even started to use boundaries. I realized that 40 years of making myself small to accommodate others was doing nothing at all for me except create resentment. Around the time I turned 50, I stopped giving a damn about what others thought of me and decided to focus more on what I thought about myself. Totally. Radical. People who were used to my doormat accommodations were taken aback when I set some healthy boundaries.
Through loads of therapy, I came to the realization that as a child, food was a coping mechanism. I worked very hard to fit into the box that had been created for me. I was a kid in a larger body and that did not help. The harder I tried to fit in, the more I ate, and you get the picture.
I was around 9 or 10 when I realized that body size was a thing and that my body was larger than other girls in my class. I wasn’t the only one and we became friends with each other because we were beginning to realize that we were different. We absorbed all the ads for Dexatrim and Appetrex. We drank our mom’s Tab and watched Karen Carpenter disappear before our eyes. The images of body perfection were gained through starvation, eating disorders, laxatives, and amphetamines. Being an overweight kid in the 70s was unbelievable. Clothes for children came in regular sizes and sizes that were literally labeled “chubby” for girls and “husky” for boys. We were officially in a different group.
In my grade school, the nurse tracked our health by measuring our height and weight. Once a year, she would wheel in a scale and tape a measure to the wall by the classroom door. A couple of moms were recruited to be scribes and helpers. We all sat quietly watching the annual event. Alphabetically, we were called to the front of the room where we stood with our backs and our heels touching the wall behind us. The nurse would measure our height and call it out to the mom carefully updating our cards. The same also happened when we stood on the scale. I’m not sure which was more humiliating – actually stating the number out loud for all to hear, or in trying to save embarrassment, whispering it to the mom. Both were surefire attention-getters.
For forty years, I followed the quest of weight-loss like millions of other women. My mood was dependent on the scale. My self worth was pretty invested in my pant size. Today I look back on my high school and college photos when I heard my mother’s voice tell me that I had such a pretty face and that it was a shame that I didn’t have the body to go with it. I looked healthy, average sized, beautiful, happy. If I had had someone tell me at 20 that I really could trust myself around food and just listen to my body instead of dieting, I might have actually spent the next twenty years being comfortable in my skin and loving myself for myself.
For me, the emotion of those 40 years is in one word. Shame. It’s a feeling that keeps us from being our true selves. Shame keeps us small. It makes us feel unworthy for taking up space. Shame will certainly not allow us to stand up for ourselves, speak our minds, set healthy boundaries, or realize our unique potential.
“I decided that the single, most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”
– Anne Lamott
The thing is, around 50 I started to realize that no one but me was paying any attention to my shame. All this time. All those opportunities I didn’t think were for me. By this time in life, we are seeing the very clear messages that we need to do those things we want to do because there’s less time ahead of us than we know. If we have kids, they are grown. I wasn’t a mom until my early 30s, so my kids are young adults. Instead of being afraid of them leaving the house and moving on with their lives, I realize that I now have time, energy, and financial ability to focus on myself, this time, without shame.