Words Matter: How "Harmless" Comments Have Affected My Body Image Over the Years
By Monique Vitche
I grew up plus-sized. I have always felt uncomfortable with my body and how I looked, and the comments I heard or read often made it worse. From a young age, I struggled not to internalize those comments and use them for my own self-destruction and self-sabotage, but failed.
I never really understood why the people who said these comments ever thought they were helping or that the comments were okay. It’s the equivalent of punching someone in the face and then having the audacity to ask them why they’re bleeding - why would you say these comments to a person and then ask why they have a negative body image or (in a potentially extreme situation) have an eating disorder?
Here are just some of the comments and interactions that have stuck with me throughout my life:
“Why don’t you look thin like X?” (age 11)
This was said to me when I was in the 6th grade. I would later look up pages on how to lose weight fast and got redirected into the world of pro-ana/pro-mia websites. Although I never actually developed anorexia or bulimia, I did binge eat a lot whenever I got upset and thought about this.
Finding out that there were several blog posts dedicated to me and my weight. (age 13)
Several classmates befriended me in 7th and 8th grade. I thought nothing malicious of it, but oh boy, was I naive. I later found their Xanga blogs (I’m dating myself here by mentioning Xanga), and saw they would refer to me as “Momo Jiggles” because I guess I ...jiggled when I ran in gym class. I never said my classmates were original or creative, so I suppose it could have been worse. However, this was a devastating blow to a kid who had already been showing early signs of mental health issues. I would sink deeper into my depression for a few years and go undiagnosed until I was a junior in high school, but that’s another story for a different day.
“If you lost some weight you’d feel better.” (age 26 through present day)
Several people have told me this. A variant from a doctor: “the edema in your leg is probably weight-related,” implying that I needed to lose weight and my edema would be magically cured. I’m not saying I’m anti-exercise or healthy eating, because I’m actually fairly healthy for someone who is overweight. I know, I know, what I just said is super controversial so I’ll say it again. I’m actually fairly healthy for someone who is overweight. I have a high ANA (antinuclear antibody) panel, have had some inflammation in my liver likely from the advil I took the day prior to the blood test and had Fifth Disease (parvovirus) as a kid, but other than that? Healthy. As. A. Horse. Not diabetic (knock on wood). No high cholesterol. No high blood pressure. Okay, fine. I’m also constantly fatigued and have chronic pain. I also have lost 15 pounds in the last months, but guess what? I’m still fatigued and have chronic pain. Go figure.
“If you lose some weight, you could have better luck finding a partner,” and “Think about how you’ll look on your wedding day if you lose some weight.”
Oh, so the end goal for losing weight isn’t health or self-love or happiness, it’s to find a partner? Right? That makes no sense, and yet it was said to me all-too-frequently in high school and college. When I got engaged I thought that would die down, but it only transformed into a comment about how I will look on my wedding day. I’ll let you all in on a secret: I look great in my wedding dress and actually have to have it taken in a bit. Probably a little more since I’ve lost that weight since I last tried it on.
“She has broad shoulders like a linebacker.” (age 10?)
I never wanted to make myself appear smaller than when I heard that descriptor used on me. I used to hate how broad my shoulders are because it meant that I could (at the time) never pull off dainty, feminine clothing. Nowadays, I wear whatever I want and don’t really care as much about how my shoulders look. The only exception being when I’m trying on some sort of fast fashion article of clothing. They always run small.
“You don’t want to build more muscle in your calves; they’re already big enough.” (whenever I have expressed a desire to take exercise seriously)
Whenever I would go to the gym, which would be a big feat in and of itself because of my weird relationship with my body, gyms and losing weight, I always had someone - usually a person who wanted me to lose weight to begin with - telling me not to develop too much muscle in certain areas. It’s almost as if I can’t win. Listen, either you want me to lose weight (which may result in the development of muscle as the fat gets burned) or you don’t want me to lose weight. Also please stop telling me to lose weight. I’m working on it, okay?
There are probably more comments and interactions but these are the ones that have stuck out the most. I may have forgiven the people who have said them, but I don’t really see myself forgetting their words any time soon. I have spent years internalizing these comments and experiences, that I cannot and will not just flip a switch and pretend they were never said.
Rather than use these comments and situations as weapons against myself, as I have done for so long, I am going to try to undo the negative thinking. One way I am going to do that is through daily positive affirmations. I am going to make the habit of building myself up, rather than tearing myself down. Words matter. What we tell ourselves matters. I don’t like negative comments about my appearance (regardless of intention) said by other people, so why should I let myself get away with saying these things about myself? It’s imperative to hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold others. I recently told a friend who was struggling with self-love, “you wouldn’t like it if people say those things about you, so why would you say those things about yourself?” It’s a tough pill to swallow, but thankfully I have a tall glass of water.
I can learn to love myself no matter how I look, and it doesn’t matter if I’m thin or fat. What’s important is that I feel - at the very least - okay with myself. Sometimes, some days, I can get there. I am going to strive for more days like that. Are you with me or against me?