There has been a lot circulating on social media about the most recent Dove campaign video. Many women have watched the Dove campaign over the years and rallied behind it, and I’ll admit, I was one of them. I still rally behind bits of it, but I’m not totally gung- ho any more. I definitely agree that women should be celebrated, all shapes, all sizes, all colors. I don’t want to go into great detail over why I don’t absolutely preach the message in the Dove videos, but this article that a friend posted on Facebook pretty much sums up my thoughts, much more articulately than I could write them. However, this campaign did spur me to finally share this post.
This post is one that is extremely personal (and most likely very long, so bare with me). Most of what I am about to type are things that up until now, only my husband has known. This story has been my little secret of sorts. My immediate family knows bits and pieces, but most of this story I have kept closed off to others. I was ashamed of it, embarrassed, and broken by it. I still am to a certain extent, but part of healing and helping others to do the same, is to share it. And, this story has made me who I am today. It has shaped who I am as a wife, mother, and friend. Alright, (deep breath) here it goes.
When I entered my freshman year of college, I hardly knew anyone on campus. I had come early to play soccer for my school and hadn’t yet formed any sort of relationship with anyone on the team. Being introverted and totally out of my element, I was petrified. I had just left my parents and my close friends to move an uncomfortable eight hours away to the Midwest and I was alone.
I was desperate for some type of relationship, anything that resembled the great ones I had left back in my small Western New York town. In swoops my very first boyfriend. I met him early in the year, before I had made many other connections on campus, besides my teammates. I had never had much attention from boys in high school, other than friendships. My best friend was the girl that all the guys were after, and I was quite content to fulfill the role of the “friend” girl. There was no drama, and high school was so much fun for me in that light. However, it was nice to have attention in a way I had not received before.
This attention quickly went south. I realized early on that the guy I was dating was not right for me. Not having been in a relationship before, and being very much a people pleaser, I kept trying to give him more chances. But the more chances I gave him, the worse it became. I found myself isolated by him. Not only from the few friendships I had formed on campus, but also from very dear ones I had had for years at home. He maneuvered his way into several of them and became very jealous of these people, and as a result, I lost several extremely important relationships, ones that I still so badly wish I had today. After a point, I grew what I thought was a little bit of courage, and broke up with him. However, he did not let me go. He called me constantly, at all hours of the night, followed me, and took advantage of the fact that I did not know many others at school.
To this day, my friends and family think that we dated for much longer than we actually did. I was young and naïve and did not realize that much of what was going on was not normal in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Things continued to get worse as time went on. He began to manipulate and verbally abuse me. I felt like I had no one to turn to. People from home seemed to just be excited that I finally had a boyfriend, and I didn’t want to let them know that I had picked such a bad guy. However, the final straw came when he was arguing with me, belittling me, and physically blocked me from exiting a room. I had never felt threatened of physical harm from another person in my life until that moment. Thankfully I was able to leave unharmed physically, but the emotional toll that this relationship placed on me was yet to end.
I have always felt a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Growing up, it was very important that we dressed appropriately and always looked put together. Because of this, in my mind, physical appearance was simultaneous to your inward abilities and worth.
I am a stress eater. I am a boredom eater. I am a reward eater. I love to eat, especially sweets. And bread. Basically every white flour, corn syruped thing that’s out there, I will eat it and love it- no matter what the occasion. That being said, going away to school, plus having a horrific first year there, I ate a lot and gained well over the typical “freshman 15”.
At the end of my sophomore year of college I just felt horrible about who I was as a person. I felt entirely out of control. I felt like who I was just two years prior was so far gone and I didn’t know how to get that person back. That summer, I learned how to purge my food.
I struggled with Bulimia for quite a while after that point. I was obsessed with it. I stopped for a short span of time when I returned to school because it was too hard to do and not lose my spot on my soccer team. However, I quickly found that I couldn’t stop. I was no longer forcing myself to purge, but my body was doing it for me. I had purged so much previously, that I damaged my gallbladder. I had to have it removed, and you would think that being nineteen years old and already having to have my gallbladder out would give me the swift kick in the pants that I needed. It did, for a bit. But it’s not easy to shake the feeling that you get when people say, “You look great! You’re so skinny!”
Before my husband Kyle and I began dating, he found out accidentally about my Bulimia. However, he was the only one for some reason that I would continually listen to. He encouraged me to tell my family. I did, and I still struggled. He encouraged me to follow through with my promise to my family and continue going to counseling for it when I didn’t want to. He would check in. He wouldn’t just ask “have you thrown up lately?” and allow me to slip by with a quick no and change of subject. He focused on me as a person, as a whole being, not just what I looked like. He didn’t give the “you look so great!” compliments, which only make me continue to focus on my size. He complimented my ideas and abilities. He encouraged me and he would listen to me, really listen. He was, and is, my rock.
This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. When I stand in front of the mirror, I pick myself to pieces. I compare myself to the perfection I see blasted at me by man-made media. I shrug it off when my husband tells me that I look beautiful. I get self conscious of my thighs. I pinch at my love handles. I cringe if I have to buy a bigger sized pair of pants than what I expected. But I know now that I am better than that. I have more to offer. And I have a husband who is not afraid to keep me in check. To call me out and say, “hey, just let me tell you what I see when I look at you.”
When I found out I was pregnant, Kyle and I immediately feared what that would do to my self-esteem and body image. Sure, I hadn’t slipped back into Bulimia in quite some time, but the struggle is still in the back of my mind. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would ever do anything to my body while I was carrying my baby. Ever. But at that time, I couldn’t make any promises about after I had delivered. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to lose the weight. What if I wasn’t desirable anymore? What if people noticed I didn’t bounce back quickly to my pre-baby body? What if I couldn’t lose the weight the right way? What if I slipped back into my old ways again?
Thankfully, as Judah grew throughout those nine months, I loved it. Sure I felt like a whale my last few weeks of pregnancy, but when you make it to 41 weeks and 3 days in the sweltering heat of the summer, who doesn’t? Becoming a mother has made me feel amazing. I love who I am now. I have a renewed confidence in who I am as a person, as a wife, and as a mother. There is so much more to me than my jeans size. I saw what my body did throughout the better part of a year, and it is an amazingly beautiful thing. I know that my body is being used to nourish my son and will be used for our future children, and to me, that is incredible.
Yes, I still look in the mirror and find my physical flaws. But I have a better head on my shoulders to say now that those “flaws” are what make me, me. These traits that I may find undesirable compared to the size 0 model on TV make me “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Of course I will share this story with my son someday. I want him to know that there is more to a woman than her dress size, the color of her skin, the way she does her hair, or her cup size. I know he will be bombarded with messages for the rest of his life portraying women in all the wrong ways. I want him to know what to do with that and how to handle it and become a young man that is okay with looking past the surface. I want him to become a man like his father, who is willing to listen first.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to post this. I’m terrified about what the family and friends that read this and find out about this part of my past will think. But I know it was important to share. I know that this has had part in making me who I am today and will continue to shape the kind of mother that I am.
Every person has a story to tell, and I think it’s about time we start listening.