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  • Writer's pictureJaye Gaff

Hating Your Body

My hatred of who I was and what I looked like came from my family and started from a very young age. I was very, very skinny. My mother used to have me crawl on all fours and pretend to be a greyhound. Oh, they had such fun over it. I was so proud of being that skinny because it meant my mum liked me. I was useful. I also hated being that skinny because every time my mum showed photos from childhood she'd point out photos of me in the bath and point out, laughing, to the visitor, to the family, to my future Husband, how my pubic bone jutted out of the water. How funny I looked.

I got called anorexic in front of my friends. At a hospital as a visitor. Boys used to punch me in the hip bones and then complain to the teacher I'd deliberately made them do it to hurt them.

And then I hit puberty. I got boobs. I got curves. I started putting on weight. And then I was fat. My mother was perpetually on a diet. Always going to Weight Watchers. The second I put on some weight I wanted to go with her and she said... okay. And then she took someone else in my place. I was devastated. Because I wasn't that skinny freak anymore -- the greyhound game had long ceased -- but I wasn't "fat" enough to go lose weight with her.

I remember, every time my mum's weight fluctuated, getting text messages from my other siblings warning me:

She's lost weight. She's so happy. Don't forget to tell her she looks great.

She's put weight back on. Don't mention it.

And, here's the thing, if someone is craving compliments, I don't give them. I refused then, and still refuse now, to give into such things. My mother had a terrible relationship with her weight and she carried that into how I would see myself as well. But she wasn't the worst person.

Meet the older sister. Now, I can't say why she seemed to adore making me hate myself. I don't even try to speculate because she, and her motives, aren't worth my time. But every boy/man who turned to stare at us as we walked past was only ever looking at her. A man at a bar slurred "Lily Allen" at me when I was deep in my fringe phase and she said "no that was about me" except she wasn't anywhere near me at the time. And, guess what? I truly believed her. She was so good at it.

It was clear she had low self-esteem. She lied about the size of her clothes - always smaller than she actually was. It was at the time I helped her to undress to get in the shower because she was covered in her own vomit that I realised she was full of shit. A compulsive liar my Husband, boyfriend at the time, used to say. And, I thought, how dare he! But he was right. She lied about everything. Including her jeans size. But that was her issue to bear and not mine.

It was at that point that I started trying to undo all her damage. Whether she meant to or not -- she ruined my relationship with myself. She would take my clothes and then tell her boyfriends I used to take hers. I remember once she "borrowed" a top then-boyfriend/now-husband had gotten for me. I knew she had taken it but I also knew she'd refuse to admit it so I crafted a tearful story that I was getting yelled at/dumped because I'd lost it. A day or so later it magically turned up. I knew exactly who she was so her words stopped wounding me.

Yet, I'm almost 35 and I still suffer the after affects of living with her and, to a lesser extent, my mother. Those relationships were toxic and not just in the self-esteem way.

I got a call from my mother after giving birth saying my sister had told her I didn't want anyone at the hospital. I never said that. When I stopped talking to my mum, B. had been gifted a cabbage patch doll from my older sister. Another person in the family had told me my mum had actually gotten that for B. A myriad of tiny things culminating in a lifetime of untruths... and none of them worth the effort trying to fix. If my mum didn't care to check if these things were true before believing them. Well, that's not my problem.

So... back to the body issues. They both contributed to them but I believe only one was done maliciously. I tried to starve myself in the hopes she'd stop. I put on weight. That was bad. And then I stopped trying to impress these people and that, seemingly, was the worst thing of all. For them, at least. It was the best thing for me.

I still have my sister in my head. I can't quite believe that anyone would find me sexy. Cute, maybe. When a person honks at me as I walk by I get confused. It can't be because they find me attractive. The remaining of the self-esteem issues I have are linked to my weight which is weird because when I got bigger I had never felt happier.

And I am, for the most part, happy with my body. But my stomach never went back to normal after giving birth and I still hear the hollers of pleasure from my greyhound phase and the snarky not you - me in my head. And, I think, why would anyone love this?

I weigh myself after a full day of eating and drinking to punish myself.

You're disgusting.

I overeat to punish myself. I starve myself to punish myself.

You deserve this.

And then I realised, whether I meant to or not, I was still letting them win. So I'm slowly starting to break that cycle. I may never be able to understand if it was done on purpose. I may never be able to heal from the sadness of my mother not contacting B. even if she and I were done -- she and I may not have worked but that never meant I would have kept her from B. if she had made any effort. I may always have some hatred of my body in me or... I can love myself entirely and completely without any hesitation.

And I choose that last part. Because the words of someone who wanted to tear me down have no bearing on me. That's on her. The behaviours of someone who hated her own body, who didn't have the forethought to hide that from her kids, is not my fucking problem. And, imagine, I let them continue to affect me and, in turn, damage B. in the same way?

No. It's not happening. They aren't worth it.

But, I, I am worth the effort. I am worth the love. And so is B. So, guess fucking what? I'm no longer weighing myself. I am going to stare at my naked body and love it. I am never going to pass any self-esteem issues down to my child. She is only ever going to see a mum who is unabashedly in love with herself, with her tummy and her stretch marks, and the hair that grows in weird places. That's what B. deserves. And it's what I deserve too.

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