Monday, November 23, 2015
To the Young Girl Staring in the Bathroom Mirror
There you were in your black skinny jeans, your grey t-shirt hanging off of your thin frame, your beanie placed precariously at the edge of your head, your black-rimmed glasses perched on your nose.
I came out of the restroom stall, and was washing my hands when I noticed you. Or, rather, heard you. You stood in front of the mirror, something you'd obviously practiced in your 16 years, and said to your friend "My tummy looks flabby."
I, with my hands under the hot water, turned to look at you. You were young, and small, and I stood there, watching you out of the corner of my eye. Your friend went to the restroom, and you stood in front of the mirror, turning from side to side, standing up straighter, smoothing your shirt down over your stomach.
I know that look. I have done it nearly every single day for much of my life, I have pushed my shoulders back, held my breath, looked at my stomach in the mirror, thinking the same thoughts as you.
I, who had spent the day eating only fruit so I could partake in popcorn tonight, pursed my lips together, as I rinsed the soap from my hands. You made your way over to the counter behind the sinks, and leaned up against it, your eyes on the mirror as you pulled your t-shirt away from your body. I glanced at you again, but you didn't notice me--you were so intent on the mirror. Behind me now, I watched in the mirror as you shrugged your shoulders back, your eyes on the mirror to the side of you, and I pinched my lips harder. I wanted to say something to you. I wanted to be that annoying older person you roll your eyes at--I thought about telling you this: "You're beautiful just the way you are." I wanted to say that to you because it's true--I didn't want to say "your tummy is not flabby," even though that was true, too. I wanted to tell you that even if your tummy is flabby, you're beautiful. No matter what, as you are, in your skin right this very moment, you're beautiful. But I didn't. I didn't say anything to you, I just held my tongue as I walked out of the bathroom, and joined my husband in the concessions line, waiting for that popcorn I'd spent all day planning for, all day restricting for.
I looked around for you then, hoping you'd walk by, and maybe I'd get the courage to tell you. But you didn't. And anyway, I didn't.
So, here is what I would like to tell you, at 16. Here is what I am only just now learning, at 29:
Stop. Stop obsessing over your body--over every single thing that's wrong with it. Over an extra five pounds, ten pounds, 1 pound. It's not worth it. You will spend every waking moment thinking you're fat--trying to turn yourself this way or that in pictures. Shoulders back, stomach in, arm away from your side so it doesn't smoosh down and look fat, leaning your weight away from the camera, one leg behind the other, hip pushed back, stomach sucked in, chin down. You will look at these pictures in the moment and think 'I'm fat. I still look fat, despite all of this.'
You will see every picture of yourself in the present and think 'I look fat,' and then in few years, you will pull those pictures out for nostalgia, and realize that no, you were not fat. You did not look fat. 'But,' you will think, 'Now I am fat. I wish I could go back to how I looked then.' And it will make it so you are never happy with how you look.
If you allow it, if you start down this road, I'm not sure you can ever come back. It will cloud every single thing that you do--your prom, your high school graduation, your first day of college, parties at college, your scholarship awards ceremony, your college graduation, your wedding day, your random Thursday night at the movies. It will always be there, in the back of your mind, this little voice that lies to you and says, 'It doesn't matter. No matter what you do, you're going to look terrible because you're so fat.' After awhile, there will come a point where you can't remember not at least thinking about watching your weight, or actively dieting, or eating the cheeseburger without guilt. You might develop an eating disorder--you might practice severe restriction, or develop anorexia or bulimia. Sometimes, you might even avoid seeing old friends, so they don't see how "fat" you've become.
Those imaginary rolls on your tummy? They're a ripple effect that will color the rest of your life. They are an impediment to your happiness that will feel impossible to shake.
I don't want that to happen to you. I want you to feel beautiful in every single moment you have, because this is it. This is all we get. Standing in the bathroom at the movies, your graduation, your wedding day, I want you to feel beautiful. I don't want you to be worried about what other people think of your body--only what you think of your body, and I want you to love your body no matter what shape it's in.
Be healthy. Whatever that means to you--have a healthy lifestyle, but understand you may not be as skinny as you want to be, as the world wants you to be, as other girls you see--but your health is what matters, both physical and mental.
These are the things I want to tell you, 16 year old. These are the things I want to tell myself. That I want to believe myself.
I can't remember ever feeling happy about my weight. At least, not since about the 7th grade. I can't remember ever seeing a picture of myself and not picking it apart, usually in reference to my weight. I can't remember waking up, looking in the mirror, and thinking I looked skinny, even when I was.
I don't want that for you. I don't want that for me. I don't want that for us.
These are the things I wish I had said to you in that bathroom. These are the things that I want to say to myself-- it's not too late, I want to say. It's not too late for you, and you know? It might not be too late for me, either.