I’ve been working with kids and families for a long time. I’ve been a smoking cessation counselor, a middle school and high school teacher, and most recently a child and family therapist. I have worked with people from all walks of life, and I’ve come to realize something important, we all bully ourselves.
That little voice inside my head tells me that I can’t speak up in groups because someone will realize that I’m really not all that smart. It tells me to look away when a cute guy looks at me because he will notice how fat I am and I can’t bear to see how disgusted he will be. It tells me that I have to push people away before they hurt me, that I shouldn’t eat when I’m out with friends because they will think I am a pig, that I can’t wear tank tops or show my arms, and that if I just lost a little weight I might be worth it to someone somewhere. It tells me a lot. That mean voice inside my head didn’t just show up one day… it’s always been there. It was there when my boyfriend of three years (who never took me around his friends and only let me meet his mom once) told me that he couldn’t imagine marrying me because he would be too afraid that my health would be in jeopardy because of my weight. It was there when all the girls at Girl Scout camp ostracized me and wouldn’t be my friend. And it is still with me now… telling me that there’s no way anyone will believe that what I have to say is really worth reading.
I bully myself.
And not too long ago, I realized that most likely you do too.
So why? Why am I so hard on myself? Luckily all the time I spent in school taught me something about belief structures and how messages we hear growing up incorporate themselves into our psyche. So when my mom put me on the Cambridge Diet (I’m only 36, and since it was pulled from the market and reformulated after potential health issues arose in 1986, that means I wasn’t nine years old and was on a diet that restricted my caloric intake to 440cal/day) it permanently imprinted in my brain that my weight was a problem. When my babysitter compared her weight to mine when I was ten and looked at me in disgust, I knew I was disgusting. When every famous or cool woman I idolized as a kid was a size two and so very overly sexualized by the media, I learned that sex meant acceptance. When my grandma made fun of her arm fat, then compared it to mine… well you get the picture.
So I’m stuck with this internal bully. Great. I’m stuck with this belief that I’m not smart, or beautiful, or a leader. But then I had kids. Two beautiful girls. Two wonderful, sweet, empathetic kids who shouldn’t believe those same things about themselves. So I started working on ways to make sure I am a good parent. I, of course, quickly realized that there’s no way I can avoid every turn that might lead to their eventual lack of self-esteem. My mom tried to protect me from bullies (because she believed that if I was thin I wouldn’t be bullied), and her mom her, resulting in every gimmick diet you can think of being tried by my family (my mom couldn’t name one thing she liked about her body till very recently, but remembers taking speed shots with her mom when she was a teenager). There’s just no way to predict and avoid every wrong-turn… I think it’s just destiny for every daughter to look at her mom and think of at least a dozen ways she screwed up. That’s life. That’s normal. I’m okay with that.
So I started looking at strong people I know (or know of). Why is their internal voice nicer than mine? It comes down to two things, either they were raised in an environment where they were brought up to believe in their unique place in this world… or they fought that inner voice and treated it like the bully that it is… and sometimes both.
So that’s why I’m part of the Body Love Conference… because I am fighting my inner bully, and I am raising two awesome kids who damn well better know that they are beautiful, and because to change this world we can’t sit back and wait- we have to make it change.