Among my earliest memories are episodes of me wanting to be carried, like when walking somewhere with my parents as a preschooler, and being refused on the grounds that I was too heavy.
"You are too heavy" echoed in my head more than I realized until now sitting down to write this. Sometimes family members or friends would go to pick me up saying, "What a cute little --- hoouhh," and give up, and again my parents would refer to how heavy I was.
It's strange, because I was not a fat or particularly large child; I was just dense. There was literally something heavy about me. I didn't exactly grow up in a raucously joyful household, so that doesn't really surprise me looking back on it.
Because of all the years of being told I was too heavy, it took me a really long time to ever realize that I was on the thin side throughout most of my childhood and adolescence.
Society definitely affected me by my teen years. I was never a girl who dieted, and I was really thin, but I was always aware of every soft spot and ripple that I didn't think should be there. I imagined flaws beyond those that would be more empirically considered flaws, like my crooked teeth and thick glasses. Until high school, I had plenty of those, and they were solidly cataloged in the memory of the small town people I was surrounded by, long after they were gone. I remained an untouchable until leaving town at 16.
The town I grew up in was an insular small town. There was one clique of cool kids and if you weren't in, you were essentially invisible unless visible for criticism, which I always managed to be. I can actually remember the exact moment when I had a complete epiphany about teen social life, the summer after 8th grade, when I saw that a) no matter how much I changed myself, I would never be accepted and therefore protected and that b) that group of people was neither nice nor interesting, and their opinions were completely meaningless to me beyond their ability to make my life difficult. I consciously gulped my dread and started to dress and think for myself. And I paid dearly for that in the form of very public bullying and taunting, especially throughout high school.
My school was such a toxic environment, the culture of criticism of others seemingly knew no end. In band class, one wrong note drew hoots. I played the oboe; I didn't stand a chance. Forget about being in plays or doing anything to express yourself: not cool. It was the most Stepford place I've ever had to be, and it took me years to get over it (and I guess in some ways, I'm still working on it).
So that hypercritical voice and eye followed me from there. I went to a new school in a different town my senior year of high school, and it was like a poison ice started to thaw from my being. Some of the cheerleaders were chubby or not all that cute; everyone liked them anyway if they were nice people. Wrong notes were struck in band; everyone teased in a loving manner and laughed it off together. All kinds of dress were allowed to wander the halls without anyone hooting or grabbing them. I was no longer the only girl in school without a perm and 4-inch-tall bangs. I found myself repeatedly thinking, "That person would never make it at my old school" or "I can't believe they get away with that here" -- and realizing how messed up that was. That year was such a gift to me, and really saved me in some ways, because I was a really angry person at that point, and thought the world was a pretty mean place.
The hypercritical eye is not completely gone. I've gone through really fat phases and really thin phases, and my awareness and acceptance of both have varied a lot. When I got divorced and lost 30 pounds in about 2 months, I ended up having a fight with a saleslady in a dressing room because I just knew the pants she insisted on bringing me were way too small and a waste of my time. It turned out I was a size 6 for the first time in my life (I must have skipped it in high school), and then it dawned on me how much my body had just changed while I was preoccupied. And then coming to understand in time how many of those pounds were anger weight; it was sad, but I was glad they left me.
It's all tangled up for me -- the aesthetic concerns matched with the health concerns. I had a cancer scare, and I know when the chub accumulates around my middle that I am not headed in a safe direction. And it's so hard to separate the airbrushed images and anorexic models from reality. I am lucky with a body that stays lean and loose when I eat right and exercise, and I don't feel well when I am out of that range. There is a weight where I am completely peaceful and comfortable in my skin, and I haven't been there in over a year. Now that I live in New York, there's just too much temptation all the time, and being from the South, I'm just a good eater! But even at that ideal range, I might be going out and spend too much time around the mirror* and decide that my teeth seem too yellow or I don't like how my jaw is starting to wrinkle... So I will probably soon long for when I looked like I do right now; it wouldn't shock me. *Ever notice how much better you feel on days when you don't happen to be around any mirrors?
Another part of me has sometimes based toleration of fluctuating weight on how I am accepted by others. I love to observe diverse body types who are confident in their environment, which is another thing I love about New York. Recently I was at a Dominican wedding where the sister of the bride was about 6'2 and completely stacked in every way. Any typical white girl in our society would have felt fat and awkward, but this woman was stunning. She definitely had ample flesh everywhere the magazines say we don't want it, but she still wore well-fitting but revealing clothes and danced like there was no tomorrow. You couldn't take your eyes off her. Most women in this culture could use a lesson from her. But I wonder what she would actually say about "her" body if she were interviewed about it.