I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, holding my face in my hands, shaking. My mother stands over me. I can feel her bewilderment mixed with sadness pulsing in the air that separates us.
“I just want to look like the other girls”, I choke out between sobs. “I don’t want to look the way I do. What’s wrong with me”?
My mother moves close to me, taking me in her arms as she gracefully slides in next to me on the remaining space provided by my childhood twin bed.
“Christina, you are beautiful. Please baby, don’t cry.”
I burrow my head into her chest, as if to shut out the rest of the world and return to being an infant without a care. The pain of not belonging, not fitting in perfectly to what is expected of me stings. The clothes that girls my own age flaunt on their tiny, delicate bodies do not fit me, or make me look like a sausage in its casing. I am too big for the “Girls” section but “Juniors” belongs to my sister and a more sophisticated clientele. I was already well versed with the cruel way people are segmented into categories, like livestock into pins. Mine was labeled “other”.
Well past the age of nine, baby fat remained the most significant component of my physical makeup. I enjoyed food, especially sweets and the “forbidden treats” that my health-conscious mother avoided giving my sister and I out of love. I knew that the way I fixated on these fantastical items — Fruit by the Foot, Oreo’s, Lucky Charms Cereal — was different from my elementary school peers. I felt both frustration and shame for the way I craved and yearned for these foods. It wasn’t normal. Again, other.
Then there was the horror of middle school. The discovery by my female peers of spandex, who began to in new ways show off their desired slender, but boyish, forms in tight shirts and mini skirts. I clung to my overalls, my greatest friend, that secured and hid the slight distention of my belly I was too ashamed to let breathe. I watched as girls discovered boys, and boys discovered girls. Flirtations became a primary preoccupation, a measure of status and worth. At a certain point I stopped noticing the couples holding hands or embracing one another. The possibility of my penetrating their world, being lovable to someone else, was so unthinkable that it ceased to exist in my mind.
It was all too familiar. A children’s fairytale come to life. Delicate and feminine fairies and imps danced around me while I, the unlovable ogre, kept my eyes shielded and my head down.
Years later, a fully grown adult, I still struggle to distance myself from child Christina’s understanding of herself as “other”. It colors my relationships, at work and with men. It’s an odd thing to feel too big, yet entirely unseen at the exact same time. In my bravest moments, I attempt to disprove to my child self that she is unworthy of love but it’s still an ongoing battle. Yesterday’s wounds are not so easily forgotten. The expectations I once felt pushing down on me from above somewhere along the way became the same ones I hold for myself. Now, when I feel unlovable and my child self cries inside, I’m the one drawing first blood. Ready at a moment with insults and accusations dovetailed with hope of change.
I don’t want this to define the rest of my life. Neither my child self screaming for acceptance nor my adult self callously rejecting her in favor of quick-fixes. I want peace. Safety in myself. To know that I am enough and worthy of love. Fuck categories.
But first a truce between the warring parts of me. Acceptance for where I’ve been, what I’ve endured, and the uncertainty of where I am going.