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Dark Days —

September 12, 2012
by

Trigger warning: Discussion of suicide.

This past weekend, our family went to a local school carnival, where our daughters, Linny (5) and Lottie (3), had a blast riding tiny versions of exhilarating rides, bouncing in giant inflatable houses, and playing games of chance that were tilted heavily in their favor.

And in one corner of the carnival, they had their first experience getting their entire faces painted. Linny (who loves superheroes) asked for Spider-Man, while Lottie (who loves cute and cuddly animals) asked for Hello Kitty.

A cluster of middle school girls were also getting their faces painted as kittens or mimes. Waiting alone outside the tent, a larger girl in an ill-fitting t-shirt waited her turn. She looked to be around 12 or so.

When Linny’s face was done, the girl sat down and the face-painter asked what she wanted.

“Spider-Man,” she said without a moment’s hesitation.

My daughter went as Spider-Man for Halloween last year and we got her a Spider-Man backpack this year. In response, several people pointed out to her that Spider-Man is for boys. When Linny mentioned it to me, I told her they were wrong. Spider-Man is for people who like Spider-Man.

This has satisfied her as an answer and she continues to enjoy playing with, and as, the web-slinger. I hope she continues to enjoy what she enjoys, even when confronted with people who seem to think that superheroes are for boys only.

And when I saw the older girl ask for the same face paint without hesitation or shame, I thought, “What a cool girl.” Aside from superheroes being for boys only, there’s another assumption that dressing up as a superhero is for young kids. That middle school age is when we, as a society, begin to pressure our children to grow up and to start “acting their age,” whatever that means.

That this young girl was confident enough to know what she wanted, to wait patiently, and to ask for it without any obvious signs of self-doubt or recrimination was refreshing to me. It also gave me hope that as a young, fat girl, she might have the strength to endure the body hatred that she has no doubt already been exposed to and will no doubt endure throughout the rest of her life.

But I know from my own experience how one can exude outward confidence, while struggling with self-doubt triggered by the words and actions of others. Throughout my childhood, my parents instilled a resilient self-confidence that created a dissonance between what I thought of myself and what I knew others thought of me. I liked me, others didn’t.

Yes, their words hurt, but I’m certain that without that buffer of self-confidence, I would have internalized their insults more than I ultimately did.

I hope that is what I saw in the girl with the Spider-Man face. After she was done and she started to leave the pavilion, she passed another cluster of thin and conventionally attractive girls who were not painted and seemed unlikely to do so. As she walked by the group, the fat girl smiled and waved to one of the girls in this group.

It was a fleeting gesture aimed at somebody she knew and liked, and she kept walking without saying another word. Thank goodness, because as she passed by, I watched the faces on those girls as they giggled about her Spider-Man face paint. Whatever the fat girl’s feelings about the one she waved to, the feelings were not mutual with this group

Like a punch in the gut, my empathy triggered that old, familiar pain of reaching out to someone and being scoffed at in response. It was moments like these that threatened to breach that dissonance and damage my self-worth. And while moments like these definitely scarred my barrier of self-confidence, they never fully broke it down. So, instead of loathing myself as unworthy of the attention or affection of others, I grudgingly accepted that other people didn’t think I was as awesome as I clearly was.

As painful as that grudging acceptance can be, it is the very thing that sustained me through adolescence and into adulthood, and allowed me to salvage my confidence enough to turn my desire to prove my worthiness into the ambition and confidence to express myself on this blog and in the various creative projects I have undertaken throughout my life.

I hope that fat girl has that same counter-balance to the public scorn and hatred, that same self-assurance that she’s awesome, even if others don’t agree. She seemed solid and poised, not a single shred of doubt that she was anything less than awesome. I hope she carries that with her through her own adolescence and into adulthood.

Sadly, too many young people never have a foundation of confidence installed by positive parents and role models. Without self-confidence, the words and actions become the seeds of self-destruction, as the hatred becomes internalized and the dissonance dissolves.

This week is the 38th Annual National Suicide Prevention Week, and as Deah points out in her blog, it coincides perfectly with the second National Weight Stigma Awareness Week, which is September 24-28.

Heather wrote a deeply personal account of her own struggles with self-confidence, as well as her attempted suicide, and explains how weight stigma contributes to suicidal ideation. Deah provides some startling evidence backing her up.

And, of course, there are the tragic results of a society that dehumanizes fat people and fat kids to the point of taking their own lives. Heather created the Collateral Damage Tumblr to honor the victims of weight stigma who took their own lives.

Nobody should be made to feel unworthy of life for any reason, and especially not for the body they have. As parents, we can inoculate our children from internalizing messages of hate and loathing by instilling confidence and self-worth early and often. And as a society, we can take a stand against bullying by defending those who are degraded by others.

There are many reasons why people commit suicide, but one of the biggest reasons is the absence of self-love. If you do not love yourself or your body, then it becomes easier to accept a world without yourself or your body. I hope that each of us will use what limited influence we have on others to promote self-love and to encourage all people to embrace themselves, their bodies and their world with all the love and acceptance their hearts can hold.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2012 12:40 pm

    thank you for telling my story. I had that same self confidence in myself and still do, but I always assume others won’t/don’t feel the same way. It can hinder you and help you all at the same time. I helps you apply for jobs, go to the grocery store, just leave the house. But it can hinder you in personal relationships, like staying reserved amongst new people instead of just making friends, like in romance and dating it can make you reluctant to approach someone you find attractive or believe that someone you find attractive feels the same about you, it can make you feel that every laugh or secret smile that strangers share is aimed at you, when it may have nothing to do with you. This is me in a nutshell. I love me but assume others won’t or don’t. It has made for a very lonely life.

  2. September 12, 2012 1:01 pm

    Lord help me, but I wish it were legal to punch teenagers in the face for being bitches in public! (I know, violence solves nothing).

    • September 13, 2012 10:25 am

      Yeah but think how good it would feel for 11.6 seconds right after you punch them and they come to the realization that they are douches.

  3. The Real Cie permalink
    September 12, 2012 1:36 pm

    I have struggled with suicide ideation since I was in my teens. It is hard for me to form actual bonds with people. My relationships tend to be extremely superficial because I’m afraid of getting hurt. I have bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The borderline personality disorder alone makes forming friendships difficult and having an actual romantic relationship impossible. Some people have flings or dalliances. I can’t even fathom such a thing as if I become emotionally involved on that level, it is all consuming.
    This would have been true for me anyway but it has been made even worse by body hate. I started forcing myself to vomit when I was 12 because I could no longer fit into size 9 boys’ jeans because of my hated hips. I have hated my body ever since I hit puberty.
    People are now seeing that we need to fight against racism and homophobia. When will they see how much damage size hate does?

  4. LittleBigGirl permalink
    September 12, 2012 3:17 pm

    I wish my self esteem had survived the hell that was grade school. I’ve basically had to rebuild it from nothing. I walked into kindergarten knowing I was a smart, kind, creative person…I walked (make that RAN) out of 8th grade years later ‘knowing’ that I was a fat teacher’s pet freak. Sadly, my teachers and parents promoted conformity as the answer to my ‘problem’ – if I would just try and be more normal than the other kids wouldn’t make fun of me for being weird. So obviously all the mistreatment, disrespect and isolation was my own fault for being a damaged human being unworthy of friendship or love.

    I know now it was the kids and not me…but I am still ‘weird.’ I’ll always be introverted and highly sensitive…so making friends is still hard. But at least I realize that I would be a good friend and I am worthy of good friends.

  5. September 12, 2012 5:33 pm

    Coming from a loud, proud, Halloween-celebrating, fully costumed grown-up, I applaud this girl for her confidence and I hope others follow suit. I was lucky in that people’s opinions tended to roll off of me. Other kids would laugh at and exclude me, and it really didn’t bother me much. In fact, my parents were more worried about it than I was. When they tried to get me to wear the right clothes or act the right way, I told them that it was okay, that I didn’t care if people made fun of me. Not only do we need to support those on the margins, but we need to send the message to parents that the problem is not their kids, it is the society they live in.

    • September 13, 2012 10:32 am

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE seeing the fat girls at Dragon*Con in their costumes with NO THOUGHT to anyone about whether they “should be wearing that” – It just rocks.

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