I was always a quirky child. I remember playing with other kids in my neighborhood, but I relished spending time alone in a small fort a made in my backyard between some bushes and the neighbor’s fence. Actually, it was just a ditch I dug in the dirt. It was a small and cozy space and it kept me well hidden from the outside world. I would often spend hours in my fort, daydreaming the day away.
It was my safe space away from my mother.
Although my mother never physically beat me, she was an expert at emotional and verbal abuse. She seemed to loathe my presence. She frequently told me to change my behavior and to stop being weird. She was intensely critical of my every move. She often made fun of my appearance and weight. In fact, she once told me I was so chubby I would soon run out of clothing options. That’s right, she said, “they don’t make clothes big enough for you.”
My father would constantly ridicule me during mealtimes about my weight. He particularly loved a captive audience during his abuse. I remember being at family dinners with extended relatives and my father would start making fun of my weight. Comments about what I was eating and how much became the norm at mealtime. When other family members would chuckle, the abuse became unbearable for me, but it fueled his ego and the onslaught continued.
From a very early age, I remember being very aware of my weight.
My first hardcore dieting started at the age of fourteen. As usual my mother was telling me how chunky I was getting, and with high school starting in a few months, I didn’t want to be the unlovable fat kid. That was the summer I went headlong down the rabbit hole. I started exercising excessively and counting every calorie that went into my mouth.
I wanted to be sure my mother noticed how hard I was working to lose those unwanted pounds. I walked every morning for miles. I ate next to nothing. The outcome of my obsession with weight worked brilliantly. I lost almost 40 pounds. I was what my parents’ generation called a “Twiggy” look alike. Twiggy was a popular model in the 1960’s known for being incredibly thin.
I wanted to make sure I lost enough weight to no longer be called a “big” girl. I was finally thin in my mother’s eyes and I craved the attention it brought my way. No longer could my dad call me chubby.
I thought my weight loss would make my mother love me.
It only caused me more ridicule and grief. Now my mother was jealous. She had always been on the thicker side, ironically, and thought that I had lost weight to make her look fat. She judged everything I wore, and everything I ate. I only wanted her love. I never intended to compete with her.
This chain of events sent me on a life long struggle with my body image. My weight and body consumed me for most of my teen years and into adulthood. I tried every diet and exercise program I could get my hands on. I was so focused and so completely devoted to my weight.
Looking back over my life, has given me a great deal of clarity.
Since I was not diagnosed with autism until my mid-thirties, I did not have an explanation for many of my behaviors growing up. I could intensely focus on something that I was interested in, which was my weight at that time. I want to make this VERY clear: my autism did not cause my body image issues but I believe that being autistic made it easier for me to stay focused on my weight as a solution for gaining my parents’ love and approval.
The funny thing is, it wasn’t until after my own autism diagnosis that I realized my weight was no longer an issue.
Finally understanding WHY I was different gave me a new purpose in life.
I could be me, free from the judgement of my parents. I didn’t have to achieve the impossible ideals my mother wanted me to meet. I could be the me that doesn’t have to pretend I’m typical. I could be quirky, weird and autistic. Being freed from an abusive childhood and being diagnosed with autism allowed me to be my true and authentic self.
I no longer had struggles with my weight because I didn’t need to control or hide who I am. Now, I won’t lie and say that I never use a scale, but weight just isn’t my focus anymore. I no longer need to fit into a mold someone else made. I don’t have to be the perfect weight and have the perfect behaviors that my mother demanded.
I am teaching my own daughters that all bodies are beautiful.
I want them to know everyone has value. I want them to know that they don’t have to fit into anyone’s mold. My body image was tied to my abusive mother. Finding my true self gave me freedom to break the cycle of abuse and allow me to be happy in my own skin.
Be yourself, no matter what the world wants you to be.
If you liked this post, you may also like these essays by Megan:
- How I Found My Happy Ending
- How Will You Feel After the Diagnosis?
- Why Autism Gives Me the Strength to Fly!
- What Happens When They Know but Refuse to Accept Your Autism?
Photo by Jean Philippe del Berghe