“You can’t be happy when you’re fat. No-one can.”

atruthA while back, Bella was getting dressed for school when she uttered words that broke my heart.

“Mama, I’m fat. But I want to be skinny like Kelly. See my tummy?” She pulled up her shirt to show me a beautiful belly that loves tickles.

And I looked at my five year old daughter – really looked at her. The pleading sadness in her big, brown eyes. The ‘yuck-face’ she made as she patted at her little-girl tummy. The discontent in the droop of her shoulders as she turned to look at her reflection in the mirror. It was a sadness and a ‘yuck-face’ and a discontent that I know all too well.

What have I done?

She didn’t stop there. She wanted to be smaller – ‘like my friend blah blah’. Less hairy – ‘like my friend blah blah’. I noted that all the friends she was aspiring to look like – were palagi. Very different physically from her Samoan girl self. They were fair-skinned, blonde and very petite. (Although, at five years old, is ‘petite’ even a real word?!)

It didn’t matter when I told Bella she was beautiful and strong and brave and funny and clever. That her body was shamaaahzing and could do wonderful things. She was still unhappy with her appearance because she was measuring it against an “ideal” that she didn’t fit, and so nothing else mattered.

What have I done?

Among other things, this conversation with Bella, led to my ‘awakening’, my own personal epiphany. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life, my every waking minute – obsessed with my appearance and in particular, with my weight. I grew up ‘gangly’ skinny and tall, flat on both sides – surrounded by girls who were Samoan-style curvaceous, with big and bold thighs, legs and breasts. A nice boy who had a way with words, called me Chicken-Legs. Another added, Skinny Owl-Face, to my name. But I didn’t need them to make me feel crap about my body because I already loathed it. Because it was too skinny, too tall, too flat.

Then I grew up and something called marriage, motherhood and madness happened.  I wasn’t skinny anymore. Now I was too fat, too squishy, too stretch-marked. I did diets. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Soup Starvation. No carbs. No dairy. High protein. High carb. I did fitness programs. Weight training, Extreme Challenge, aerobics, fun-runs. Heck, I did the 102km Perimeter Relay. TWICE. I embraced fitness so hard, me and the Hot Man organized community run/walk events for families. (Except I got so excited about motivating other people that I couldn’t do the races myself because somebody had to do all the registration, race times and refreshments.)

In and of themselves, none of those things were bad. Eating better and moving more are all good things we should do. They can make us feel great, have fun and live longer, better-quality lives. The problem though, was I did them hating my body. Hating what it looked like and what it felt like. A lot of that self-hatred came from being a sexual abuse survivor. Some of it came from simply being a woman in this often screwed-up world we live in. It didn’t matter that I had a partner who loved me and thought my ‘fat/squishy/stretchmarked’ body was beautiful and who always wanted to do wildly exciting things with my aforementioned squishy self. Because the truth is, you cant find self-worth in someone else’s love for you. No matter how Hot that someone else is…

It didn’t matter that I had babies who loved me and appreciated my nurturing, hugs, kisses and snuggles. No, that barely made a dent because I was too busy measuring…weighing…and despising the body my spirit lives in. Its been a miserable way to live and I cannot begin to comprehend the impact my body-hatred has had on my children, in particular, my daughters.

I am so done.

It’s not easy, it’s taken awhile, but with lots of help – I have let go of the body hate and am learning how to love. And live. Food is not my enemy, my friend, my excuse, or my escape. Its a delicious, essential part of life. I don’t stand on a scale anymore. When I’m having a bad day, I don’t blame it on my body and complain about being fat and ugly (especially in front of my children!)  Now, I own my emotions and name them – I am tired, angry, sad, stressed, afraid, nervous  – and food aint gonna fix any of it. When I go for a walk/run, its because I like how it feels, I like having a shot of fresh air and endorphins. Its not about how many calories I need to burn.

I look in the mirror and I rejoice in what I see there. In what I feel. In what I am. I am a thousand stories and countless more waiting to be told. Strength, scars, wisdom, laughter, tears, fears, courage, compassion, endurance, tenderness, faith, questions, passion, love – I am all these and more. It’s truly a joyous way to live each day.

I hadn’t realized how exhausting body-image obsession is, not until I stopped. Its so much nicer to be nice to myself! This has changed the way I view the women around me as well. I am no longer critical of how they dress or what they look like. Instead I can focus on what they say, what they do and how they treat the people around them.

And, I am able now to quietly expect others to give me and my body, the same respect. This isn’t easy… I was in Samoa this week and a dear friend of mine told me, very loudly, very emphatically, in front of a group of men and women – “You need to go on a diet. You have to lose weight.”

Her response, when I very nicely told her that I’m never dieting again and I don’t want to lose weight because “I’m happy with my body”? She told me off. Very loudly and emphatically.

“Don’t lie to yourself. You can’t be happy when you’re fat, when you look like that. Nobody can.”

The old Me would have been horribly hurt and ashamed – and would have agreed with her. The old Me would then have gone home, looked in the mirror at the curves, the rolls, the jiggly bits – and been disgusted. Then made 101 plans for how to try and stop being so ugly/disgusting.

But I am not the same Me. And so I wasn’t horribly hurt. And I didn’t agree with her. Was I embarrassed at being spoken to like that, especially in front of others? Yes. Was I disappointed that a friend would treat me that way? Yes. But I know what place she’s coming from. I’ve been there and it’s a miserable place to live in. So as she continued to reprimand me about ‘living in a fantasy land of lies because you just don’t want to face the truth of what you need to do…I’ve been fat and so I know how unhappy that is…‘ I didn’t get angry. Instead, I was able to say, “What is it about a big woman who likes her body that makes you feel so uncomfortable? So threatened? I’ve spent years hating my body and it had nothing to do with size because I wasn’t happy even when I was stick skinny…”

This is an example of how pervasive body shaming is – even your friends and family can try to do it to you and think its okay.

I am so done.

It’s taken me a lifetime, but I am finally able to say, (stealing a few lines here from some random character in some random book somewhere…)

“I am Lani, I was broken and now I am whole. I am Beloved.”

Beloved, by me – also means I am better able to love those around me. I only hope I can repair the damage I’ve already done with my daughters. I want Bella to be able to read this,

abella

– and believe it, with all of her strong, brave, funny, clever, talented, beloved self.

 

Helpful to Remember: (from Laura Bradley Rede on Pinterest.)

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37 comments

  1. Lani, that was absolutely beautiful. I’ve heard the Samoan “compliment” one too many times in my lifetime – and I so truly appreciate this piece.
    When my daughter came into my life, I wanted her to know for the rest of her life – she is beautiful!! I hope she never faces unkindness for her appearance. There’s enough she will need to worry about as she gets older.
    Sending positive and happy vibes your way 🙂

    1. So very true Evotia – the world is mean enough as it is without us being mean to ourselves, aaargh! I like the commitment you made to your daughter. So much of how we feel about ourselves comes from our mothers…parents…core caregivers. Even the things they DONT say to us, but how they themselves value their bodies and more.

  2. What an amazing turn around, your children will grow up and be very proud to have you as their mom. It is so easy to hate your appearance and get depressed over weight. This post is very inspiring to me, as a reminder to quit obssessing about what’s on the outside, and focus instead on the real person within.

    1. Thank you Tara. Its taken me a very long time to get here. I think about how much time was wasted on obsessing about inconsequential things…*sigh* But can only move onward from here

  3. Well..I’m crying..smiling..my heart is bursting out of my chest with the joy of reading this. Thankyou Lani..and if I may,there are plenty of women I would like to share this with..starting with myself. A friend some years ago who was selling the latest weight loss fad, offered to sell it to me. When I answered no, she looked at me in utter amazement and asked me what would I do then. I guess she thought to rescue me… while making some dollars on the side. I love the way you express what so many of us feel. and I have to say this.. I can’t believe anyone would think you are fat !! and I am Palagi.

    1. Please do share it with anyone you think it might be useful for. I am grateful for the women who have been an example of healthy body-image for me – so helpful with being able to better understand where some of our discontent comes from and how to break free of it.

  4. Lani. What I really appreciate in reading your blogs and updates on FB is the truth. The blunt realness of the truth. Without sugar coating or fear of offending others. That’s what I love and appreciate in you. Thanks for putting into words what most women don’t think about. Instead, we’re all too concerned thinking of ways to change our looks with diets, exercise, and surgery. It can be a good thing if it comes from a good place within. Knowing how to shut out the noise from others, the negativity, the self loathing. Why has it come to this? This aspiration to look like a Victoria’s Secret model? I hope that 10 or 20 years from now our society will change as it has done the past 50 years to appreciate the female form in it’s realness, stretch marks and all.
    Anyway, thanks.

    1. Liz – I have to correct you on one thing – I AM afraid/worried/nervous when I write certain things on here and on Facebook, about what people will think and say when Im honest and dig deep into things that have had a powerful impact on me…aaaargh! So I do appreciate the encouraging feedback because it can be scary to write from an honest place. Thank you!

  5. You have truly out done yourself with this blog. It’s so hard accepting yourself and being happy thank you for being so honest. It’s heart breaking hearing Bella think she is fat. But how can we love our neighbour if we loathe ourselves. I really enjoyed this blog and am grateful for your honesty it’s comforting to know I am not alone. Thank you

    1. Laureen – for me, finding out I wasn’t alone in some of these things/feelings was a huge strength. I am always grateful when I read other of other women’s journeys with this particular issue because I learn from them and their openness gives me the strength I need on my own journey. Thank you for keeping me company on this blog

  6. As someone who’s seen you fairly recently I can honestly say that I don’t know what your friend is talking about. But that obviously isn’t the point. I could also say that I am in true admiration and awe of your understanding because I can say I am confident and happy in my (rather large and growing body) but if a friend said this to me publicly I’m not sure if I would still be counting them as a friend. But that’s not the point either. I love this piece for so many reasons but erhaps most of all because it’s about all the many things our children, and that purest and truest of love, teaches us.

    1. Thank you S. Have to say, I’d heard and read so many positive body image messages before and agreed with them in my head – but it wasn’t until that day with Bella ( and since then as she continues to want to be…blonde…or ‘skinnier’…or ‘prettier) – that my heart believed in the message. Our children are our greatest teachers!

  7. Unless you have some how eaten a sumo wrestler since you were in Brisbane when I saw you, I would be suggesting to your friend she invest in a pair of glasses! You always have been beautiful Lani, beauty is something that shines through from within, nothing to do with weight or fashion. Yes – I too would like to be more healthy, and that involves sheading a few kilos, but it does not mean I or you should ever hate myself or my body and bumps, of course we all seek perfection and have an ideal of what we want to look like. I think it is good you are taking your family back to Samoa, where Bella can grow up to appreciate our pacific heritage in all its bootilicious glory!

  8. thank you so much Lani, this is beautifully written! Very true in this day and age and the influence of the western society on our young peoples’ minds – the glamorous world of celebrities, the latest trend, fashion, looks etc etc the focus is all on how other people’s first impression of us, our physical appearance without getting to know the real beauty inside us. It’s very sad that we have all fallen in this trap for so long!!.We have never been satisfied with ourselves, our bodies and our uniqueness, we’ve always measured and compared ourselves to someone else. I too have stopped all forms of dieting not because I am now all slim n slender but I have realised that for me the most important thing is staying healthy – physically, mentally and spiritually and all of which come from inside us.

  9. Poignant and beautiful, Lani! I think we all get this insidious message that what we are, as we are, is never enough, and our beauty , whether it is full “figureness”, rich earth tones, or the varying textures of our hair, is “less than” that of others… One of the many challenges we face as grown women is to slough them off like a cocoon and reveal our own unique beauty.

    You’ve spead your wings, butterfly, and are speading the message of self awareness, self love. Keep flying and I’m sure all you daughters and the many you inspire will observe and learn from you! Thank you for your honesty in sharing that “dirty little secret” most of us harbor in our hearts!

  10. This post was beautiful. It brought me back to when I was a little girl and did exactly what your daughter did. I looked in the mirror at my belly when I was 6 and said I hated my fat belly. Unfortunately, my mother did not know how to respond to these kind of things and just told me that I am just “normal”. She had the right intentions I guess but I never felt beautiful when I was younger. At least you are very aware and knowledgeable on how to respond and try to counteract your daughters feelings and thoughts. I am happy for you.

  11. Great post! where were these words 45 years ago when I was a 5 year old staring in the mirror, yes this nonsense has been forced on women for that long of a time. I grew up fat, like you said big strong thighs or thunder thighs as I was called along with other curvy features that made me hard to miss, a product of my own Native American heritage no one warned me about. Being the only girl in the family (my mother having passed) I had no one else in my corner, just a bunch of tall skinny brothers who delighted in the teasing saying it was their way of shaming me into getting skinny. Yeah didn’t work! Funny thing, I am the only one in the family with a long term year marriage of almost 20 years and still going strong with a man who loves me for who and what I am at any size, while they have had the multiple marriages searching for happiness. So you keep being done and over it! Keep writing the wonderful words you do! and keep reminding your sweet funny girl she is as beautiful as you are.

    Keep on keepin’ on

  12. amongst my friends, i am that person! they’ve approached me teasingly with it but haven’t found myself offended even a bit. i have sausage fingers that bothers letter A when trying to type S (its terrifying when it comes to hurrying a procrastinated book-report) i’m everything but society’s ideal girl and i took the path less taken-i’m not close to being offended and i don’t go on diets to please them! i love me for who i am, because at the end of the day, its the only person there!

  13. This may be a long post…bear with me. My little sis said she was fat one day back when she was 9ish. Apparently grandma was comparing her to me…I was a stick thin kid, and she was the “chubby” one. I ate a lot, and she kept shoveling food in my mouth beause I was too skinny, and she had food taken away from her so she wouldnt gain weight.. It was horrible. At hearing this, my mom and I erupted in ourtage. Yelled at grandma beause it was mostly her fault, and then we pulled her aside and told her that no one is perfect. That it’s okay to not like things, but that those things you didnt like were just part of how you look, not who you are. Then she said “but sherre is so skinny and pretty, and I’m fat and ugly” and I, right there, took off all my clothes and showed her the pudginess of my stomach that isnt visible with loose fitting/flowy tops, pointed out the stretch marks on my bottom from a bottom that’s not nearly big enough to create such a thing, the thighs that seem to consist of only jelly and no muscle. Mom did the same thing. Not I’m not saying that disrobing in the middle of the living room works for everyone, because I’ll admit, dad walking in to see his naked family was a bit of a shock, and he walked back to his man cave without asking questions, but it worked for little sis. I then explained all the physical characteristics she had that I wanted, her big eyes with the perfectly curling lashes, her large bottom that I only wish I had, her strength, whereas I couldnt punch a 6 year old and even hurt them. She understood, eventually, that no one is perfect on the outside, but that we all can be great, wonderful, beautiful on the inside. Then of course I had to explain the personality traits I envied that she had. It wasnt until then that she understood that sometimes, the one thing you think you hate is the one thing everyone loves about you, physical or otherwise. Now, she’s overly confident about like everything. Smh…15 and has a “boyfriend” and she’s even lost weight through just getting active in school and watching eating the unnecessary junk food all hours of the day. She’s more beautiful than ever not because she’s skinnier, but because she’s confident in who she is, and that came before she lost weight.

  14. How do all of you beautiful ladies start to love yourself? I cannot seem to get past the fatness and how much I hate the way I look after two kids and a life? More power to you and please keep blogging…maybe someday I will get there!

  15. Thank you so much Lani! This is absolutely beautiful! I am sharing this with my daughters & all those women in my life who are victims of this way of thinking. Thank you!

  16. Thank you Lani, this was a BIG wake up call for me…and my little two year old daughter. This post is so true. I confess that I have failed at this, but slowly realizing everything you stated: to love my “post-two babies” self, embrace going for a walk (even if its huffing and puffing up Palisi summit!!) and not treating exercise as a punishment, etc…..slowly but surely, it has been a great change, physically & mentally. And has also made me more aware of how I treat myself in front of my children ❤

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