A while ago my dad unearthed some home videos that we decided to transfer to DVD. I recently took a quick pass through them to make sure they were as expected, and it was a fascinating tour down memory lane. What caught me by surprise, though, was my reaction to seeing my younger self, particularly two instances.
The first was when I was eleven. That was the year my weight gain really started. Not that I’d been skinny before, but this was different. I watched as the younger me, clearly not accustomed to the new reality, struggled to climb into a tree. It was my favorite cedar tree on Swan Island, with low, easy branches that I had clambered up every year since I was four. My heart ached as myself at eleven suddenly found this hard, especially knowing how much worse was to come before it got better. (I did, at least, finally get into the tree.)
The second instance was when I was nineteen and twenty, watching my niece’s first year. At the time I weighed about 240 pounds, so not quite my heaviest but not too far off. The first glimpse of me was just a bit of my hair, my profile, and a hand, and before I quite realized it was me, I thought, “She’s pretty.”
Then the irony struck. When I was heavy, I had never been able to think of myself as pretty or attractive. Occasionally I might concede that I liked my hands, or perhaps my face wasn’t bad, or my hair was nice, but the whole of me, taken together? Perish the thought. I was too grotesquely fat for such a slight word to apply to me.
Yet watching myself now, from my older and thinner and more experienced perspective, I recognize that despite my earlier alarming size, I was pretty. Not conventionally so, but I had a certain grace. Not that being pretty is the most important thing in the world, but when you’re a teenager, it’s fairly important, and I wish I’d been able to recognize it then.
Then as I watched my interactions with my family, I realized something else. Back then, I was convinced that no one could love me as I was. Again, I was blind, because now I see a different truth. My family did love me, and no one made this more evident than my niece.
Yes, she was only a baby, but babies can be quite discerning. Then, and as she got older, she wasn’t shy about giving me hugs and kisses and telling me she loved me and generally getting excited when she saw me. This was even somewhat apparent on the day she was born. I remember holding her, and she immediately relaxed and snuggled comfortably against me. Her mother, impressed, said, “I think she likes you.” But I didn’t take that into account when I considered that I might be lovable; I was too judgmental of myself to accept the non-judgment of others.
It was both fun and sad to watch and remember, knowing how badly I thought of myself then, wishing I could go back and tell myself that I didn’t deserve such malignity, that I was lovable and yes, even pretty. I’m not sure I would have believed it, but it would have been nice to hear.