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Becoming My Own Heroine

I had a topic all picked out for today’s blog post until yesterday when I was reading over some of my memoir, and my plans took a detour.

It astonishes me that I can still be as moved as I am by some of my adolescent journal entries, especially from 1994, when I was a senior in high school. I lived it, wrote the words, read them multiple times, and yet I still found my heart breaking for my younger self. Consider.

Maybe living in [Boston for college] will be good - I'll be anonymous [in a city]. That way when someone goes by me and I hear them laughing, I won't have to think they're laughing at me. And I wish I could think that when guys look at me they're not thinking that I'm an ugly cow, but I can't. My body is ever-present in my mind, a barrier lying between me and everyone else, male and female, young and old. I wish my life could be in a book - people in books never seem to be concerned with such things as body image and weight because they're all athletic and trim. They never seem to have fat genes or slow metabolisms or a craving to eat food in secret so no one will stare at them in disgust, wondering why they're eating. Were I in a book, I could face concrete challenges, and overcome them.

Or this.

I look back into my past, and I wonder what I have lost. I wonder if I shall ever reclaim it. I remember a time when I was not ashamed of my body because I had never been taught that it was wrong, ugly, stretched-out. I remember clearly when I first learned that it was all these things, the betrayal I felt, the shock and shame. I learned my lesson well – I never forgot that I was those things. I remember a time when I laughed as easily as I breathed, when I was naïve enough to think no one would ever hurt me, when I was surrounded by friends.... I now expect people to hurt me, and if they don’t, I wonder why. But expecting it doesn’t stop the pain.

Can love be worse than this? My heart, broken, keeps skipping back to the same themes. I wonder why people who don’t even know me are mean to me. Am I that ugly? The Mother goddess would accept my body as it is, so why can’t I? Why did I have to be born in the wrong millennium? Why can’t I relate to my peers? Why do thoughts chase in my head so that I can’t sleep at night? Why must magic live only in books? Can I become a book? With magic, I could be beautiful. But that would be false. I don’t think I could live a lie. Why does [all of this have to] hurt my heart so much...? I have no answers to the questions of pain. All I know is the truth of that pain.

It’s hard to even explain what I feel when I read this now, although the irony doesn’t escape me that in both entries I yearned to be in a book - and here I am, putting myself in one. But it pains me so much to know I thought I needed magic to be beautiful, to have a good life, or to overcome the challenges I faced. I cry as I think about how much I lived in constant anguish, physical and emotional, having learned to hate myself so much because of what I ate and how it reflected in my body.

What makes it even harder is wondering how many others are out there with these same thoughts spinning in their heads, keeping them up at night or giving them bad dreams, or worse, bad dreams that are a reflection of reality. How many teens are afraid to look in the mirror, or walk into a roomful of strangers? How many are unable to accept themselves? How many feel utterly isolated because of their physical appearance?

The only good thing is that unless I read things like this, I don’t remember that I once learned to feel “wrong, ugly, stretched-out”, and mostly I forget what it was like to feel that way. It’s been years since I’ve been embarrassed to walk into a room, afraid of what people will think of me, that I might drive them away with my hideousness. My days are not filled with constant agony of wondering what’s wrong with me, or what someone said about me, or being afraid to ask a stranger for directions, preferring to be lost rather than risk seeing a look of revulsion.

I have faced those challenges and overcome them, and painful as it is to remember the times before, I’m glad, too, to have the reminder that I have become my own heroine. And somehow that seems the most magical thing of all, the more so because it is real and I can hope that by sharing it, I can remind others that they, too, can find their own way out of that darkness.

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