“She’s got a pretty face. She would look so good if she lost some weight.”
Those were the words uttered about me late one night as we loaded up a school bus to head home from cheerleading camp. I was days away from my freshman year of high school and excited to be on the cheerleading squad, hanging out with older girls that I had looked up to since we were on Little League cheer squads together. I had a grand vision of being Laney Boggs of She’s All That fame – transformed from wallflower to centerpiece. What teenage girl didn’t have that fantasy?
Laney Boggs I was not.
I never let on that I heard what the girls behind me said. It was late and I was exhausted from another long day of cheering and choreography. I hunkered down in my seat, knees bent and resting on the seatback in front of me, and tried not to cry. I fell asleep minutes into the bus ride with tears in my eyes, and by the time we made it back to school, all of us were so eager to get off the bus and into our parents waiting cars that I didn’t bother to so much as tell those girls goodbye, let alone confront them.
19 years later (wow), I can still remember most of the Extreme Routine we learned that year. I remember, too, how hot the gym was, how far we had to walk to get dinner (hey there, chub rub), and how awkward we felt when we realized the other squads had a new matching outfit and big bow each day, while we came in the first clean gym shorts and t-shirt we found that morning. We discovered Soffe shorts that year.
I also remember those words.
“She’s got a pretty face. She would look so good if she lost some weight.”
I’ve been digging into some of the stories I believe about myself lately, looking at long held beliefs about who I am in an effort to continue to grow and evolve. I hadn’t thought about those long ago mentioned words in years, but a few weeks ago, they floated up out of nowhere. I’d hear them while I put on mascara in the morning. I’d think them while sitting in traffic on the way to CrossFit. I’d ponder them while I tried to fall asleep at night. Those words started followed me.
It was time to address them.
On Saturday, I was at David’s Bridal, trying on bridesmaids dressing for one of my best friend’s weddings. If you’ve never been to a David’s Bridal, they don’t have mirrors in the fitting room. You put on your dress and step out into the store where the dressing room doors and walls are floor-to-ceiling mirrors. There are also freestanding mirrors all around, giving brides and bridesmaids – and flower girls – a 360 view of their ensemble. I’m short and the dresses were long (inches and inches too long), so I was focused on gathering the fabric around my ankles to avoid tripping as I stepped out in my first pick. When I turned towards the mirror, I caught sight of a girl in a similar colored dress and thought “she’s pretty.”
That girl, I realized moments later, was me.
I was wearing makeup from the night before, which had smeared even more after an intense CrossFit workout and teaching back-to-back barre classes. I hadn’t washed my hair since Tuesday, the same day I discovered my straightener is no longer of this world, so it was full of dry shampoo, piled in sky high bun on the top of my head, and pieces were falling out on all sides. My hands were dry as bones and somehow still had chalk on them despite several hand washings. And I had a broken nail, thanks to that whole weightlifting thing I do.
All things I noted after I realized the girl I thought was pretty in her blue dress was me. This time, though, I recognized those negative thoughts and dismissed them. I stood tall, took in my admittedly messy appearance, and talked through my dress choice with my attendant, opting to focus on how the dress showed off my toned arms and how the color, while not the bridal party color, made my eyes pop. I chose a different dress – one I felt beautiful in – and left the shop feeling happy with myself.
Those words were said at a time that coincided with when I started to feel insecure about my body. I had always been overweight, but as I transitioned into high school, I became very aware of that fact, and very uncomfortable with it. Those words came not long after hearing another phrase that stuck with me.
“Those little legs are like tree trunks – short and stout!”
That was said by a friend’s mom during one of our riding lessons. My horse was in an especially bad mood that day, and my instructor was coaching me through how to use my legs to not only stay in the saddle, but to add an element of control. She meant her words as encouragement, but all I heard was “your legs are short and stout.”
Those phrases stuck with me, rooted themselves deep into my subconscious mind. I’d like to say I was one of those body positive types, that I wore what I wanted to, did what I wanted to, said what I wanted to say. I wasn’t, though. I hid in the shadows. I tried on occasion to buy cute, trendy clothes, but I usually got frustrated that they didn’t look as good on me as they did on my friends or the Delia’s models and went back to what I knew – leggings and dresses, maybe ill-fitting jeans and a big sweater. I didn’t try out for sports teams because I was “slow,” even though I was actually half decent at both volleyball and softball, and I didn’t try out for plays and musicals because I “wasn’t pretty enough” to take the stage.
No one ever told me those things outright, but that one sentence uttered in the back of a school bus late one night stayed with me, silent but dangerous in the back of my mind. It had the “short and stout” comment to keep it company.
Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say, and I can now see how those words affected me well past high school. I didn’t flirt with the boys I liked because – not pretty. I didn’t wear jeans for years because of those “short and stout” legs – they were always too long, too tight in the thighs, and too big in the waist and I was sure there wasn’t a pair of jeans out there that would fit. I dressed to blend in, not stand out. I tried to tuck myself behind people in photos, or else made sure I was the one taking the photo so as not to be in it.
You get the idea.
I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, least someone agree that I had short and stout legs, but a pretty face.
I became more confident as the number on the scale ticked down and clothes fit better. I really hit my stride when I found strength training and realized that those “short and stout” legs are strong as hell and a real asset in the gym. But over the last year or so, I’ve questioned a few things about myself, particularly around dating and relationships and how I put myself “out there” as a business owner.
Why am I so confident in front of a class full of barre students? So sure of myself with a barbell in my hands? So certain of myself when sitting around a conference room table? Yet so terrible at dating? So hesitant to really open up to friends about everything from a guy I might have a crush on to things I struggle with? So certain I’ll be viewed as a “fraud” if I start sharing the video content I dream up for my coaching business? Why does the idea of showing up every day in my Instagram stories make my stomach curdle with anxiety?
It goes back to the stories I’ve grown to believe about myself.
“You’re pretty, but you’re fat.”
Maybe I never actually told myself those words, but I certainly believed them. I certainly let myself fall into the very trap I coach clients to avoid: don’t wait to lose weight before you start living life. Don’t let false beliefs about yourself keep you living small.
The good thing about the stories we tell ourselves?
They don’t have an ending.
Remember those “choose your own adventure” books you read as a child? “Turn to page 40 for this scenario, turn to page 62 for this one.” If you turned to page 40 and didn’t like the ending, you could reset and turn to page 62 for one you might like more.
It’s the same thing with the stories we believe about ourselves.
Once you identify them, you can choose where it goes next. You can say “well, I’m bored with that storyline. Plot twist!” and create a new story, or even erase the story
You don’t have to stay where you are right now, believing what you believe about yourself right now.
Despite the plot twist! edits I’m making on my stories, I still struggle with the belief that I’m of value. I still struggle with the idea of “he’s interested in me.” I still struggle with the fact that my friends want to hang out with me because they want to hang out with me. I still struggle with the belief that I have a seat at the table as a personal trainer and business owner. That’s the power of a story created by two sentences, one said by a not necessarily mean girl, but perhaps not a nice one, and a well-meaning mom.
My story is changing. I’m actively recognizing when negative thoughts pop into my mind and working to reframe them. I liken it to strengthening a muscle – the more its worked over time, the stronger it will get. I’m working on rewiring my muscle memory when it comes to my snatch in an effort to stop “skipping my hips” and it’s the same concept with reprogramming my thoughts – I’ll work the muscles enough that they will eventually remember the correct story.
The real message here?
Be careful with your words.
Words said in passing might seem harmless, but you never know who may overhear you, or how they may ingest those words. Those words may lead them to believe a false story about themselves that keeps them from living their best.
If you have that story – or stories – you tell yourself, go ahead and say “plot twist!” right here, right now. Start the editing process. Give yourself grace when you find yourself hitting the “undo” button on your progress, and try again the next time the choice to believe that story or change it comes up.
Why do you think the fish changes from thisbig to THISBIG in fishermen’s stories? They edit them.
You can do the same.