Releasing the Pressure To Be Thin

Sofia Alvim, Goddess & Body Love Advocate

May 5, 2017

Tired of trying to cram her sparkly star-shaped self into society’s beige square holes, she chose to embrace her ridiculous awesomeness and shine like the freaking supernova she was meant to be. – Unknown

As a child, I was an empath and highly sensitive. Being this way meant I felt my own feelings exponentially and everyone else’s feelings to a degree I didn’t quite understand. I struggled with managing these feelings as young girl, and one of the ways that I learned to do this was with food.

Until I turned 7, life felt somewhat normal. I was creative, I sang, I acted, I made art, I played, I was active and played outside, I swam, and I did well in school. I was naturally curious, loved to learn and I had an appetite for life. I liked being around others, and I liked sharing myself freely. I was expressive. I was visible.

Things were fine. They were normal, even. One day, my mother took me to the park to describe the reasons why I didn’t have and would never have a father. Of course, I knew I had one and I just hadn’t met him, but until that moment, it wasn’t an issue. I just thought, “Okay, my mom picks me up from school” and “I don’t have a father”. I never felt my lack of the father until she told me why I didn’t have one. That day, everything changed.

I subconsciously internalized that I was not wanted. I subsequently started to rely on food more and more, here and there to make up for what I felt I was lacking. I used food for comfort, and after we moved overseas to Portugal where my mom was from, little by little, I stopped being the zestful child I once was.

Not Fitting in and Losing Pieces of Me

By the time we moved to Portugal, I was a little heavier than other kids my age but not by much. Our move felt like going from Wonderland to the Dark Ages.

It was complete culture shock. There were no things for kids at that time. The country had been out of a revolution only 12 years prior, and in many ways, it was a very backwards place for me to live coming from the U.S.. There were no sleepovers, there were no TV shows for kids, and there weren’t many kid-friendly activities.

The kids dressed differently, they spoke differently, and they acted differently. I didn’t adjust well to the schooling system right away and I was picked on because I was American and because I was, in many ways, not like them.

It became increasingly difficult to be myself in the midst of all these differences and change. I become socially anxious and scared, and throughout I coped with food and lots of TV. I stopped being active and abhorred playing outside because I would be made fun of. I stopped reading, singing, and creating art. I stopped sharing myself. I became withdrawn, fearful, and sullen and not much brought me joy except food or quality time with my mother.

Enduring Verbal Abuse

While I lived in Portugal, my weight was like my calling card. Sadly, it’s what I felt I was known for. It became the first thing people noticed about me and commented on.

Verbal abuse became part of my daily life; I would hearing things like, “You are so pretty. Why don’t you lose weight and then you’ll look better?”

My 8th grade teacher, when I told her I wanted to be an actress, said, “you’ll have to lose weight first. No one will hire you the way you are.”

At the grocery store, when I would go buy cookies, the cashier would often say “Hmmm, you don’t need these, do you? You are already fat enough, don’t ya think?”

I was also bullied by two older kids, a boy and a girl, who previously used to be nice to me and one day turned on me. They would follow me on my way home and yell obscenities (things I would never dare repeat) at me about my body and my weight until I broke down. This went on a for a year.

When I complained about the bullying to my principal, he said, “They are right, you know. You can’t blame them for what they see. You are fat.”

I always got picked last in gym class for whatever sports team was being assembled.

At the end of the year school dances, I never got picked to dance because I was larger than the other girls.  Even at parties at my own house, I would see people couple up and I was the wallflower.

I missed a lot of school because some days I just couldn’t handle the turmoil of being picked on. There was no safe haven except my home. Sure, I could have talked back, but it was not in my nature to want to get ugly or speak out of turn even to defend myself.

Adults picked on me, kids picked on me, strangers on the street, construction workers, you name it. It was hell every day in Portugal, and I felt I had no allies except my loving mother and a few family members. I felt safe around no one.

In photos of me, I always looked sad, and whenever I smiled, it was never a real smile because underneath I was sad. I became scared to meet new people, be myself, and feel emotionally safe with others because of my crippling fear of judgement. I ate more because I became more miserable and I had no way of releasing the extreme sadness at how inadequate and unaccepted I felt. I thought that because I was not thin, this must mean I would never be lovable and, thus, never be happy.

The girl in these photos above, did not know how wonderful, lovable and amazing she was. When I see her, my heart breaks for her for how many years she spent miserable, not believing and loving herself. But it was she who helped me become who I am today and I love her all the more for it.

“You are terrifying and strange and beautiful. Something not everyone knows how to love.” ~ Warsan Shire

Internalizing the Pressure to Be Thin

If you were told that you would never be able to follow the career you wanted to pursue, would never be chosen to date anyone, and never be able to wear pretty clothes, you would probably want to do everything in your power to become thin as fast as possible. And that’s what I did.

I saw everyone else around me happy, not struggling with being the overweight kid. I saw everyone else getting all the new cute clothes and being accepted because they were thin. I couldn’t hold on to myself. I gave into the whole “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” thing and I fully gave in– I joined them in believing that I was unloveable because I was fat, because people were reminding me every day, and because I was isolated.

It’s a wonder I never became anorexic or bulimic, but years of dieting, self-loathing and shaming quickly followed.

What followed was obsessing over food, counting calories, low fat diets, no carb diets, pre-packaged food diets, never losing more than 20 pounds at a time without gaining it back, and wanting to cope with food again due to the seeming lack of willpower and success.

From the ages of 10-23, I spent most of my time on diets until I couldn’t handle it any more. With all the failed attempts, all the gimmicks, all the fads, every single infomercial exercise plan I could muster, all the fucking nutrition books I read, I could have become a nutritionist by then, but finally, I stopped trying and just let myself go.

I let myself stop dieting and started to accept being fat. I didn’t like it nor did I find any pleasure in it, but I needed a rest from all the failed attempts and torture I put my body through.

Relief

In 1994, my mom and I moved back to the US as I entered 10th grade and I felt relief from the verbal abuse I endured daily. I went to a small school because I couldn’t handle being in large groups of people (social anxiety and fear of being judged, remember?).

I began to make friends, I felt more comfortable in school, I started to do well academically again, and I felt some sense of purpose to graduate and this carried me through. I still carried around extra weight and used food as a coping mechanism for my unhappiness and unreleased sadness and depression.

Because I was unhappy that I was fat, I ate. I was unhappy that I couldn’t let go of being thin, so I ate. I felt the pain of others and my own pain and I carried it all inside, so I ate.

Journey Into Healing

At 27, I started a business. I got tired of working for others, and I began to slowly come out of the fog of depression because on the outside my days were spent doing what I loved, but things were still challenging on the inside.

Although I had been in therapy off and on for since childhood, it wasn’t successful until I was 27, when I found the right type of counseling for me. This is when the real internal work began and when my internal healing process took flight. I recognized that I needed to let go of the pain I had been carrying all my life. After a number of years of processing, I began reclaiming the lost parts of myself little by little. In 2010, I finally arrived at the place where my body was ready to heal.

I went on a diet and I lost 60 lbs in 6 month. I lost and lost and, at 31, I became the thinnest I’d ever been as an adult. I was still not thin; I was just thinner. I had never worn anything I liked to a wedding until that year. I had never shopped outside of a plus-size clothing store since I was a kid. I felt good being smaller but I still couldn’t handle being thinner– I was still stuck in fat thinking. Not being good enough, not feeling complete with myself, not loving myself, not wanting to be seen and not being able to own my power fully.

But being thin wasn’t a magic pill for happiness. It was easier to buy clothes after years and years and struggling to do so, and yet, there were still parts of me that struggled. I struggled with the unwanted attention from men, I struggled with people telling me how good I looked because, for all intents and purposes, I was the same person on the inside. It was still me, just thinner.

I started to focus on what to eat, tuned into my body and I developed a healthier relationship with food, but by 2011, my pain sort of came full circle, after I met my father for the first and only time. The disappointment of him being unable to connect with me in a real way brought up all that pain. He cut off contact, and that made it worse. To cope, I started eating more, and I began to get rid of those healthy choices I had been making. I panicked because I was gaining faster than I realized. I went on the HCG diet, and I lost 23 pounds in 23 days and gained 50 quickly thereafter (btw, don’t ever do this diet).

I kept looking into myself and doing the intense processing work. I went through a dark night of the soul. I saw myself and saw what was happening and I kept letting the process work through me. I lost most of what I had gained because during that time I was so lost, I was not able to use food to get through it.

I’ve been doing it slowly, without much attempt at doing so. And it keeps falling off. Why?

Because I keep doing the internal work on what makes me feel and be heavy in the first place.

Taking Out the Clutter

Taking out the emotional clutter and unprocessed pain freed up energy in my body so I could heal even though I wasn’t dieting. I grew up believing that it was all doomed and that my whole life’s happiness was contingent upon how big or how small I was. So the pressure to lose weight and be thinner was enormous.

When I look back at my 12-year-old self, I see a girl who had a little extra weight on her. I see a girl who was made to feel like she was an aberration. It was so fucking hard; every day, I felt like I had nowhere to go to feel safe. No wonder I wanted to hide all the time. This girl believed she was not lovable, that she was not worthy, she believed that she would always wear this badge of being fat on her shoulders and that nothing else would define her.

Letting go of the pressure to be thin helped me walk toward a self I could finally start to feel safe in. I became a whole and healed woman I am proud to be, and none of that has anything to do with how big or small I am.

Many times I have had to go back and hold the hand of that young girl I was and tell her I will stand with her. I would tell her how smart, creative, and wise she is. I would tell her that love doesn’t come from being fat or thin, and I would tell her that she is always loved for being her sweet, true self.

Writing this post was really hard, but I share this story openly because I know that I am not alone and I don’t want you to feel alone either.

It was only I fully reclaimed my body that my healing really came full circle and I found fierce self-love.

“When you are born in a world you don’t fit in, it’s because you were born to help create a new one.” ~ Johnny Stones

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