It was Valentine’s Day, 1994. I was 11 years old and in 6th grade.
I was rocking the coolest Joe Boxer heart boxer shorts over my tights. My red t-shirt had just enough feminine flair without being overly girl. My hair was perfect, and my dear mother had even let me wear just a little bit of make-up that morning.
It was going to be the perfect day.
1st period passed, and I laughed and joked with my friends and life was feeling as grand as I could have hoped. I had received a few Valentine’s and given a few, and I just knew that the best was yet to come.
2nd period came, and it was my favorite class, Reading, with my favorite teacher Mrs. White. We discussed and read aloud some of the book we had been reading as a class, and then she left about 10 extra minutes at the end of class for us to just eat candy and giggle and converse with each other on this special day.
The bell rang, and I grabbed by bag to move along for a quick stop at my locker before math class. Mrs. White ran out into the hall after me and quickly pulled me into the teacher’s bathroom with her.
“Sara dear, I think you are having a little accident honey. There was blood all over your chair after you got up from class.”
Mortified I ran straight to the mirror and sure enough my once cute boxer’s were totally stained red.
“Is this your first time, sweetheart? Did you not know?” she kindly asked.
“No, it happened about 3 weeks ago, but I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to be this long,” I responded, my eyes not daring to look at her in the face.
“Let’s wait till the bell rings and the kids go back into their classes, and I will take you down to the nurse.”
God bless Mrs. White. What a dear she was to me.
She quickly got me to the nurse’s room. The nurse asked me all of 3 questions before she had my mom on the phone to come pick me up from school.
Once, of course, my mom heard the whole story (as I had been leaving significant details out of the situation for weeks in a feeble attempt to show my maturity), she quickly whisked me straight to the doctor’s office.
What ensued were lots of discussions between the doctor, the nurse, and my mom of blood transfusions, anemia, hospital stays, medicine, and a whole bunch of really uncomfortable questions for me.
It was a whirlwind that left me almost bedridden at home for the next 2 weeks and the knowledge that one of the worst days of my short 11 years of life was actually that day that literally saved my life.
Both literally and figuratively.
In my school district, 6th grade meant the merging of 5 different elementary schools into one big middle school. To say I was petrified at the start of the school year would be an enormous understatement. I had established a great group of friends in elementary school, and I was just certain that it was all going to be ruined come middle school.
And in many ways it actually was, but not for the reasons I had foreseen.
By some inexplicable measure, I quickly became one of the popular girls in school. I was hanging out with the “cool” girls in my grade and also being noticed by some of the girls and boys from 7th and 8th grade. I am sure there was a reason for all of this, but 23 years later I couldn’t tell you what it was.
But I was living it up.
The problem with this, though, was I was also becoming one of those mean girls. I had totally abandoned my old friends from elementary school. I was more than unbearable at home. And while I was able to maintain good grades, I also started pushing the limits at school. I am ashamed to say that this included a note to a boy I was trying to impress that included a reference to one of my teachers as Mrs. Fatb****. This letter was intercepted by another one of my teachers, and well you can imagine the rest of that story.
It was not a high point in my history to say the least, but I was so consumed with my newfound “fame” that I didn’t realize the person I was becoming.
That all changed that fateful Valentine’s Day.
Even as I lay on the couch at home, the rumors of what had happened to me at school came flooding to my house. Some were saying I was pregnant. Some were saying I had been pregnant before but lost the baby that day at school.
Now remember, I was 11 years old! 11! I was still a baby who had yet to even have a real first kiss. But the rumor mill spun at rapid pace with all kinds of hurtful and painful stories about what had happened to me.
Let’s just say I went back to school with my head hanging and a whole new understanding of how quickly one can rise and fall.
On top of all of this, I was taking large quantities of medicine to try and sort things back out inside of my body, and one of the unfortunate side-affects of all this medicine was massive weight gain.
Throughout the next 2 and half years, just exactly the duration of middle school, I went from wearing a size 12 in girl’s clothing to a size 14 in women’s clothing. I gained probably close to 40 or 50 lbs., although I was never brave enough to actually get on a scale and see. This happened all while playing year round sports and eating a fairly well balanced diet.
I remember the shame I felt going into American Eagle with my grandma the week before starting high school. She was going to buy me a new outfit for my first day of school. The girl working there was a year older than me. She was petite, adorable, and one of the most popular girls in school. She took my size 14 skirt and hung it in the dressing room for me to try on. It was cute and fit me well, so my grandma did buy it for me with a cute little top.
But I went home and cried in the bathroom about the size in the back of the skirt, and in anger, took scissors to almost every tag on the clothes hanging in my closet.
Even then, I felt that the only thing relevant about me was the size of my pants.
Thankfully, though, all hope wasn’t lost. I had friends that stuck by me and supported me. They saw me for who I was and didn’t care so much about the rumors or the shame.
And as I already mentioned above, in a way those years, that dreaded day, all of the rumors and teasing and shame, all of those things built in me character. I learned compassion and kindness. I fell in love with the theater and the voice it gave me. I began to see people for who they really were and not just judge them for what I saw on the outside. I listened more.
And even more important than all of those things, this painful season of life is what showed me my need for Jesus Christ. I could finally see my sin and need of a Savior.
I can say without a hint of doubt or pause that I am who I am today and living the life I am living today because of that awful and very painful experience.
So what’s the point of all of this you might be wondering? Why am I sharing all of these intimate details on the World Wide Web?
Well, I am sharing because I think it matters.
As I have already written about on several occasions here on my blog, I still struggle with feeling like the most relevant and important thing about me is the size of my pants. I haven’t stopped being the chubby girl since 1994, and even now at the age of 34, I still sometimes think that you would like me better or my life would be easier if my pant size was smaller.
Yep I still sometimes think that.
I decide what I am going to wear based on whether or not it makes me look too chubby.
Deep down I want people to see me as a person that is kind and compassionate and generous and just and passionate and courageous. Actually, I don’t want people to just see me like that; I want to BE that kind of person.
I like it best when you tell me I am pretty or look skinny that day.
Why is that? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we care?
And I have been asking myself these questions over and over again because it is happening now with my daughter.
My beautiful, smart, spunky, sassy, kind, independent, generous 7-year-old daughter is hearing that she is chubby. She is being told that her stomach is too large and her cheeks too round.
Now before my parents completely freak out, I will add that this is somewhat normal here in this cultural. Here you say exactly what you think about a person no matter if it is “politically correct” or not. If you ask someone if they like your new haircut, they will actually answer the truth…not just what they think you want to hear. If you are fat, they tell you are fat. If you are bad a something, they will tell you that you are bad. If your eyes are slanted, they call you “chino” or “china.” If your skin is darker, you are “negro” or “negra.” If you are light skinned, you are “canche.” If you are curly headed, you are “colocho.” And if you are chubby, you are “gordo” or “gorda.”
So this is somewhat normal, and I don’t think in any way malign. But it is still painful for me.
For the first 4 years of my daughter’s life she was the smallest, little petite thing. She always wore 2 sizes smaller than the other kids her age. And secretly I was praising God that she wasn’t going to fight the weight thing like I have had to fight it.
And then she turned 5 and that started to change. She wasn’t obese or even overweight but just filling out and rounding out.
But now I am faced with having to decide if I am going to continue to allow myself to believe that the most important thing about me is my pants size and in turn send the message to my daughter that it also is the most important thing about her, or I can decide to bury this thing once and for all.
Even though I was young, I tasted the sweet wine of affection and praise and even to a certain point, fame…fame on a small scale at least. I knew what it meant to be applauded and cheered and liked for nothing more than the way I looked.
But in that same year, I tasted what it meant to be ridiculed and shamed and made to feel less than, also because of the way that I looked.
We are sending our daughters and our sons messages every single day. We are sending them messages in how we talk to them. They receive messages in how we respond to each other. They are picking up messages even in how we describe and talk about movie stars and singers and famous athletes. With our words, our critiques, our praises, and our affirmations we are telling them over and over again what really matters.
Kids are much smarter than adults in that they don’t just listen to the things we say when we are trying to talk to them about important stuff. They actually watch what we are doing when we put our guards down. They decide what is true and right and good through how they see us live our lives…not just the things we say when we think they are listening.
So what message will it be? Will it be a message that says you only matter when you are beautiful and thin and smart and popular?
Or will it be a message that says you matter because you were first made in the image of God, and He loves you and chose you and delights in you?
Will they see us pursuing a life of wealth and beauty and popularity? Or will they see us with our actions living a life that pursues justice and compassion and love and generosity?
23 years ago, I learned that one of those things fades and shifts as fast as the weather changes, but the other has the power to endure and produce wide and great tides of influence and strength and courage.
So today I choose the latter. I choose to tell my daughter not just with my words but also with my actions that I matter because of who I am and to WHOM I belong, and so does she. There are so many things in this life that are just going to happen to us without any control of our own. There are so many aspects about us physically that are just going to be true no matter how much we try to work and change it. But these are not the things that are truly relevant about us. These are not the things that matter.
But will I be brave enough to embrace this truth? Or will I sulk in the shadows and continue to believe the lies?