When I was 15, I went to visit my grandparents in Texas. At the time, I lived in Montreal, a cultural wonderland, by any account. I had discovered a little Shakespeare troupe that did a free nightly rendition of "Romeo and Juliet" on the mountainside in Mount Royal Park. Hello, Heaven? I had found it. I went every night that it played, sometimes in the rain. I couldn't stop talking about it. Most people thought I was a little bit crazy, but were supportive and interested. At the very least, they were appreciative of my enthusiasm. My first night in Texas, I could hardly wait to tell my grandmother about it. Romeo was so beautiful, the play was so romantic, and it felt like you were actually in the play! This play opened up a new world for me, and I was ready to share it with my family.
When I told my grandmother, I did not get the reaction I expected. She didn't say, "how wonderful," or even, "gosh I always thought Shakespeare was boring." No, in fact the actual words my grandmother said were, "Well, it doesn't matter how smart you are if you're not pretty." When I looked at her, mouth hanging open, with nothing to say in return, my grandmother added, "You want to find a husband, don't you?"
I kid you not.
Of course, my grandmother totally missed the point, and she threw a painful and long-lasting punch at my self-esteem in the process. In retrospect, though, I don't think this comment had much to do with me. My grandmother had struggled with her weight her entire life. She was always either on a diet, or lamenting about how "bad" she was, how terrible it was for her to eat, or how she ought to be on a diet. Her weight fluctuated wildly, although she was thin only for brief moments in her life. My grandfather promised her a new dresses, diamonds, jewelry, travel, and romance if she would only lose the weight. Her comment was a reflection of her fear and shame. Her words dripped with all of the negative messages she had gotten about her body, the restriction and punishment she had put herself through year after year, and her belief in the terrible myth that fat women are unloveable. Why would anybody want to lose themselves in a silly play when the possibility of never being loved was on the line? Romeo and Juiliet was a distraction.
My grandmother's pain is particularly poignant to me this week, as I celebrate my 12 year anniversary with my husband. He has never once bribed me to lose weight, told me I wasn't pretty enough, or even suggested I should "do something about my weight." Of course, if he did, I never would have married him in the first place. But maybe that's the point. Somehow, despite messages I was getting from my grandmother and many, many others, I decided I was deserving of kindness, love, and respect, even though I was not skinny and didn't fit the social mold.
I wish my grandmother could have had one day where she felt as loveable as I do now, just the way she was. I wonder what life would have been like for her if she hadn't lived under constant scrutiny and judgment around her body and her weight? I wonder if she might have been able to enjoy time with her family without focusing on food, weight, or surface appearances. I wonder if she would have been able to appreciate art and youthful love with her granddaughter? In that moment, she missed an opportunity for real love and connection with me, someone who deeply cared about her and believed she was worthy.
It gives me pause to think about opportunities I must have missed in my life because I was distracted by (or obsessed with) negative body image, food, and weight. So many women, myself included, wait to enter their lives until they are a prescribed weight, or until they have the "food thing" figured out. They don't try yoga, or rock climbing, or sky diving. They don't talk to love interests. They don't go to parties, or join classes, or otherwise put themselves out there and live. If I had believed my grandmother, I might never have felt worthy of my husbands' attention, and I might never have let him in. I might never have been where I am now - riotously happy in my marriage with 2 awesome children and friends who love me. That is unimaginable, and it should be.
I found my Romeo, 12 years ago, despite my grandmother's dire prediction. So, in honor of my anniversary, and in memory of my grandmother, I am choosing (again and again) to live fully - whatever my size. I am choosing to fight against the shame and fear handed down through the generations. I am choosing to be smart and pretty, in my own way, and I am claiming it to be enough. I am worthy of this, and so are you.