Pretty on the Inside

by Crystal Torres on May 17, 2012

Growing up, my family told me stuff about how it doesn’t matter what a person looks like on the outside, it’s what’s inside that counts. I was praised, or criticized, based on my actions, not my appearance. Somewhere along the line I realized that those are the same sorts of things nice people say to unattractive girls to make them feel better. The lesson I took from this was that I was an unattractive girl, but my family loved me anyway. More than anything else, I have been the victim of my own storytelling.

the victim of my own storytelling

I tried to be pretty. Well, I tried to be thin, because I believed that if I was thin enough, then I would be pretty. I stopped eating around the time I was twelve. I would go two or three days at a time without eating anything and then I would break down and eat everything I could get my hands on. Every bite of food that passed my lips was a failure. I was too fat to eat, I didn’t deserve to eat. I didn’t even feel hungry most of the time. What I did feel was constant fatigue, headaches and mood swings. The thing is, for thirteen years I ate less than anybody I knew, and I kept gaining weight.

Then I became a mom. I ate vigorously through pregnancy. I didn’t get fatter, just healthier. Then the baby stopped sleeping and I understood why cops are stereotyped as living on donuts and coffee. When a person is that exhausted, quick carbs and caffeine are the next best thing to sleep. I punished my body, but not so much out of vanity as from being too overwhelmed to see any other option. As the children got older, and I reacquainted myself with sleep, I began to think about how to integrate that healthy thing I’d experienced during pregnancy into the rest of my life.

Having a daughter is a brutal mirror. It drove me crazy watching my husband tell my daughter she wasn’t full, she could finish what was on her plate. He wasn’t in the girl’s stomach, how did he know? It drove me crazy watching my mother-in-law (a woman who maintained a fabulous figure for much of her adult life) tell my daughter she wasn’t hungry anymore, that was enough food for now. She wasn’t in the girl’s stomach, how did she know? It also made me face what a short drive it was to crazy when even my young children knew that Mommy doesn’t eat. I had to change what I was if I was going to have any healthy impact on who she became.

Around the same time I was wrestling with all of this, I discovered facebook. I tend not to look at pictures of myself, because I never like what I see. On facebook I found old friends and they found old photos and I found a certain joy in sharing these memories. I also couldn’t help but see that I was never as fat as I thought I was. I also have friends who look at current pictures and call this tired old thing pretty. My friends aren’t idiots and they aren’t blind, and it wouldn’t be very nice for me to call them liars. But it’s not easy to let go of decades of telling myself that I am not the pretty one.

How much easier it is, when crushing on a boy, to tell myself that he’s out of my league. He couldn’t really want me. I don’t have to risk disappointment if I banish all hope. I have kept my heart carefully guarded behind the roles of funny sidekick, pudgy nurturer and “just one of the guys.” I am not the leading lady type. I am something comfortable, familiar, safe. I learned to play to my strengths, as I perceived them. I held on tightly to anything that told me I was too fat or too plain, and quickly discarded any evidence to the contrary.

Now I have roller derby. I eat all the time. The thing is, all this eating is not making me fat. Some of that is because I try to eat things that nourish rather than merely placate my body. Some of that is that skating burns a lot of fuel. Recently, I tried to wash this dark spot from my face that turned out to be a shadow in an unfamiliar hollow beneath my cheekbone. I have one on each side, a little hollow that proves there is a cheekbone above it. Who knew? I have discernible collar bones again too. Wow.

Then there is the travesty that is my midsection. It has the same iridescent pallor as the belly of a dead fish, but with the added insult of great long stretch marks running its full length. It’s also loose, like postpartum loose, so much more skin than I am filling. It’s really not an attractive feature, even fully clothed, there is just something wrong with this gut. I was strutting out of my daughter’s school this morning (I always have a little swagger the morning after derby practice) and I noticed my reflection in a window. More to the point, I noticed the shape of my strange marsupial pouch of extra belly in the window. It kinda made me laugh, the way it didn’t go with my carefree sashay.

It’s a strange thing for me, confronted with some glaring flaw in myself, to just laugh it off, “whatever, belly, I don’t care today.” I know that underneath that gut I was engaging my abs. I have the heart of an athlete and the quadriceps of a superhero. I know that every week I skate a little bit better than the week before. I know that I can skip and dance and jump with this body here. I don’t really care what dress size I’m squishing it into. Do you have any idea how amazing it feels to breathe all the way to the bottom of my lungs? Today I didn’t look at my reflection and see that unfortunate looking, unworthy, girl. Yeah, I saw the shape of that belly, but it was just an artifact from the way I lived before, another scar that shows what I’ve survived. I know the way the muscles move beneath that shrinking layer of fat, and not-so-shrinking layer of skin. I feel like a fitness model underneath it all. For the first time in my life I realized, I do feel pretty on the inside.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Dennis May 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm

smile.

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