Who Am I To Be Skinny?

I’ve fallen in love with NBC’s, This is Us. On the surface, This is Us is a show about a family. If you watch it, you will find this beautiful story has more to do with self-worth and how our relationships, especially with our parents, shape us.

The incredibly talented Chrissy Metz plays Kate, someone who has battled her weight since childhood. In Episode 13, Kate joins a weight loss camp. In a yoga-type class with her campmates, she bangs sticks in unison with the group on the ground.

A release takes place for Kate in these moments. In between seeing images of children making fun of her, her father expressing silly faces to cheer her up, and a flash-forward to his funeral, she closes her eyes and screams at the top of her lungs.

The scene caused me to sit and sob for a good five minutes because I related to her pain. All of our bodies are different, but how we see ourselves (not skinny, good, or pretty enough) can affect our every move, despite our size.

I’ve struggled with feeling comfortable in my skin for as long as I can remember. I’ve spent countless hours over the course of my life thinking about how to make my body look “better.” If I could put those hours to good use, I could have earned eighteen Ph.D.’s by now.

When I was a little girl, my dad called me, Porky. In my teens, he tried to pay me to lose weight. Always afraid of my expanding curves, he did his best to remind me of the “importance” of being thin.

I remember one time my brother walked in on me getting out of the shower. After he yelped and slammed the door shut he said through the crack, “God, you are fat.” These messages, stuck to me like wet papier mâché. I know they are old, but these experiences (along with many others) shaped the way I saw myself. My body was bad.

It does not matter how much you weigh, it matters how you view yourself, and I saw myself as wrong a lot of the time.

What stuck out to me in this scene was Kate’s frustration. When does this end? When do I get to feel good in this skin? When can I relax and stop thinking about losing weight? These are questions I have asked myself since age 10. At 41, I’ve finally realized I am the ONLY person who can answer them. How I see myself is on me.

I toiled over sharing the picture I posted above. That is me, in Indonesia, on a trip around the world back in 2009. It was as incredible as you can imagine: eleven countries over six months with a best friend.

Writing a book (that could have been called, Eating My Way Around the World) about my father’s death on the road, I experienced some of the worst emotional pain of my life. My hair is dirty in this shot and I didn’t want to wear that sarong over my clothes, but it was a sacred area and I didn’t have a choice. I am also about 20-ish pounds heavier in the picture than I am now.

I contemplated doing a side-by-side comparison to show you all, look at me now! But I don’t need to. When I look at the picture above, I feel compassion and sadness for a young woman who was lost. I know I have changed in that I don’t have to reject her to love myself today. I can love both sides of myself without comparing. And I figure if I’m comfortable enough to post my least favorite picture, I’ve made some massive progress.

In Episode 2 of TruthDare, a podcast about healing through telling the truth, filmmaker and spiritual teacher, Barnet Bain, explores inner adjustment with host, Toan Lam. Bain talks about how people get to a certain place, make new money, or lose the weight only to sabotage it because many of us feel undeserving. We haven’t made the inner adjustment to the new way of seeing ourselves because we don’t know how.

Over the years, every time I’d lose weight, I’d promptly experience a deep sense of panic and then immediately find my way to a Cuban sandwich. The downward spiral into old habits would surge back in, along with the weight I’d lost.

I didn’t know how to live in skin I didn’t feel ashamed of. I didn’t know how to not be a little bit wrong. I felt nervous being thin and more exposed. I have never known what to do with weight loss because I didn’t love myself enough to embrace it. A shift needed to happen, and it’s only been over the past couple of years that I’ve allowed it to.

Learning to accept who I am, forgive myself for all the dumb stuff I’ve done, and the negative ways I’ve treated myself, is what changed me. Looking within, and thanking God for the beautiful and strong body he gave me, much more than diet, has enabled me to shift.

The process is ongoing and has involved a sometimes painful journey that it looks like Kate is about to embark on. I’ve had to dig deep and find a place where I can love myself unconditionally.

Who am I to be skinny? I’m Michelle Kennedy. Sometimes she’s awesome, sometimes she’s boring, and sometimes she’s chubby (she’ll likely never be “skinny”), but most of the time now, she isn’t putting garbage in her mouth to frost over pain she hasn’t dealt with. All of the time, she is me. And I finally I like her, a lot.

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