How Comments During My Childhood Impacted My Body Image In Adulthood

by Dehlia Dennison Northup
Dehlia Dennison

Fat. That has been a swear word in my vocabulary for as long as I can remember. As a somewhat chubby kid, I can remember an aunt saying to me, in my kitchen, “Only plain turkey, nothing else, that’s all you can eat.” And I managed to squeak out, What about mustard? And she curtly replied, no. Her obvious opinion that my body needed changing has never left me. I was a child.

As an early teen, I can remember a creepy male family member saying to me, “You need to lose weight, everyone thinks so.” I was 5’5 and 140-150 pounds. Not a stick by any means, but not the morbidly obese person they apparently saw when they looked at me. They saw something that needed changing. I was a child.

At the prom, when I wore a dress that accentuated my curves and made my waist look tiny, I was told “You look beautiful, your waist looks so small.” I was more than inches on my waist.

A couple of years later at a wedding, I knew I had gained weight. By then it was ingrained in me that fat = failure. No one said anything, but my inner dialogue said it all anyway. I was more than inches on my waist.

When I went off to college, I was told, Be careful. You’ll gain the freshman 15. I gained probably the freshman 25, but I made friends, got good grades, found my way. I was more than a number.

I started dating someone who would become the love of my life. I lost weight, but he loved me before that. He saw me for me. I was more than a number.

When I looked thin, my family would say, “Wow, you look great, keep it up, don’t stop.” If I didn’t look thin, they said nothing. I had thoughts, opinions, feelings. Their silence said I was fat and nothing more. I was more than a number.

My body has given birth four times to healthy, fat babies. I chose to see their fat as a celebration of their health. A celebration that my body nourished them for 9 months, pushed them out, brought four people into this world. My body was strong.

My body nursed four babies, kept them fed, warm, and thriving. These breasts that I wish were smaller, perkier, higher, kept four children alive. My body was strong.

My body held my husband as we danced on our wedding day. My hands held his as a promise to always be there for each other. Even when we fantasize about shoving the other in a wood chipper. My body made promises.

My hands held my husband’s head as he cried from PTSD. As the stories poured out of him, my hands healed him and showed him I’ll never let go. My body made promises.

My hands and arms held on to my father for dear life, knowing it would be the last time I would get that privilege. My voice sang to him and my eyes showed tears that I feared would never stop. My body showed love.

My legs have run after my children when they’re hurt, they’ve pedaled a bike and played soccer. Kicked in the ocean and taken walks. My body IS strong.

My husband tells me I’m beautiful every day. I wish I could see myself through his eyes. To be able to look past every wrinkle, every dimple and imperfection, and just see beauty. What a gift that would be. My body is loved.

My mind is smart, my voice is bad, my eyes twinkle, and my arms hug. My hands cheer you in your victories and hold you in your sorrows. Can my life be measured by the size of my jeans? Will I be happier at a size 14 instead of a size 16, then a size 12? Then what? When do we get to choose happiness?

My New Year’s resolution is to choose happiness now. I will get stronger. I will always aim for healthier. But my body is so much more than cellulite and a “muffin top.” My body has done so much in the 40 years it’s been here. My ears have listened to amazing music. My eyes have seen beautiful waterfalls, mountains, the smiles of people I love. My hands have felt the softness of my baby’s skin, the coldness of a new snow, the heat of the summer, the crispness of fall.

My heart has been blessed more times than I can count. And it’s been hurt that many times too. Lessons are part of life. My body has been there for me, through all the beautiful moments and all the bad. It’s taken me 40 years to appreciate it. But I’m finally there. My body is strong.