26. The Curvy Sister

26. The Curvy Sister

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

The Curvy Sister

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

I was born the third of nine children, but growing up, people always assumed I was the oldest. I was taller than one older sister and more filled out than the other. It was a source of pride for me in some regards. I could hit a softball farther, run faster, and raid Mom’s closet at an earlier age. My size threw our family pecking order out the window, as my older sisters viewed me as their equal instead of a pesky little sister. I felt more than just confident about the way I looked; I felt unique and special, and I never gave my size or shape much thought. I was just happy to be me.

That changed one fall afternoon when I was thirteen. I was hanging out with one of my best friends, a boy my age who had yet to hit his growth spurt. He was shorter than me, pencil thin, and really funny. We hung out whenever we could and talked about everything under the sun. Maybe that’s why he thought it was okay to say something that changed how I saw myself for years to come.

We sat in my back yard, under the shade of a massive oak tree. It was one of those completely ordinary afternoons. I found a small stick in the grass and slowly peeled the bark away with my fingernail while we talked about things like school and homework. Then I glanced up to find him looking at me with a rather cryptic smile on his face. I knew this expression all too well — it usually meant he had something he really wanted to tell me. I expected he had a juicy bit of gossip to share, or maybe one of his funny stories, but I never expected what actually came out of his mouth.

“You won’t believe what my mom said last night,” he said, watching me out of the corner of his eye. I didn’t find this strange at first. He was always fighting with his mom about something. But then he said, “Oh, no. Never mind. I can’t tell you.”

Something in his voice got my attention. I suddenly had the feeling that whatever his mom said was about me. I wasn’t particularly worried though, because she and I had always liked each other. I sat up a little straighter and looked at him. “Oh, come on,” I said. “You can’t say something like that and then not tell me.”

He squirmed uncomfortably and shook his head. “No, I can’t tell you.” A nervous shiver ran through me. I had the sense that maybe she said something not-so-nice about me. But there was no going back now. I had to know.

“Oh, come on.” I punched his shoulder. “Just tell me.”

“Okay. She said . . .” he paused for a dramatic, deep breath. “She said you have a chunky butt and chunky legs.”

For a moment or two, I just sat there, staring stupidly at the nervous smile on his face. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind: How could she say that? Did she, someone I had always trusted, really think that or was he making this up? Why would he say something like this to me? Did he think it was funny? Did he think it was true? And worst of all: Was she right? Was there something wrong with the way my body looked?

I imagine my face went white, then red. My throat felt tight with tears, but I refused to cry in front of him. By the time I staggered to my feet and began speed walking to the back door, my friend knew he had made a terrible mistake. He hurried to catch up. “Wait! Where are you going?” he asked.

I shoved him away and said, “I’m going inside.”

He jumped in front of me and said, “Are you mad?”

Was I mad? Obviously. “What is wrong with you?” I finally yelled. “Why would you say that to me?”

I ran into my house, slammed the door, and hurried to my room. I barely made it there before the tears came. I no longer felt unique and special, or proud to be me. I felt ugly and broken.

Later that night, in a rare display of teenage wisdom, I opened up to my parents about what happened. When I got to the “chunky butt and chunky legs” part, I wanted to curl up and disappear. I could barely get the words past my lips. But I forced them out, unable to look at my parents as I finished recounting what happened. I stared at the brown living room carpet instead, holding my breath and waiting for one of two things. Either they would tell me she was right or they would become indignant and angry and tell me she was wrong.

In a world of impossible ideals and a thousand different definitions for what makes a person attractive, there is only one opinion that really matters. Mine.

But my dad did neither. He simply said, “What do you think? Do you think she’s right?”

This surprised me, but I mulled it over. My jeans were a size 6. No matter how I felt about my body, I couldn’t call a size 6 “fat.” I said to Dad, “No. I don’t think she’s right.”

Dad sat back. “Then that’s all that matters.”

I left the room not quite convinced that Dad was right about this. It seemed too simple a solution. For many years to come, that afternoon stuck with me. As much as I wanted to be happy with my body, I couldn’t fully take Dad’s advice. Instead, I tried to make peace through diets, exercise, and creative clothing choices.

It’s taken me nearly thirty years to realize Dad knew what he was talking about after all.

I am now twice the size I was that day, but I’m happy to be me again. I see my curves as a sign that I’m healthy and strong, and I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. And I’ve learned a valuable lesson along the way: In a world of impossible ideals and a thousand different definitions for what makes a person attractive, there is only one opinion that really matters. Mine.

And I think I am beautiful.

~Debra Mayhew

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