I was bathing suit shopping in Hawaii a few months back and a sweet little sales associate asked if I needed any help. Wow, I thought, what a helpful woman! Don’t you just love people who do their jobs well? I wanted to be nice, so I replied, “I’m just looking, thank you” which I followed with a jokey “All of these bathing suit tops are so small!” Great small talk, if you ask me. Conversational, silly, and fun. Good job, Carly. You just nailed that whole awkward yet polite conversation. You’re totally getting the hang of this human interaction thing!
I expected a small smile in reply. Or maybe a little giggle, if she was in a laughing mood. Ms. Sales Associate could have said, “well let me know if you need any help” or “can I start you a dressing room?” or even “yeah, the bathing suits just keep getting smaller and smaller.” We could’ve had a nice chuckle. We could’ve had a moment.
I didn’t expect what actually happened.
That kind little woman looked me up and down and said, “Oh. You’re looking for the big girl suits. I’m not sure I have anything for you, but let me check.”
Oof. That one hit me right in the gut. Right in my jiggly, cellulite-ridden, sponsored by French fry “big girl” gut.
Plus, she said it with this sadistic smile on her face. (And then her eyebrows scrunched together and she turned around in a swivel chair, petting a white cat and laughing maniacally at her own evilness.) I mean, in reality, the smile probably wasn’t sadistic. I was just offended and being dramatic. It was probably just her polite retail face, but still… It felt evil in the moment.
Like, woman! Don’t you know that I spent years trying to be the “skinny girl?” Don’t you know that I used to pump sugar-free Jell-O into my veins to avoid being “big?” Don’t you know that I pinched and prodded and berated myself for being too big, which in my mind was synonymous with worthless and ugly and unlovable? Don’t you know that a few years ago, those words would’ve sent me into a downward spiral of self-hate and restriction and Styrofoam rice cakes and celery?!
No. She didn’t know. She didn’t know any of that, because she didn’t know me. She probably didn’t even think I would be offended.
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much power I was giving my own interpretation of her statement. It’s possible that her “big girl” comment was strictly referring to my boobs, or my broad shoulders, or just the fact that I’m a sturdy Polish woman who could (hypothetically) haul hay bales around the farm. She could have been talking about my height. She could have been trying to steer me toward the swimsuits with a little extra coverage, especially after my comment about how freaking tiny bathing suits are these days. She also could have been calling me fat. I really have no clue.
And, the more I think about it, the more I realize the point of this story. That sales associate’s comment was just that: a comment. In and of itself, it was pretty innocuous. She probably didn’t mean anything bad by it. She was most likely just trying to help me find a swimsuit top that covered at least a quarter of each boob.
But her comment, and the way I interpreted it, brought me back to a place of self-judgment.
I reacted to her comment. It made me feel shitty and weird. It made me question my body positivity. It made me wonder if I wasn’t seeing what I really looked like. It made me wonder if people were talking about me behind my back fat.
One comment by one person who I’d never met in my life was all it took to bring me back to that terrible horrible no good very bad place.
I’ve made some incredible progress in my relationship with food, exercise, and especially myself. I’m really happy with who I am, physical appearance included. If you’ve been reading for a while you might remember me talking about body image and posting unflattering #transformationtuesday pictures for all to see. I’m in a pretty damn good mind space these days. But I still have my moments. I’m not 100% happy 100% of the time. I feel like it’s important to acknowledge the fact that some days, I do feel unattractive and somehow less worthy because of that.
I guess I just want to say that it’s okay to have days where you feel shitty about yourself. It’s okay. Don’t make yourself feel bad for feeling bad. It’s okay to seek out help – from a friend, from your partner, from a therapist, from a book – if you feel like you need it. I don’t think getting help needs to invalidate your progress.
You just need to do what’s right for you… You know?
And, when in doubt, grab yourself a cocktail, find yourself a pool, and rock your bikini like the badass you are.