Colleen Deitrich – Special to CNN, Editor’s note: Colleen Deitrich, a youth advocate for a nonprofit organization in Liverpool, New York, has struggled with weight and body image issues all her life. She first shared her powerful personal essay on CNN iReport.
I am overweight, with kinky red hair that has a life of its own, and thick glasses I’ve needed since I was seven. I was the antithesis of beauty, as far as I was concerned. They say that mirrors are a window to the soul. What havoc was my soul able to wreak, this monster standing before me?
I was never thin or graceful. As a little girl I was average-sized at best. But after age 10, when I began experiencing the changes that come with puberty, I became more stout and large-boned.
In middle school, I hardly noticed. I was too busy fending off the bullies who pulled my hair, and desperately trying to cling to the few friends who hadn’t betrayed me for a better crowd.
I was bullied all around. A lot of people I hung out with talked about me behind my back.
Admittedly, I ate to cope. Food never let me down.
By high school, I was doing what every teen girl does…I read magazines. Mischa Barton, Rachel Bilson, Mila Kunis, and Jessica Simpson, all lithe, flawless women, graced the covers of them all.
I felt like if I didn’t aspire to be like the women on Cosmo, I’d become an unlovable person. No man would want to touch me, and no girl would want to be seen near me.
I noticed all of the skinny girls in school got the most attention from boys. I was standing off to the sidelines as some of my own friends paired off and left me to my own devices. I continued to eat as I was judged.
“No one could ever love me.” This was my way of thinking up until recently, and it was an idea that I had militantly drilled into my head since childhood, thanks to the media, as well as the criticisms of my family (though my mother was well-intentioned).
For a long time in high school, little things she’d say, like “You don’t need to eat now” or “Your face is getting rounder” stuck in the back of my head. I’m sure she wasn’t aware of how deep my issues ran at the time, and that she was only doing what all mothers do: help their kids to be their best.
I was convinced I was an alien species every time I studied my body in the mirror. Human girls were small, delicate, and lovely. I always saw this creature of unfamiliar shape, size, and structure staring back at me, copying my movements. I had different abilities. My home was on a different planet in different star system. I was just waiting for my space ship to drop in my backyard to take me home.
But, no ship was coming to scoop me up. I needed to find a way to escape, or to hide. Yes, hide. I felt society wanted me to hide.
With college came the 180-degree flip that took me in the other direction.
I fell for this really attractive guy. He always dated really thin women, and I caught on. I regret that I ignored all of the warnings I got from my friends about him being shallow and self-interested, because I realize now that his rejection of me was what triggered my spiral. I never even told him how I felt, but a lot of my friends had heard him talking about how ugly, fat and strange I was.
I no longer ate to excess. I drank some, but mainly I abused my body with over-exercising and purging what little food I had taken in.
I reached a weight lower than my high school average my senior year. I was fainting in class and still embarrassed by my body, but I was lighter.
Yet somehow, I wasn’t light enough. Still? Everyone still wants me to hide?
Should I obey? Should I hide my fat? Should I straighten my hair and get contacts? Should I learn how to do “feminine” hobbies like knitting or texting? Should I try to assimilate? Will that really change what I see in the mirror? Will it save my soul and make my future brighter? Will the people I attract be worth the effort? Will they be sincere? Will I be sincere? Who am I answering to?
Not long after school, this past October, I was caught by my little sister in an act of purging in the basement, in spite of my cautionary running of the loud, metallic ceiling fan to mask the retching sounds I made.
Scared, she told my mother, who sat and cried on my bed with me as I finally let my secrets spill out into the open. I was ashamed, lonely, gross and hungry. And I was angry. At my mother. At my sister. At society.
Okay. So I wasn’t angry with any of them. I was only angry at that Girl in the Mirror. She would never change her identity, even if she changed her jeans size. I knew now who she was: Me. I should only have to answer to myself. What do I think?
I am a pacifist, a lover, an inspirer, a friend to animals, a sister, a daughter, a woman. My body is just my Tupperware container for all of these special things. The things you can’t see in a reflection.
The mirror couldn’t tell me this. It couldn’t even speak. Only I could make the mirror speak.
The mirror said, “Hate yourself.”
I gave it a death glare that could strike fear into the heart of a warlord. My declaration of war was silent from my lips, but earth-splitting in my eyes.
The mirror shattered. I have finally won. I went to reward myself with a delicious plate of strawberries that I had no intention of throwing up.