I think it all started when I was 9 and in Purple Ballet at Bobbie’s School of Dance. I realized all the other girls didn’t look as round as me in their leotards, but I don’t think any of them perfected the soft landing out of a sauté as well as I did. It continued through elementary school. Kids made fun of me for being fat and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting. But at 10 years old, all I really cared about were The Backstreet Boys and how fast I could perfect the Spanish versions of every song on the “Selena” soundtrack while our housekeeper, Esmelda, laughed at me for singing words I probably had no business singing.
I never really had body image issues. I was always a big girl and that was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of it. Most everyone in my family had the same body type and we all loved eating Jewish food on Passover, so it was never really a thing. I was never ridiculed by my family, only by outsiders who were quickly put in their place by my big brother. Surprisingly enough, he would always have my back despite the fact that he was my biggest annoyance at home. But if that isn’t the most clichéd brother / sister relationship you’ve ever heard, please tell me now.
People stopped caring in high school. Everyone was too focused with fitting in, and while I didn’t care too much about boys and who liked me as a friend, I managed to have an “in” with almost every group there was. Everyone liked me for my extremely loud and totally hilarious (and modest) personality. I escaped the typical high school pressures of eating disorders and the need to be like everyone else running around Thousand Oaks High School.
I’ve only had one boyfriend in my entire life. Our relationship lasted three days and all I got out of it was a kiss on the cheek. I think he’s gay now and I’m totally happy for him, but if that doesn’t sum up my entire life in one fabulously glittery package, I don’t know what would.
I’ve always loved the body I have, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sort of hope that someone would see past my body type, into my charming personality and want to date me because I’m a good time and a funny person to have around. But that’s never happened.
Every parental figure in my life has told me how beautiful I am, how great my personality is and how lucky I’m going to make someone someday, but I never really believed them until I fell in love with a 6-foot-4-inch bearded gentleman covered in tattoos. He made me feel like none of the superficial stuff mattered … until he told me he wasn’t physically attracted to me, and that was the reason it would never work between us.
That one hurt. A blow to not only my elevated-but-not-in-your-face-or-cocky ego (my self-image is flawless, I think I’m the cat’s pajamas) but also, it shattered my heart into a billion little pieces. I’m confident I will never fully get over it. I went through all the motions of a breakup, even though we never had an actual relationship. So basically, I was just being an excessively emotional and completely delusional girl. Why wasn’t I good enough? Shouldn’t my personality count for something? Oye, I’m lamenting again. I swear all those feelings are sorted and filed and I’m good. For the most part.
After that saga, the idea of feelings and relationships seemed bleak. I had no interest in getting back on the wagon. I did online dating for a while and, let me tell you something, a girl can only withstand so many awkward coffee shop dates and awful-smelling, cologne-soaked young men. However, I can say with confidence that online dating showed me there are people in the world who like me for exactly who I am.
Everyone says it gets better when you get older and, even though I’m still young, I know they’re right. I grew up really fast in the sense that I moved out on my own when I was 17 and my body image has only gotten better throughout the years. I don’t know how men see me and I don’t think I ever will (because men are from Mars or something like that, right?) but all I can do is be the kind of person I’m looking for. What I mean by that is, instead of suffering for the “perfect” body, fitting into a leotard the way I should or having the type of body society tells me is OK, I should focus on loving myself, having confidence in my kick-ass personality and attracting the kind of man who will love and accept that.
And while Kim Kardashian’s ass and Gwyneth Paltrow’s shiny legs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, accepting what I’m working with is key because, in the words of my spirit animal RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else.” Can I get an amen?
— Hayley Rafner is a media studies junior.