I’ve spent my life with an inner critic so cruel and pejorative, it could play a role as a villain in a Shakespearean play. I didn’t really have a name for the voice producing this soundtrack of constant abusive thoughts, but after I said my vows to my husband, I realized that I was already intertwined with another being. So, I’ve been calling this Svengali of self-evaluation my ball and chain.
I was ugly. Other children in school told me so. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a plain girl with stingy hair. In graduate school, a best friend would end up saying that my hair felt like cobwebs. Despite being very thin and fine, it was prone to tangling. My mother says my first word was tangle. My hair just sticks to my head. When you put barrettes or ties in my hair, they fall out.
I was fat, not obese, but overweight. I also started to develop my breasts as young as 4th grade for some reason, perhaps the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome I was eventually given as a diagnosis. This drew teasing, because I didn’t get a bra soon enough apparently, at least according to the popular girls who surrounded me during recess to inform me of the problem.
The words of other children bounced around in my head, reverberating until they were my own thoughts. There is no doubt the voice in my head was motivating.
“You’ll never have a boyfriend”
I put all of my efforts into becoming more attractive. I exercised. I starved myself. I developed binge eating disorder. All because someone once said I was too ugly to ever have a boyfriend. It became so important that when I took a personality test in my first year of college, it found that sexuality was my predominant trait.
It didn’t work to try to feel prettier. The voice in my head repeatedly told me how ugly I was. A ruggedly, handsome junior at Luther College worked in the same campus cafe I did. He was the type who looked like he had either just been surfing, skiing, or mountain climbing. Blonde hair with natural highlights cut a little too long. Wind-burned skin with a permanent tan. A little bit lanky, but clearly muscular. We laughed together as we flipped hamburgers and rang up purchases.
One day, Tony asked me out. I honestly thought he was kidding. He couldn’t possibly like me. He was a 10. I was a 3. Laughing, hemming, hawing, I slid out the door. When I returned to work the next day, everything seemed tense, and I didn’t know why. He was terse in his responses to work-related duties and completely shut down on all personal chit chat. The next shift was no better. Finally, I just asked, “What did I do wrong?”
I thought it was rude the way you turned me down for the Bruce Hornsby concert.
Bruce Hornsby was coming to campus. It was the late 1980s; it was a catch for the college to have a good band. This was the date Tony had asked me to go on. He had meant it.
I asked him, “Can we talk after our shift down at Dante’s?” Dante’s was the “bar” in the basement of the student union that served non-alcoholic drinks. He agreed.
We pulled up to two high chairs right in front of the bar. I explained that I didn’t think he was serious. When he asked why, I told him the truth. I didn’t think someone like him could like someone like me. He told me that was sad. I should have more respect for myself.
I played with the straw on my “daiquiri.” He played with his straw. Our drinks were already gone. Things got awkward and quiet. He started to get up.
Well, I guess I better get going. I need to study. I’m sorry things didn’t work out.
I blew my chance to date a hot, smart, and from what the alumni magazines say, successful, man, because of my ball and chain. He wasn’t interested in a girl with self-esteem that low. That’s just a sampling of the damage this fellow has caused.
Now, he’s making a reappearance in my marriage. I have gained weight. It’s not a good look for me. Other people can carry extra weight while still meeting a lot of society’s beauty standards. I’m not one of them. My husband says he loves me and finds me attractive, but my ball and chain talks all the time about how he will want to find a better looking, thinner woman.
He’s a handsome guy as far as I’m concerned, and my ball and chain thinks we are terribly mismatched now. He looks attractive when he goes out in public and I do not.
As a feminist, I don’t want to care about how I look, I don’t want it to be important, and I don’t want it to take up any of my time. My ball and chain chatters on and on about it, anyway.
I know how it feels to be treated differently depending on how you look. I have been dismissed, discounted, or disparaged by countless people during the times I occupied the low end of the rating scale for how hot a woman is. I also know how I was treated differently when I was prettier. So much differently. Reading Leah Stella Stephens description of what society says about beauty and how it affects us was very emotional for me, and I highly recommend it to others.
My eating disorder is still not in control. Getting my ball and chain to shut the hell up is probably a big part of recovery. The messages you receive from media and casual interactions with others reinforce the negativity. But, my husband just said, “I love you,” again, so I need to start listening to other people. Or I might lose them.
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