Do you have words or phrases that haunt you?
Something someone had uttered years ago that has stayed with you and still has an effect on your life today?
I have one word – “stunning”.
I wasn’t stunning enough for the boyfriend who broke my heart back in the 90s, in fact, I just wasn’t enough to warrant the adjective.
He described his previous girlfriend, a model, as stunning, and told me that while I was beautiful, I just wasn’t “stunning”.
This never changed over the life of our 3 year relationship and it is a word that has had a huge influence on my body image over the years.
My body image was screwed up enough by the time we met, having been called “fat” as a perfectly shaped 7 year old, by boys in my classroom, especially during PE. I just wasn’t as agile and strong as most of the others and could not do some things that they could do.
As a teenager I agonised over my chunky thighs, but I just simply have that body type, the one where you never have a thigh gap, not even as a size 10. And I was never even tempted to starve myself. Clearly, not reading teen magazines had saved me from not over-obsessing over my body. Or something did. I’ve always liked my food, but have always eaten healthily, despite a ginormous sweet tooth, thanks for my mum’s cooking. We didn’t eat processed foods or take aways, and even though I still eat like that, the weight piled on in my 30s as a result of anti-depressants.
But back to “stunning”.
I didn’t realise until today how much that has stuck with me. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t remember that slight – his withholding of that word, and finally today I realised that that was abuse, too. I might have loved him and been ridiculously happy, but I was also constantly anxious. I always felt that I wasn’t good enough for him and was convinced that he was going to break it off with me, like he later did.
Even when we got together it felt like a fairytale, because I felt I was so far beneath him. He made me feel like Cinderella, raised up from a lowly floor-scrubbing maid to a princess. He was good looking, rich and had his own brand new car, at 18. I was totally smitten and didn’t give a thought to how he was contributing to my poor self-image. In fact, when I was with him, I felt beautiful, but only then. As if his regard bestowed beauty upon me. And then when he broke up with me, I felt that I just wasn’t good enough and that he wanted to find somebody better. Somebody “stunning”.
If only we taught girls that they deserve respect from everyone around them, especially those who profess to love us. If only we taught them what is and isn’t OK to say and do to them. I know I’m not the only one who accepted below par behaviour and words from the men who supposedly love us, just so I wouldn’t be alone. I didn’t, and still don’t, believe that I am deserving of being treated with respect. I look at my overweight body now and know that I will never be “stunning” to anyone.
I don’t know how I can possibly find love again, looking the way I do. Even though I know of others who have. And that whisper of not “stunning” runs through my mind after all these years.
What about you? Is there a word or phrase that someone once said that still haunts you?
Also published on Medium.