There was one insult that, as a little kid, wounded me like a knife to the heart. It was simply three little words: “You fat cow!”
It was my little sister hurling it. At 9 years old, I was by no stretch of the imagination a “fat cow.” But as you know, when you are a child, things are much bigger in your head than they are in reality, and when it comes from someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally, the wound is that much deeper and hurts that much more. At that time, her words were fact, even though she was only 5 years old. I felt I was disfigured.
I don’t know why she started calling me “fat cow.” I know that I am four years older than she is, and obviously, I was always much bigger than she was just because I was older. The thing was, once she saw that those three words fell on me like a ton of cement, she used them often. Those words were my kryptonite.
I began to doubt myself and what I thought I knew about myself. Up until that time, I hadn’t thought of myself as anything but average, but if my little sister, the person who is supposed to look up to you and love you unconditionally, saw me as nothing more than a flaw, then it must be true. What must strangers think? I must be grotesque.
These words became her weapon of choice anytime we had a sibling squabble. This lasted until I left for college. Each time she used those words, I felt immense shame and profound injury. I wanted to run and hide, cry and disappear. Those three words made me feel worthless.
I began to believe I was overweight when I was 9 years old. I went on my first diet when I was 12 years old. By the time I was 17 years old, I was restricting my calories and dabbling with bulimia. At 18 years old, I was so deep into the eating disordered culture that I could barely recognize normalcy.
I was eating maybe 400 calories a day, vomiting immediately after eating or drinking anything (including water) and I was working out for about two hours every day. This was normal for me. This was me taking control of the situation. This was me quieting the screaming of “You fat cow” that played on a loop, like a whisper in my brain at all times. This was me living with what I called bulimarexia. This was me being 5 foot 7 inches and weighing 107 pounds.
I know that my sister never meant to hurt me beyond the moment. I know that she simply wanted to wound me in the heat of an argument. Logically, I know that and I forgive her, but it didn’t stop my mind from twisting it into a dagger, and her words became a catalyst for a lifetime of disordered eating.
My point is this: Be careful with your words because people hear them, and once something is said, it cannot be unheard. It can be forgiven, but it will never be forgotten. I can never forget the hundreds of times my little sister called me a “fat cow,” and it will never be less painful. Even now, many years later, it still hurts my feelings. Her intentions were irrelevant because as a child, it was all about my perspective.
When was a time someone made you feel shame about who you were? What did you do to overcome it?