*disclaimer: long read //
I promised to give you guys PT. II of “how my trip to Brazil changed my life for the better,” but quickly realized you’d, first, need to understand my journey, past, and constant battles with myself, appearance and intelligence before I brag bout Brazil making me this super confident person that has all the keys. And, trust me, I have one key right now… still working on getting the master.
I was born a six pound, seven ounce little thing back on Wednesday, July 22, 1992 at 6:35PM (please, read me and tell me about my zodiac). I grew up pretty normal (health wise) with some minor issues here and there, but nothing super deadly where I was in and out of the hospital (thank god). I was a very frail and twiggy girl up until about the age of eight. And, while I didn’t know much about the media and body image, I knew one thing: if a boy once liked you, but doesn’t now, and the only thing about you that has changed is your weight, you’re not desirable as a “bigger person.” Yeah, I learned that loaded topic at the age of eight, after having THREE crushes in 2nd grade to them all turning on me in the 3rd once I started gaining baby fat.
Amanda, you were seven… why were you even thinking about boys? Listen, I was never “fast” – just always observant. I watched a lot of movies, family members, friends, etc. Having crushes was innocent… the “o.m.g. he held my hand” innocent. However, having those same crushes deny me due to body changes was real. It didn’t help that my super Puerto-Rican abuela cooked me meals grown men typically eat for “early dinner” or gave me money to buy two (not one) bacon egg and cheeses for breakfast. Oh, and best believe she gave me money to buy garlic knots or whatever other after-school snack I wanted on my way home. every…day. My stomach kept stretching on the inside, and I kept growing on the outside. I wasn’t blessed with the rapid metabolism or desire to play sports or be active. I was also a loner, and it was extremely hard for me to make friends, so most of my “activities” involved playing video games at home or making up superior lives for my barbie/bratz dolls.
Wake up, fat, school, fat, dinner, fat, sleep, repeat.
It was in 5th grade that I realized I was “fat”. I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t a cool girl, I wasn’t desirable as a friend, I was just there with my one other “fat” friend Maria. I had no life, no friends, no confidence and nobody to really talk to about it all. Who wants to admit out loud that they’re fat? Who wants to tell their family that they have no friends and are a loser? Nobody… so, naturally, I kept it all bottled up and just became a poet. I channeled all my emotions into writing (although I started writing songs at the age of seven) and used it as an outlet to feel better about my life that was prettyyyyyy bleak outside of all the privileges my mom worked hard to give me.
That’s when I felt special. I would get praises from adults like, “wow you’re so talented,” or, “how do you write so maturely and put words together like that?” I would always smile and feel proud or accepted as who I was, and that was just a really depressed child. It was so easy to mask my (what I now know as) depression because I was, now, TALENTED. I was gifted. I was interesting.
I wasn’t just the fat girl in the back of the room who lost all her friends in school because they left her for new, cooler, skinny, prettier ones. I wasn’t the fat girl who would run home from school, straight to the pizzeria, to eat garlic knots in shame in her home. I wasn’t the fat girl that had no friends or no life because her mom was so strict and always working, leaving little room for outside (unsupervised) playtime. I was Amanda, the young girl who was “far beyond her years.” The poet. The artist. I wasn’t just a fat girl. I was a inspirational fat girl.
Let’s move onto junior high school, where I learned that people are just… mean. And, if I wanted to be accepted, or, hell, even acknowledged, I would have to be just as mean.
It was 6th grade, 11 years old, in Manhattan NYC at Holy Name (catholic school), where I freaked out about going to a new school. Of course, we all freak out about the grade to middle school transition… But, you see, Holy Name was one of those pre-k-8th grade schools that everyone stayed in from almost beginning to end. Me? I came in during the 6th grade, meaning everyone already formed bonds, had cliques and had history. I was the “new girl”. Now, had I not been “fat” – that would have been cool. I would have been the desirable one… the “new” one that everyone wants to know about. But, I was fat… so I was just a “new girl” that people wanted to figure out the reason behind my presence at their school.
I soon realized, however, I wasn’t the only “big” girl… It was almost refreshing to see girls equally as big if not more than myself. I didn’t stand out, at all. And, that’s always been another one of my issues – I don’t stand out. I don’t grab attention of anyone, I blend into the background. I’m a natural fly on the wall, and it’s mostly because of my personality type. That’s fine… But, Holy Name gave me that tentative light at the end of the tunnel… I can make friends! I can be someone! Actually, I could be anybody I want to be because nobody knows me.
So, that’s what I did. I went from my shy, quiet, reserved 5th grade self to the over-compensated, aggressive and intimidating 6th grader. If anyone was going to be my friend it wasn’t going to be because they wanted to… It was going to be because they feared me enough to want to be on my side. I, somehow, convinced these Manhattan folks that I was a crazy-tough Bronx chick. Like, razor blade in your mouth type… The boys ate it up and wanted to be my homie (awesome) and some of the girls thought I was a “G” and wanted that in their life. It was odd. Being an 11 year old, looking back, was odd for me. It was a lot of pretending, making up stories from my past to have an exciting life, and lying… I lied a lot. I lied about what I liked, I lied about past stories, I lied about what I did after school to prevent anyone from knowing I was always grounded. I just… lied. And, it became me. I became “Amanda” to them and whoever to myself.
Then, I passed out on a train one day.
Long story short, the doctors told me I was borderline diabetic. AWESOME. Like, literally… just one more thing I need to hide from the world and, quite frankly, myself. I had to go on this crazy-strict diet and change my lifestyle, if I didn’t want to depend on insulin or inject myself every day like my grandfather. It was tough. It was challenging not being able to eat certain things with my mom, but having a dad who gave me whatever. It was kind of like… ok ? so, I’m borderline diabetic at mom’s house, but a normal girl at dad’s… and I wasn’t. It was an uphill battle that eventually helped shave off all my baby weight.
I was skinny!
Okay, no I wasn’t… but, I wasn’t “fat”. I was normal – I was a regular growing girl (although I still thought being a size 5/7 in 8th grade was too fat). I had boys that were interested in me the following year. I had “cool” girlfriends, “pretty” girlfriends. I had a home in Holy Name and finally felt like I belonged somewhere. Even if it was all a lie… even if my dramatic, emotional self conjured up cool stories to make everyone want to be around me. I mean, I was still me, you know? I was still empathetic, passionate, compassionate, intelligent, artsy, complex, etc. I just had cooler, fabricated, stories to support all of those amazing qualities. I wasn’t pretending to be anyone but myself… I was just pretending my life before Holy Name was cooler than it actually was.
Liar or not, I had friends. I had a life. I had fun. I wasn’t depressed anymore… well, as depressed. I did go through a lot of emotional and physical drama… Typical “my world is ruined by my mom,” “my boyfriend broke up with me,” “my friend is a backstabber,” an 18 year old took advantage of my 12-year-old self, yet I was the blame… You know, other stories for other days.
Holy Name set a foundation for my confidence, even though I lacked it and couldn’t see it at the time. I realized, it didn’t matter about my past – I could have made anything up – it was just about getting someone to like me… I think I just made up my past because I wasn’t sure “just me” was enough. I mean, “just me” had never been enough, so why would that change at a new school? I took lifelong lessons and left behind what I thought would be life-long friends, and went off to high school where I realized… I was confident with my self and what I contribute to anyone’s life, but I still wasn’t confident in myself.
High school was a stressful, surreal blur, so I’ll spare you the details that are irrelevant to the story. I talked to a lot of boys. HEY! I lost my baby fat, I looked better, I was maturing… it was time for people to notice me. It was time for boys to notice me. I wasn’t just the “fat friend” anymore, I had potential to be a prospective. Freshman year, I had this boyfriend named Henry. I thought he was the cutest boy in the school (false) and that he was so cool (false). Everyone always laughed at me, questioned my interest and said you could do better, but I didn’t care. Fast forward – he’s my boyyyyfriendddddd and I’m super excited. I had my first real boyfriend in high school and I could slip cute notes into his locker. You know, television show stuff.
He was super mentally abusive though, and I didn’t realize until yearssssss after we broke up. He would tell me things like “oh, you could lose a little weight here,” or, “you could do your hair better,” or even, “take a breathe mint and eat them more often, if you’re going to be kissing me.” Like, things that my 14-year-old self thought was normal. And, he would mask it as, “I was doing you a service. I was building your character.” You now, as if he was righteous enough to be assigned that task. As if I asked for him to build my character. He didn’t build anything but my hatred towards men. That was when I realized I was a soft feminist (before that word was a thing). After him, I crusaded for all my girlfriends who were mentally abused or talked down to, I wasn’t afraid to be that aggressive person I molded myself into at Holy Name and shut boys down. I wasn’t afraid to be thrown in any pits of fires giving guys upper hands to “shit on me” because, quite frankly, that was my whole life. There was nothing anyone else could say to me to make me feel anymore bad about myself. I was proud to be bossy, I was proud to be intense. I was proud to finally be a secure version of me.
But, I still wasn’t confident. I still depended on the satisfaction of guys. I got off on having this “power” over men, when really… I had no power. I felt as though I was finally pretty enough to play the “tease game” and get guys to want me knowing damn well I didn’t want them. But, that just heightened my insecurities because, then, I relied on that. I didn’t feel pretty, if I didn’t have someone to toy with. I didn’t feel special, if I didn’t have boys to talk to via AIM. It was a never-ending cycle of look at me, want me, you can’t have me, but I need you.
I dated a lot of weird, shitty boys because of that. I gave a lot of weird and shitty boys my time, my energy, my emotions… because of that. I had long relationships with “aint shit” guys because of that. Most importantly, I set myself up for failure and heart break any time I got close to someone… because of that. My high school career was amazing, academic wise. I was a nerd – honor society things. But, because I was so good at school, and it came naturally, a lot of my time was spent trying to find someone to accept me. I was looking for it in all the wrong places, not realizing, I didn’t fully accept myself yet… Then, I went to college and found out, I’m not as accepted in the world either.
(to be continued)