“You know, you should really pray about your thighs.”
What? I stood there in disbelief, dumbfounded. My tongue was tied, my brain on overdrive. “What do you mean?” I managed to squeak out.
“Well, you know the Bible says, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain ‘Be moved!’ and it will be moved.’ So I think you should really consider praying about your thighs.” And he laughed. Caustic. Classless. Mocking.
This so-called “friend” was part of my initiation group my freshman year of college, designed to be my support group, my “safe place” to share my fears, my struggles, my issues during my first semester away from home. Seeing as how my family had just relocated cross-country a mere 10 days prior to my departure for college, I desperately needed someplace to call my own, a place to belong, a group to embrace me and be my family. At that point, my thighs were the least of my worries. Or so I thought.
It’s been over 25 years since that conversation and I can still remember the sting of his words. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing, where I was standing, what he was wearing as he uttered that demeaning and belittling statement. I can tell you how I stood there for what felt like hours after he turned around and left me on those stairs…in shock, incredulous that someone could be so cruel and at the same time so nonchalant. That someone could be so insensitive and yet so ignorant. That someone could think that pointing out my physical flaws – the same flaws I’d been teased about for years, the very thing I hated most about my body, the part of me that I believed kept me from being “beautiful” – was funny…and then wonder why I didn’t laugh, too.
It’s been over 25 years…but I still remember.
And it all came flooding back to me during this exchange I had with Crisana during her piano lesson today. I could see in her eyes that something wasn’t quite right. They were a little too red, a little too glossy. She was a little to quick to react when I attempted to correct her mistakes, a little too defensive. And so I looked at her, face-to-face, and asked, “Are you all right?”
And just like that, her face crumpled, and tears and words flooded out.
“My day was really good overall, but there was this one thing that ruined it…”
Go on, my child. Tell me.
“There was a boy at lunch who was being picked on by two other boys, and I stood up to them and told them it wasn’t right and that they needed to stop it.”
Good for you. That’s my girl.
“Well, at recess, the boy being teased came and told me that the boys I stood up to were talking behind my back, saying mean things.”
What kind of mean things?
“They said…Crisana’s so FAT. I can’t believe anyone would ever want to DATE her.”
Tears. Sobs. Shoulders heaving, ragged breathing. Cutting to the very core of her self-esteem and sense of worth. Belittling not only her physically, but also emotionally. Unfair. Unkind. Unnecessary.
Oh, my sweet child. I’m so sorry.
“Well, I *know* it’s not true…you know, the part about me being fat…and that didn’t really bother me. What bothered me was that hey said no one would ever want to date me. Why wouldn’t anyone want to date me?”
Oh, my heart. Pierced clean through. Thank you, God, for protecting her self-image, for not allowing her to see her physical flaws as fatal. For giving her confidence in herself and in who she is…and in how You created her.
“And I told him I was glad he told me…because if those boys were saying mean things about me, I would want to know.”
Pierced again, with the sword of maturity. Thank you, God, for giving her the courage to face the arrows so carelessly launched her way by others. For giving her the strength to stand up for herself rather than wallowing in self-pity and insecurity.
“You know, I know that one boy doesn’t get to see his real mom except maybe one week or one day a year. And he lives with his stepmom and I’ve seen some of the texts she sends him. I mean, she seems real nice, but some of those texts are harsh. I bet it would be really hard not to live with your mom and I would probably feel like being mean to others if I were him. It doesn’t make it right, but I can understand where he’s coming from.”
Another shot, courtesy of the spikes of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. Thank you, God, for keeping her heart tender, for not allowing bitterness and anger to create rough callouses in the soft tissue of her emotions.
“I stayed away from those two boys the rest of the day. At P.E., I was with my friend and I told her we could go anywhere except near those two. I just figured I didn’t need to be around that type of person. They aren’t worth anything to me.”
And there’s the final blow…dealt by courage. Resolve. The power to move forward, to discard the negative and worthless and embrace the positive and uplifting. To surround yourself with truth…about who you are, and where real beauty originates.
And with that, we were done. All the necessary tears had been cried. The words of affirmation, encouragement, and instruction had been spoken. Hugs were given and received. Smiles were shared. Life was, once again, on an even keel.
“Mom, is it normal for it still to hurt?”
For what to hurt?
“For the bullying to hurt? Is it normal for those words to hurt even after all this time?”
Oh, my sweet child, unfortunately yes. Those words may hurt for a very long time.
Maybe even 25 years. Or more.