I went to a Catholic school growing up and, unlike our counterparts in public schools at the time, we had uniforms. Ugly uniforms. Boys had to wear gold – not yellow, gold – polo shirts and blue slacks. Thankfully once I got to 6th grade, the school uniform had shifted to a more reasonable but stain-prone white button-down shirt.
And during my time growing up, my body changed quite a bit. I gained a lot of weight after the first grade, went on a terrible diet before sixth grade, and gained it all back in seventh grade. The emotional and spiritual cost of these changes, the diet in particular, are tremendous and are things I still live with to this day.
As a consequence, I've struggled with and spent much energy on my physical appearance over the past couple decades of my life. I have always been hyper-aware of the way I look and I have always been concerned with being judged by my body. It is a default that I carry with me.
One example I think about is that ugly uniform. I think back to the way that uniform felt on me. It felt tight and restrictive, especially once I gained weight. The pants were tight in the waist, and a belt was even tighter, many days to the point of pain. My pants sizes moved squarely into "husky" territory, and sometimes, those pants had to be special ordered. All the while I got this image of my body in my head, and thought for certain that clothing had to fit a certain way. It had to be a little painful and not very forgiving.
Similarly, a couple of years ago I tried on a rather dapper shirt at a store. It looked great when I was standing up in the dressing room. It was a little... shall we say... fitted. But I was driven by the size of the shirt. It was a small. See, so wearing it would mean... I was small. I'd not been small before. That was exciting to parts of me! So I bought it. I wore it to work the next day and remember that I was in pain – in actual pain – from having a too-tight shirt. I remember getting back in the car for the drive home, unbuttoning the shirt, and just being able to fucking breathe. That incident caused me to really reflect on how I treat my body. And I returned the shirt. And I apologized to myself, and worked with myself, for I had really set myself up to fail.
These aren't isolated feelings. My mind can easily spin up several incidents regarding my body and the way others hurt me because of it. All of these experiences set me up to be in a place where I was disconnected from my body, at war with it many times, because I didn't feel comfortable in it. It is only within the past several years that I have started to slowly, slowly unpack these feelings and address them as I see fit.
Still, these experiences drift into my mind now and then. They show up when I try on pants that are just a smidge too small, or shoes that almost fit. They gently, subtly reinforce this notion that my body is wrong in some way. At the same time I've made wonderful efforts towards acceptance, self-love, and self-care, there is still a part of me inside that agrees.