“It’s taken me almost a decade to acknowledge your existence. I’ve spent years ducking you, avoiding people who knew you, praying I wouldn’t run into anyone ho wanted to talk about you. I didn’t want you to make me look bad, messing up everything I’d worked so hard for. But I’m not afraid of you anymore, because I know you’re never coming back.
You were once a bright, quirky girl who excelled at school and loved nothing more than singing and riding your bike at top speeds through your little mountain town. You were so confident then, firmly believing you’d grow up to be a big-time singer or movie star. But somewhere between grade school and graduation, you veered off that path. And at 19, you’ve become hopelessly lost. You rub a fist-size bruise on your right arm – an angry shade of purple from an angry man – and wipe your tear-and-makeup-smeared face. You won’t stay on this downward spiral forever. When you desperately need it most, you’ll find your fighting spirit – a strong, confident woman who would never in a billion years let a man bully her. But you’re going to have to work to get there.
It’s going to take you another 7 years to finally figure out that trying to pull your life together by losing weight and buying new makeup is like slapping a coat of paint on a dilapidated house. It looks good from a distance, but up close the cracks show and the structure crumbles dangerously under pressure. You’ll go through a lot of pain until then; constantly looking at yourself thorough the lens of everybody around you – your roommate, your friends, your mom, your dad, and most of all, men.
Maybe it’s because you ere raised in a small town where a woman’s success was measured by whether she landed a man. Where you, dark-haired and brash, didn’t fit in with the submissive, fair-haired, popular girls and their constant stream of male admirers. Where the images that clearly appealed to men were the pinups on the wall of your brother’s weight room who mocked your sturdy, field-hockey legs with empty stares and thin thighs. Where you downplayed your academic accomplishments and the titles you earned as student council president and debate team captain, because boys didn’t seem so impressed with brains. The expectations had once been clear: good grades, good student, good girl. But no one told you how to be a good woman.
During the next few years, you lose touch with the bright girl with big dreams. For months you eat nothing more than a daily Pop-Tart and small handfuls of crackers, whittling yourself down till you practically disappear, because you can only manage a C in statistics (what will your parents think?) and your new boyfriend has a habit of sleeping with other girls at fraternity parties. Twenty lost pounds later, you look in the mirror and wonder who that scarecrow is staring back. Even your parents won’t recognize you then.
But here’s the good news. You’ll get tired of hating yourself. You’ll begin to see that who you are now is not who you’re meant to be. You start to listen to old friends who remember the smart, stubborn girl you were and tell you that you deserve better…you are better. You start to listen to the professors who praise your potential – even your mom, who reminds you that you once ruled the world.
And finally, you’ll be ready to start climbing back to the aspirations you once had. You’ll be riding your bike one crisp autumn day on the same long, ribbony road you used to pedal as a girl. You’re home with a new boyfriend – the latest in a string of disappointing relationships – showing him the places you used to ride.
You’ll both be on a touch mother of a climb – 6 miles of winding, cracked pavement that snakes its way up and out of your hard-luck hometown. You hear him grunting and cursing behind you. Then you hear the clashing sound of metal on rocks in bright, clear air. He’s dismounted, lifted his bike, and hurled it over the guardrail onto the rocks below.
You look back for just a second. Then you look up the road. Despite the pull of his frustration and the weight of your fear, you keep pedaling as your head spins back in time – the goals you scored, the exams you aced, the praise you won – until you remember how you used to fly up this hill as if even gravity couldn’t hold you back.
The change clicks inside you like the shifting of your gears. You rise on your pedals, glance briefly over your shoulder, and see nothing but empty road. He can’t catch you now. No one can. You smile as you feel your strength swell, and climb like you’ve never climbed before, away from the hairspray and makeup. Away from the mirrors and men who’ve defined you. Away from the small-town thinking that held you in its grips. You crest the climb, dropping your old self, your old life, and sail 35, 45, 55 miles per hour down the mountain toward the confident, successful woman you are destined to become.
Oh, you’ll look back now and again, occasionally even backsliding into old habits and unhealthy ways. And you’ll feel scared. But you learn to embrace the fear because it means you’re moving forward, away from the familiar and into the unknown, which holds the promise of leading somewhere bright and new. And it will. This new path will take you to a satisfying career, a happy marriage, and eventually a baby girl. And down the road, when that wide-eyed 3-year-old sits in your lap pointing at an old picture of you with all that hair and makeup and sadness and asks, “Mommy, who’s that?” you’ll be able to smile and shrug and say, “Honey, I have no idea.”
That is a one page story out of “Women’s Health” magazine. It really hit home right now.