I was around 14 or 15 when those very words were used to describe me. It was from a boy whom I’d met at a basketball game. He was actually one half of a set of identical twins, but I preferred him. He humored me to my face but voiced his real opinion behind my back. Through small town gossip, his comments eventually found their way to my ears. I wasn’t sure how to react to his words. I have never been much of a cryer when it came to my own life, so my reaction was more of disbelief. He planted weeds that continued to sprout for years to come.
His criticism came at an age when I was the least comfortable in my own skin. My body was transitioning from girlhood to a womanhood, and I was coping with its changes. When I looked in the mirror I saw a chubby face, boring eyes, uninvited pimples and a butt that was too big. I had breasts that didn’t seem to belong with the rest of my body and I’d started growing hair in places that I had to shave. Those were just the physical changes. I was also socially awkward — a shy, athletic nerd who only felt at home on a basketball court. Around boys all of my insecurities were magnified a thousand times. I worried they saw me as I saw myself.
Although I struggled with a negative self-image, I had never been that harsh. I knew I was short, but I thought of myself as “athletically built”. Though my face was not perfection, I didn’t consider myself “ugly”. I could see the good which offset the negative. But his comments cut me to my core and made me question everything I thought I knew about myself.
I wondered if others thought the same thing and if I was the one who was lying to myself?
His painfully seared words became a springboard for a journey that began with self-loathing and later transformed into self-love. However, I didn’t wake up one morning and decide the words he spoke were lies. Rather, it was a series of twists and turns that led me to discover my own truth.
In the immediate aftermath, I was determined to fix some of my “flaws”. I began chugging Slim Fast until my mother discovered my secret stash hidden in my favorite reading spot — my closet. I obsessively washed, scrubbed and moisturized my face. I was raised to discard the noise and lies people told me, but it was easier said than done.
For years, I randomly thought of the words “short, fat and ugly”. I have never worn a size larger than six, but it didn’t matter. When I studied myself, my stomach always seemed larger than it was, my thighs fatter and my butt thicker. In my eyes I was still what he labeled me as.
As I’ve matured, I’ve maintained a commitment to fitness and health. Regular exercise and clean living are priorities. My body has changed as I’ve filled out in certain areas and slimmed down in others. My face shed its baby fat and my skin is long past its weird hormonal stage. There’s nothing I can do about my height, but I carry myself with an outward confidence that matches the inside.
Years later, he winded up getting a job where my mom worked. He walked into her office one day and worked my name into their conversation. He got nowhere. A reliable source told me that he said, “I heard Torri looks good now.” I smiled. His more recent assessment of me was simply an ego boost. As I began to love myself more and more, I realized that I didn’t need him to validate me nor did I require his stamp of approval.
The woman that I am is not defined by anyone’s standard of beauty. The woman that I am is one who is confident in her own skin, embraces her assets and flaws, and continues to live her life on her own terms.