In August 1995, I was 11 years old and starting sixth grade. Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was on heavy rotation in my cassette player even though I didn’t understand most of the lyrics. I was still obsessed with The Baby-Sitter’s Club and saw the movie in theaters over the summer. I was also into one of the biggest fashion trends: sunflower and daisy prints.
My grandmother took my younger sister and I back-to-school clothes shopping at the mall. She let us pick out two outfits each, and one of them was a sunflower print dress. It even came with a denim vest and a small fake sunflower pin. My mom also made me a dress for the new school year, and it was totally cool because I picked out the fabric, and it was sunflower and daisies. I was ready for sixth grade and middle school. It was going to be so awesome.
I tried my hardest to make friends with the cool kids, but to no avail. One day while wearing one of my sunflowers dresses, this cool girl, Pippa, looked at my legs and loudly said, “Ew, you don’t shave?”
Even after I started shaving, I was still super-insecure about my body. Puberty came early for me and I gained a lot of weight. I was the only girl in my PE class wearing a regular bra, not a training bra, and there was no hiding that in the locker room. I slathered cocoa butter on my bright red stretch marks hoping they’d go away. Girls walked up to me in the hallway between classes asking if I was pregnant. This one boy, Don, who rode the same bus I did constantly called me Shamu.
The National Junior Honor Society sold Valentine’s Day lollipop cards. I thought I’d be cool and send one to Sean, the boy I had a crush on. They delivered it first period, where he sat across from me. Upon seeing it was from me he looked at me disgusted and didn’t talk to me again. The bullying got worse as middle school went on. Several of the popular girls befriended me in seventh grade only for me to find out they made fun of me behind my back by calling me a fat lesbian.
I still loved my sunflowers and daisies, but as I dieted and exercised, I grew too thin for those outfits. By eighth grade, I’d dropped two sizes, and suddenly everyone thought I was pretty. This made me even more self-conscious about my body. I’d grown accustomed to negative comments about my body; positive ones made me squirm for I didn’t believe they were sincere. I was always waiting for the backstab.
Ever since then, my weight has been a struggle. I kept the weight I’d lost off through most of high school, but by the start of my senior year, I’d slacked majorly on my diet and exercising and gained it all back. I spent almost all of my college years with excessive weight. My therapist at the college’s counseling center often told me I was using my weight as a barrier. She was right; by staying heavy, I knew those who talked to me were interested in me for me, not my body.
My senior year of college, I joined Weight Watchers and lost a good 30 pounds. I kept it off for a few years, gained some back, joined Weight Watchers again, lost it again, gained it back. The last time I left Weight Watchers, I was the skinniest I’d ever been. However, I gained it all back and then some.
Cut to today. I’m 30 years old working in the offices of a nonprofit, but the 1990s still linger for me. The new deluxe reissue of The Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore is in heavy rotation on my iTunes and I’m watching X-Files in chronological order on Netflix. Nineties fashion is in full-swing comeback. I see more and more daisy and sunflower-print stuff and make jokes about how 12-year-old me would be all over this.
The more I saw, the more I wanted it again. I’d look at the pieces and lament how I was too fat to fully enjoy this trend the second time around. But one day in TJ Maxx, a cute little tunic with daises on it caught my eye. The sixth-grader still in me whispered, “Try it on. All that matters is that you love it.”
It came home with me.
With every new daisy or sunflower-print item that came out, 11-year-old me would demand it. 30-year-old me tried to talk her out of it, but 11-year-old me always won; and the more I gave her, the more I learned about myself. For as much as I loved daisies and sunflowers, they were intertwined with all my unresolved body issues.
By allowing myself to wear daises and sunflowers again, I finally fully faced these unresolved issues. There were no more Pippas to point out body hair or Dons to call me Shamu in my life. I’d spent most of my twenties weeding toxic people out of my life and building up the relationships with people who supported me.
And even if somebody popped out of the woodwork to call me fat, I wouldn’t care. I’m 30 years old and know what I love and don’t care what the “cool” kids think. Besides, if Facebook posts to mutual friends are any indicator, they aren’t doing any better than I am.
When people pay me compliments on my appearance or clothes now, I take it at face value and thank them. I have a second draft of a novel to complete and charm bracelets to make; I don’t have time to worry about alternative motives. I have friends to have tea with; I don’t have time to worry about if somebody will see the five-day stubble under my arms. And even if somebody does see and makes a big deal, that’s a reflection on them and not me.
I’ve resolved to never diet again and am working on accepting my body at its current size and that I might never be “skinny” again. I focus on eating when I’m hungry. I am hypoglycemic and focus on eating little meals throughout the day, high in protein and complex carbs. I don’t worry about the new stretch marks on my stomach. I use the money I would have spent on cocoa butter to buy lipsticks I love.
I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was 14. The bullying I experienced was a major contributor to the first time. Therapy has helped me through a lot of my issues, but I’ve never addressed the lingering body-image issues. I was a just a chubby, insecure girl — what was there to address? I didn’t have an eating disorder or health issues because of my weight. But it was something that needed addressing.
We’re supposed to move on from the past, learn from it, and heal. However, I found sometimes you need to relive it to reclaim yourself. In being able to wear daisies and sunflowers again, I am able to own my body in a way I would have never been comfortable with when I was in middle school. The second time around, I am able to untangle the flower prints from the body issues. I can look at my stretch marks, stomach, double chin, and breasts, and accept them as they are. I don’t look at them disgusted and hate myself anymore.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t have days on which I wish I was skinnier, but I am now able to recognize the feelings for what they are, and not allow them to turn into a hatefest. In these moments, I’ll open my closet and look at all my cheery daisy and sunflower pieces and smile. I don’t have to have a certain body type or weight to wear what I want or love myself.