From as far back as I can remember, the words "big" and "fat" have been a calling card for emotional distress for me. When I hear either of them, I want to wrap myself into a ball and disappear. It doesn't matter if they are directed at me or not. Even if I know they're just that: words. They don't define who I am or govern my life. But they remind me of who I once was and what I once endured. Good or bad, words have power.
As I neared teenage years, my family became my anchor in life. But in my early years, surely without knowing, they were the source of my hurt and created a since of self-doubt in me. They taught me to be unsure of myself. They led me into a life of insecurity all by the simple words they used that taunted me then and for years to come.
Regularly, my male cousins told me I was fat. I never heard from them that I was beautiful or worthy of any type of praise. I was just the little cousin who was fat. I may have been referred to as "cute but fat" at times, but that didn't resonate after I began to understand that fat was not something good. Even when it brought me to tears and often resulted in my running away to my closet to hide, it still brought them joy to see they'd created this reaction.
It didn't get better as I matured. Even when my body began to look more womanly early on, those tags still followed me. Sure, I started to get more attention and compliments from classmates and neighborhood friends, but the damage was done, and I simply didn't believe it. I'd learned by that time that I was unattractive and unworthy of the good words. So I replaced big and fat, in my spirit, with everything else you can think of: dumb, ugly, worthless, pitiful.
As I've grown mentally, I've come to realize that those words have set the course for my entire life. They created who I'd be and what I'd think of myself. Thinking myself worthless led me to an abusive relationship that lasted 11 years. I didn't have the esteem or pride to know that I deserved more. I certainly didn't have the strength to demand that I be treated better. For years, I was silent and uninvolved in life. I watch society do this to women daily. It's a terrible force on social media, with memes of scantily dressed women posing seductively dancing across the screens. We even see women who have overcome tremendous obstacles and excel being referred to derogatorily. Women who have no body shame are being ridiculed for showing their frames.
I know someone will read this and think that just because someone uses a word to describe someone, it doesn't mean that's who they are. I know. I used to justify the use of the word "bitch" by asserting that I wasn't one, so it didn't bother me. However, that doesn't really speak to how a woman who has been called that in a fit of anger or maybe in the middle of a fight feels about hearing it. It's dismissive and rude to think that one can utter a word and it not bother someone else. Or to even excuse the fact that they are responsible for what hearing that word again can do to that woman. It's just a matter of decency.
Ralph Ellison said, "If the word has the potency to revive and make us free, it has also the power to blind, imprison and destroy."
If words are powerful enough to build us up, then certainly one can see they'd be strong enough to tear us down. I've had to rebuild my own self-awareness to overcome what words did to me, and now I am intentionally cautious to not contribute to being that downfall for another person. It's really a simple feat.
Whether it's to a family member, friend or just a simple post on social media, be thoughtful of the language you use. Words have a power that often goes unnoticed. But once uttered, they cannot be unheard. Let your words be positive and inspirational instead of creating a life of damage someone will one day have to overcome to exist fully.
Funmi "Queen" Franklin is a word lover, poet and advocate for sisterhood. She has a weakness for reality shows.