My Story…

Like everyone else, I have stuff.  I remember my “stuff” started when I was 6 years old and insisted that my legs were too fat to wear shorts.  My mom thought I was ridiculous and gave me the choice to stay in my pajamas all day or put on a pair of shorts and go outside to enjoy the Saturday sun.  I chose to stay in my pajamas all day.  Another vivid memory from 1st grade is being told by an 8th grade boy at the bus stops that my lips were too big.  Great, big legs and big lips!  Next, I was scolded by a teacher for something that I did not do.  I was mortified when I had to push my desk forward and sit by myself!  Then, one time, I got one word wrong on a spelling test and I was angry at myself for days.  This anger would also flare if I turned over the ball in a basketball game or missed a goal in my soccer match, no matter how well I played.  Another time, I had been rehearsing a “Footloose” dance for weeks with a friend to perform in the talent show.  Our simple costume of tights and a leotard with a bandana wrapped around our waist was too much for me.  I saw myself as ginormous compared to my tiny framed friend and it put me in a panic.  Oh, yeah, if my hair (think lots of hairspray) was not cooperating for a skating party or a dance, my night was ruined.  As I navigated elementary and middle school, it was clear that I had “stuff” (better labeled now as body image issues and perfectionist problems).  I never seemed to feel good enough or pretty enough, or smart enough or happy enough.

In high school, I discovered alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, boys and sex and the right combination could help me escape my self-hate.  Although I excelled in school, played sports, had best friends, was admired by my sisters, and supported by loving parents, I was not perfect enough.  I found it torturous to shop for clothes because the latest trends did not fit my body type (short, small boobs, thick legs and booty) or my budget.  My dad lost his job so I felt guilty buying anything when I’d rather just sit in my sweats and hoodies. When my brother fathered a child our senior year in high school, I put more pressure on myself to be perfect.  Clearly, he was a careless failure and our parents could not have two failures in the family! My secret world of self-harm allowed me to forget the person that I hated most – ME.

This pattern of self-destruction continued throughout college, despite performing well in the classroom and on the soccer field.  Some of my friends were failing classes, dropping out and having abortions.  At least I could say I was smarter about sex, making me a little more perfect than them.

After college, I tackled my ginormous size with strict calorie intake and Billy Blanks Tae-Bo.  My plan worked and I whittled myself down to a size I was proud.  And, this ridiculously low weight was easily maintained with drugs and nicotine!  By now, I had a job, a car, money, friends, the club scene, a boyfriend, a hot body and adorable clothes.  Why was I still miserable?

It was time to eliminate some of this “stuff”.   I got rid of the binge drinking, cigarettes, drugs and boyfriend.  Most would think, Great!, right?  Well, not so great…I replaced those toxins with food (chocolate candy specifically).  I was living a healthier lifestyle, but I was eating my emotions and feelings.

Fast forward to today: Some days are still a struggle, but I am learning to accept myself and my feelings.  I know it is okay to feel sad, lonely, bored, different, ugly, fat, frustrated, jealous, anxious, stressed…  However, it is not okay to stifle these emotions with such poisons as food, alcohol, drugs or sex.  I am equipped with better tools to manage my “stuff”.

My favorite tools for expressing my “stuff” are journaling and art projects. It is helpful talking to close friends about my “stuff”, too.  Often times, when I share my “stuff”, I am reminded that others have “stuff”.  Sometimes, it’s even the same “stuff” and we are able to work through our “stuff” together.

What would’ve happened if I accepted my “stuff” earlier in life?  Girls PACT wouldn’t exist today.

In 2010, I founded Girls PACT  so  young women have a safe space to talk about “stuff” –  our bodies, relationships, injustices, sex, personal goals, negative self-talk and our fears.  It has been a long, painful journey for me to figure out my “stuff” because I was ashamed and embarrassed.  But, this is all just life’s “stuff” and we all get through it.  So, girls, it’s time to “Rock Ur Stuff”!

Michelle Shegda