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Turning Hurtful Words into Healing Words

I was a super jock and it only took one coach saying something about some leg fat and boom—no bathing suit for years.”

– A.D.  

The above quote is from a Super Nice Club member. Our founder Tod has talked in the past about how a careless and hurtful remark made by a friend’s mother when he was a child affected his self-esteem for years and the two of them got to talking about how, if more of us shared these stories, we might be able to stop these cycles of instilled self-doubt (and worse).

He shared this story with the Super Nice Club members:

When I was eleven, I lived in Redding, California where it routinely reaches north of 110F degrees. Which means everyone wears shorts in the summer. I did, too, until my friend’s mom (a loving parent by night but mean-spirited drunk by day), gave my skinny kid legs the once over and mewled, “You’ve got chicken legs.” And that was it. I haven’t worn shorts since.

– Tod Brilliant, Super Nice Club founder

A coach’s flippant remark. A mom’s careless insult. Do you think that either of them thought about their comments even a few hours later? Heck no. And yet A.D. and Tod remember their words decades later. Not only that but their body image and behavior have been materially affected all this time.

So, in the spirit of healing and sharing our stories so that others can find solace and especially so that these cycles might be broken we reached out to Super Nice Club members to share their own similar stories.

This is what a few Super Nice Club Members who agreed to share their stories in the hope it would help others told us.


I.S.’s Story

This isn’t actually a story about me, it’s about my mom, who spent her entire life convinced she was disfigured by a huge nose. When did this start? When she was a little kid and her father teased her about having a nose “you could catch shade under.”

But here’s the thing — she didn’t have a particularly big nose. To be fair it wasn’t the smallest nose, but more significantly it wasn’t her father’s nose. Or her mother’s. It was the nose of someone else:  her biological father. So the man raising her as his daughter hated it and made sure she felt awful about it her whole life.

And her entire existence was shaped by feeling that she was deformed by this awful nose, which anybody looking at her wouldn’t even notice. No amount of “Well that’s just not true!” from anyone ever mattered—none of it could puncture the wall of pain built by her father. When she was older she would literally joke about needing a hole cut in her coffin to accommodate her “monstrous proboscis.”

–I.S.

It made me really sad that I couldn’t be a more truthful mirror for her.


G.C.’s Story

I was in high school, playing all the sports. Was an extremely shy tomboy, playing sports made it easier to try and make a friend. I was very self-conscious, and after we had won a softball game, a family member said “congratulations, way to go thunder thighs”.

That was a singularly powerful blow to what little confidence I had. I became even more self-conscious, and it led to anorexia and hospitalization at one point.

–G.C.

There was always a focus growing up on good looks and not being overweight, people shouldn’t “let themselves go”, my life was never the same after that. To this day I try to gain weight with training for OCR and general health, it is an everyday battle.


Ray’s Story

For whatever reason, my own appetites, my parents’ inattentions, I was one hell of an obese young boy. I was active, sure. I played all kinds of ball. I was in the scouts. I rode my bike all over Hell and Tarnation, but I also ate like a horse, chasing away bad emotions with food, I’m sure. And I was the dirty stick end of all the fat jokes.

If there was a fat joke, it included me. I’m not the only one, I know, but it worked to grind my self esteem into dust, which is something that followed me into adulthood and through my life.

–Ray

My esteem never recovered, and even though I managed to discipline myself into fitness for a few decades, the fat boy inside me never really disappeared. I didn’t make wise choices with partners, always choosing for some reason (subconscious masochistic reasons, the adult negative energy addict in me concludes) to couple with people who also harbored body image issues and hated hated hated fat.

Well, cut to the chase, I’m 50 something, fat again because emotion-based eating and low esteem is an issue I never conquered…and I know it’s based on verbal and physical abuse heaped on me by ignorant and often cruel peers and one less than a compassionate parental figure. And okay, I’m working on it. Im always working on it. I’ve been on diets for decades. To my dismay this has manifested as a very introverted and antisocial version of me. I don’t go out at all, and I even turn down invitations to parties or network, or to make potential friends with people with similar interests I meet through the Internet.

I’m not looking for a shoulder to cry on or someone to say, you got this, Ray, but I would like to join a voice that wants to influence younger generations regarding the bullying and verbal abuse or fat (or thin, or short, or tall, or hairy, or four-eyed with hearing aids, etc.). I don’t know if children can be influenced one way or the other, but deflecting attention to draw eyes away from our own imperfections is a natural response to self-perception and esteem in general.

Maybe it starts with the parents and the rhetoric apply to their own children.


T.S.’s Story

These issues have long bound up my self-perception in so many painful ways. It has proven to be a lifelong unraveling to recognize where the self-deprecating voices were born from and to rewire those thoughts.

So. Many. Times.

Since there are so many stories to chose from, I decided to simply go with the first I can recall.

My own mother.

She thought she was funny. Everything was always a joke. She sloughed it off in later years when confronted, blaming it on her German heritage and father’s blunt humor. To this day she still manages to spit out judgments from time to time about my physical appearance. The most recent being about my hair thinning.

She picked on me relentlessly for two things in my early youth (from 5 to about 12ish). My ears and my feet.

She would call me Dumbo and say she was going to tape my ears to my head because they were large in proportion and stuck out quite a bit. As a result, I would only wear hats that I could tuck my ears into, and wore my hair down most of my early youth.

T.S.

Funny story (and maybe my ears heard the chastising in more ways then one) but my ears stopped growing by my early teens and now I have unusually small ears proportionally. I am unable to wear most regular earbuds as they hurt my cartilage.

Mom was frugal. I was born to be tall. I flew through shoe sizes like crazy. That equaled a burden to her World War II-addled brain. Like the ears, they were also growing ahead of the rest of my body. She called them ironing boards and would jest about performing Japanese foot binding and laugh. I didn’t wear sandals or open toed shoes until my early 20s.

She never taped my ears or bound my feet, but she did launch my internal critic of my physical self. To be fair, she was also very loving and accepting, too. I think that adds to the point of how something she deemed so innocuous still had a major impact.


We thank the members who shared their stories hoping it would help others and start some healthy and healing conversations. Please share with someone who might learn something from these stories or find solace in some of these words.

And we invite you to add to the productive conversation in the comments below.

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