Have you ever found yourself in a magical kingdom? Have you ever met a prince who fell madly in love with you? I have! Like any other kid, my make-believing began in my backyard and bedroom, imagining I was a warrior princess like from the movie Willow, or a damsel in distress like in Sleeping Beauty. But I got the rare chance to become a professional make-believer at age 10 when I was cast as a “Mouseketeer” in the Disney Channel television show, The New Mickey Mouse Club (also known as MMC). One of my most respected skills on the show was my vivid imagination. The adults called it “acting”, but I called it fun! At work, I was imagining scenarios like I always had, but my backyard had changed into the actual Magic Kingdom! One time I worked on an MMC set which was decorated like a castle bedroom…I got to dress up like “Sleeping Beauty” and I got to act like I was sleeping sweetly as my prince fell in love with me!
I have now spent most of my life using my vivid imagination in my career. Throughout my life of building childhood play worlds, professional worlds, and even my real world perspectives, movies have been one of the greatest influences on my vivid imagination, for better or for worse! Barbra Streisand was one of the top singers I aspired to be like after watching the movie Yentl. I memorized the entire soundtrack to The Wiz and even got to sing “Home” on MMC. After I watched JAWS 3, I refused to continue swimming lessons because I was certain there were sharks in the neighborhood pool! And then there came a day when my reason for not going into the pool changed. In fact, the uninhibited nature I had been known for and hired for also changed. There came a day when I decided I was fat. Yep, just like that, I was fat.
My inhibitions grew as I started to scrutinize every outfit I wore, and I especially worried about everything I wore on camera. I started staying out of the neighborhood pool at parties because I anticipated others would scrutinize me in a bathing suit just as much as I did. I had been a free, imaginative girl; a career kid having fun at her job. All of a sudden, I began convincing myself that being fat wasn’t just in my vivid imagination.
You may be wondering how an 11 year old, having endured no physical or verbal abuse, could suddenly crawl into a metaphorical shell, solely based on her own perception. My parents never told me I was fat. In fact, my mother used to repeatedly assure me I would look great even if I was wearing a paper bag over my head! (She had an endless supply of cute, whole-hearted mother compliments!) I don’t remember any friends making me second guess my body so early in life. I wasn’t much into Barbie or fashion…my big passion was movies! To this day, I’d rather watch a movie I’ve seen 8 times than read any book (sorry author friends, I’m trying to grow!) I could easily spend a whole day imagining myself into movie worlds, living alongside the characters, investing in their adventures as if they were my own.
I remember the beautiful girls I saw in such movies as Splash, Teen Witch, License To Drive, the Mannequin movies, Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead (just to name a few), and when I compared myself to the leading ladies’ slim little ribcages, thighs, and tummies in perfect little outfits, I saw nothing in the mirror that looked anything like them. I truly loved indulging in movie make-believe, however, being an actor myself, I also understood that these movie actors lived in the real world too. They get to walk around with little bodies in little outfits, on and off stage, but I don’t! “I am a bigger girl than they are.” Upon this observation, I watched myself on MMC and saw I looked bigger than other Mouseketeer girls as well. And there was nothing I could do about it. I was simply bigger! What I didn’t realize at age 11 was that I set an unfair standard for my body…I had just labeled myself, maybe for the first time in my life. “I am a bigger girl.” One could say that it was all in my imagination, but based on my track record, you can understand how easily I could accept this label as fact. Movies allowed me to escape my reality, yet this fun hobby had led me into a new perception of my own reality, from which there was no escape!
This was beyond making believe as if I was a “bigger girl”. I BELIEVED I was, and acted on this belief, both on and off stage. It seemed that almost as soon as I imagined and then believed I was a “bigger girl”, I started discovering more and more proof that my self-label was indeed real and not make-believe. During one of the first seasons of MMC, two Mouseketeers told me I was gaining weight and that it was probably because I ate too much ice cream.
A little later, I was told by producers that I was not allowed to gain any more weight, suggesting I was on the verge of being too big to do my job. Sometimes the wardrobe department dressed me in baggy outfits (even after I hit my growth spurt and slimmed down) while other girls wore tighter clothing. At age 14, my first serious boyfriend didn’t ever bother telling me he was seeing another girl while we were dating. This was all the proof I needed that my body “disqualified” me from a certain level of respect and worthiness. Somehow, because I also believed I was a “bigger girl”; too big to be called prettier than someone else skinnier than me, too big to be worth dating (or maybe just to be worth dating exclusively), and almost too big to be employed as a Mouseketeer, I did not receive any proof from the world to contradict my self-label. Oh, but the “qualifying” proof was out there for me to discover…I just didn’t choose to discover it!
For instance, I wasn’t walking around saying I hated everything about myself all the time! On the contrary, I believed I was smart, talented, and pretty…people TOLD me I was smart, talented, and pretty. But did I allow those labels to override my “bigger girl” label? Nope. I remember only ONE out of many boyfriends (Okay, yes I’ve done more than my fair share of dating!) tell me he thought I should lose some weight. I’ve been given countless love tokens, compliments, and nurturing encouragement from men of my past. Heck, I’ve had fan mail telling me how beautiful I am, etc, from boys AND girls! I heard the compliments and positive reinforcement, but did I RECEIVE them? Nope. Not most of the time, anyway. All disqualifying proof was immediately reinforced by, and all qualifying proof was immediately filtered through my “bigger girl” label. I would hear, “You’re so pretty!” And I would think, “Well maybe from the neck up, but the rest of me is just not good enough.” I would hear, “You’re the best singer I’ve ever heard!” And I would think, “If only I had the body to go with my talent, so that I could be a star.” I would hear, “You’re an amazing, funny, wise, sweet woman and I want to date you!” And I would think, “Wow, he must have a heart of gold to settle for me!” What. is. that. crap?!
In all seriousness, I get mad at myself all over again, thinking about how I disqualified myself from so much, based solely on being a “bigger girl”! A bigger body…a “bigger girl”. Extra weight that…holds me back? From what exactly? And how exactly did this “bigger girl” mentality begin for you? You now know how it began for me. So what I propose is that we refocus that label for each and every one of us.
Maybe your personal label doesn’t have to do with a bigger body. Maybe you have a smaller body. A weaker body. A weaker mind. An addiction. A disability. Maybe you have another type of label that makes you feel disqualified from life opportunities and aspirations as much as my “bigger girl” label had seemingly disqualified me for years. Well I’m here to tell you that “Disqualified” is not our destiny!!! It is NOT our purpose! I welcome you to my blog dedicated to positive perspective and encouragement! Let’s focus beyond the limitations and self-labeled flaws of our bodies! Let’s find freedom from our self-imagined “facts” which are actually the LIES of our LABELS! Let’s get back to fulfilling our destinies! You and I are worth it!!!