Like most kids, all I wanted was to fit in. I grew up the third daughter of three. My siblings always got to do things first. Getting a bike, ears pierced, driving, going to high school. I was left behind.
But it didn’t start with being left alone. Looking back, I was always different. While now, I recognize the quirks and subtle nuances as huge benefits, as a kid, the differences that make me unique were just plain weird.
To the point that, as a baby, my belly was big. Really big (mostly because of significant food allergies that remained undiagnosed until my 30’s). And, because of that, my parents called me “baby buddha.” They still, and I am past half a century, laugh about that nickname.
I had other quirks. I hated wearing tights as a kid. My legs itched so much and I told my parents how much I hated “squeezy things” on my legs. For this, and other quirks, my paternal grandfather, who was a radio and stage actor, would sing this song “Julia, you are peculiar” most every time we’d gather at a family outing.
It was funny, but not to me. The words burned. I grew up not liking myself in so many ways. My hair was curly to the point of downright uncombable, and my nose deviated to the left side of my face due to a crooked septum. My short stature and thick quads due to athletics attracted the name of “tree trunk” and “chilly willy.” I just wanted to be one of the cool kids at junior high and high school. I just wanted to fit in.
So I took the path of controlling what I could. During the first of my high school years, I lost weight. A lot of it. I got down to 100, then 95, then 90 pounds. At 5’4″ in height, I was bony and frail. Only then did I begin to feel comfortable with my being, and yet I was far away from fitting in. The funny thing is, the kidding stopped. No more name calling.
For several years, I struggled with eating disorders. First it was restricting my eating, then it morphed into purging. No one said anything and I still thought I was in control. Still trying to fit in and win friends, I started running when I didn’t make the high school soccer team. I wanted to play soccer because all of the popular girls did. The coach recognized I had never played soccer before but saw I was speedy, so he told me to run track. I did and got into running. It saved me.
I recognized that I couldn’t run well AND restrict my eating. I couldn’t run well AND purge everything that I had in my body. Slowly I stopped those destructive behaviors, but continued running. And through the sport to which I dedicated so much time and practice, I began to get better.
The getting better was easy because I just showed up and through running every day, with nothing under my belt, I just got better. It didn’t take much – just consistency paid off. I kept coming back because I finally felt valued. After every practice that first season, Coach Finch thanked us for coming out. He meant it. It mattered. I mattered. I fit in.
It wasn’t a matter of excelling in something. It wasn’t a matter of winning. It was my showing up that made a difference. Finally I was recognized for WHO I was being and I mattered.