Ever since I was a little girl, it was put into my head that I had to have a certain appearance, that I needed to be a certain size, and that if I did not fit this criteria that I was not pretty enough. As a woman, I felt from a very young age that I had to be a certain way.
Because of the pressure from media, peers, and family, at 11 years old, I headed on a dangerous path and no one realized until it until my senior year of high school. By then, it was almost too late. I did not realize myself the path that I was on until the summer after my freshman year of college, when I had almost ruined everything.
When I was 11, I made it my sole mission to become a cheerleader. I had always wanted to be one and since I was going to be starting middle school the next year, I wanted to start training and learning everything that I needed to know. At the time, I thought that I was way too skinny. I was bullied on a daily basis for everything from my eyes being too big to being a stick because as an African-American girl, I should of had some sort of junk in my trunk.
From that moment on I started working out more, joined my school’s cross country team, and started watching what I ate. I did not really notice a difference at first and I honestly think that no one else did either. I kept this up for two years and even started to skip meals at school. I wouldn’t eat lunch or breakfast and tried to eat as small of a dinner as possible. Pretty soon, I noticed a difference and I was beginning to get more comfortable with how I looked. Then, I moved back to Georgia and started high school.
Over the course of the summer before my freshman year, I gained who knows how much weight and I still really haven’t forgave myself for it. Due to where I lived at, I really wasn’t able to do sports anymore, so I picked up dancing and started watching what I ate even more so. My sophomore year, it was found out that I had stomach ulcers and I had to change my diet drastically, which meant less fatty salty foods and this was not a problem for me. I kept dancing and started to eat less and even made myself throw up just for added measure. No one noticed and that was completely okay.
I started to look for ways to lose weight and look the way that I was supposed to look. I basically continued on this path through my senior year of high school and even became a vegetarian just to have more control over my weight and what I put into my body. Unfortunately, I started fainting a lot and no one could figure out why and they still can’t.
I continued to struggle even after I graduated from high school and when I did work crew at SharpTop Cove, things started to turn around. I started to eat a little bit better and I started to get healthier. I even stopped counting my calories and worrying as much about my weight as I had in the past. Things seemed to be getting better until I went to college and nearly destroyed everything. I let my weight and my need to be perfect and fit into the world’s mold of what is acceptable take control of everything in my life and got broken in the process.
When I went to college in the fall of 2013 at Maryville, I hit a complete low point. I was hardly eating and instead of gaining the freshman 15 I started the freshman negative 20. I was rapidly losing weight and looked horrible. My friends were worried and I was counting every single calorie that I ate down to the exact amount. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014 that I realized that I had a huge problem. I ended up doing a program through YoungLife called Discipleship Focus and started to realize that I did not need to conform to the world’s idea of beauty. I was already beautiful in God’s eyes and that was really matters. I did not need to be a certain weight or size to be accepted because I already was, by a God who truly loves me without end and who will continue to do so.
I am still recovering now and trying to rebuild what got destroyed, but in a healthy and productive way. I still have a long ways to go, but I can no longer say that I am anorexic or bulimic. I remember a time when I couldn’t admit that I had a problem or that I needed help. I continued to hide behind a mask and pretend that I was alright until I could no longer do it. I let my weight and size define me for 9 years and sometimes I still revert back to my old way of thinking, but I take everyday as a victory. I am not my weight, nor my size and neither are you. Each and every single one of you are beautiful and truly loved.
As the student of a Jesuit institution, the art of discernment is not lost on me. When asked “what does it mean to be you” or “what is your defining quality”, there are many things that come to mind. But after thinking through these other characteristics, there is always one characteristic that is at the center of my other favorite personal qualities: kindness.
I will be the first to admit that earlier on in my life, I wasn’t the kindest person I knew. In middle school, I was a completely different person than I am today. Unrecognizable to those who know me now. Even after all the repressed memories from that time in my life, I still remember the person I was, and I refuse to become even a little like I was back then. I changed for the better after my middle school and high school days. In late middle school and early high school, I fell in with a great group of friends who taught me what real friendship was like.
Unfortunately, after losing one of these friends who was bullied and harassed for so long, most of my other friendships fell apart as well. But one thing that I will never forget from my late friend is her kindness. She is the reason that I fight so hard for things like mental health awareness and anti-bullying efforts. She is the reason why I work to be kind to everyone I meet, whether they deserve it or not. She is why I believe that kindness is my defining quality.
When you look up the definition of kindness, you might find something like “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. But kindness is so much more than something that can be read off a page. Kindness is something that you emulate. Something that you feel in your heart and in your soul. Kindness is often unforgettable. Kindness is a saving grace, and can change someone’s life.
For me, kindness is a way of life, not just a definition or a quality that someone may have. It is a trait that connects me to my friend who died because of all the hate that was sent her way. Kindness is a connecting force: something that makes me feel coupled to another individual. But overall, kindness is a gift that I try to give to every individual that I encounter.
Whether that be going out of my way to help someone out, giving a smile to someone who has temporarily lost theirs, or complimenting strangers who look as if they could use some uplifting words, kindness is a rebellion to the hate and exclusivity that we see too often in our world. Be a rebel. Spread kindness. And always remember, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
It was April 16, 2012, just another day of awakening to get ready for our family to head to school and work. Kisses were given out, my husband and daughter loads up in the truck to head to school and I get in my car headed to work. Little did we know that would be the very last time that we would see our daughter….alive.
Everyone gets home about 5:45. I had gone out to the clothesline to get in a blanket that I had hung out that morning, folded it up and was sitting on the back porch steps waiting on the dog to go to the bathroom. It was then that I heard this very loud noise, looked to my left and saw a dusting of smoke. I immediately went in the house and asked my husband, who was watching TV, if he heard that terribly loud noise. I then walked in our bedroom to put away the blanket.
She was gone and there was absolutely nothing that we could do to get her back. Our lives had been shattered forever. The root of Meagan’s death was bullying…..that awful, awful word that affects more and more people each and everyday. After Meagan’s death we found out that on the bus one of her friends noticed that she was not acting like her normal upbeat self and was very quiet. Her friend then asked her if she was okay and she said she was and then exited the bus. We also found out that Meagan had texted her cousin and told her that she was going to kill herself that evening.
To this very day, I am so upset that she did not contact us. If she had, I am pretty sure I would not be typing up this story right now. Meagan was such a bubbly, spirited child who was loved by all and played the trumpet in the Oglethorpe County March Band. She now fills the Heavens with her wonderful trumpet sounds.
I can’t express enough how important it is for people to Stand Up, Speak Out and Be Heard! Be the voice that someone who is depressed or suicidal needs to hear. All lives matter!