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AMessageforMyDaughter:YouAreEnough

Patricia Leavy
Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Bestselling Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
over 2 years Maine, United States Story
A Message for My Daughter: You Are Enough

I love my life. I’m blessed with incredible friends. We get each other. They’re my people. My husband is always there to bring out the best in me. We’ve built a true partnership. I’m living my childhood dream of being a full-time author. Not a day passes that I don’t feel blessed to spend each day doing what I love most. I’m grateful for my life. It’s beautiful. But it hasn’t always been this way. Like many women, I’ve struggled to create my identity. It began in elementary school.

When I was growing up kids at school told me I was an “ugly loser.” I was bullied, excluded, and picked last for gym class. I was called an “anorexic bitch” because I was thin and told “you should die” on many occasions. Nothing hurt more than the cruel things people said. It wasn’t just my peers. Popular culture told me I was too short, flat chested, big-nosed, and boring. My pores were too big and the hair on my arms too dark. The “video vixens” that populated MTV at the time did little to improve my fragile self-esteem. I was nothing like them. That didn’t stop me from gorging on popular culture. As a teenager, the guys I crushed on told me all kinds of things. I was a prude, a slut, a preppy, a goth, too smart, and too stupid, all at once. The one thing no one ever told me was: you are enough.

The ideas I internalized created an audio that repeated over and over again in my head. It told me everything about me was wrong. The way I looked was awful: bad skin, ugly face, greasy hair, and scrawny limbs. I was awkward and uncoordinated. I was untalented. I was unremarkable. I was either too quiet or too loud. I never knew when I should speak. I berated myself for both my silence or for saying “the wrong” things. Nothing I did seemed right. I was perpetually uncomfortable in my own skin. Despite putting up a good front, at the core I feared I simply wasn’t enough.

What we think impacts what we do. It’s no surprise that I made a lot of poor relationship choices that didn’t serve me or anyone else. When you can’t find your voice you start to disappear and holograms appear in your place. You try on different identities as if they’re trendy outfits, waiting for some sort of external validation. I wore my heart on my sleeve one week and built a fortress around my feelings the next, as easily as changing my shoes. I participated in toxic friendships, chased guys who didn’t value me and thus brought out the worst in me, and caused all kinds of embarrassing melodrama. I excused the hurtful behavior of others as somehow my own fault. I lied to myself over and over again.

After a heartbreaking rollercoaster romance and devastating breakup with the guy I thought was “the one” and for whom I nearly lost my career and sanity, I was forced to reevaluate my life (see my Open Letter). I pushed the pause button and took stock. I took ownership of my own life, the narrative in my mind, and my identity. I claimed responsibility for the quality of my thoughts and correspondingly, my life. After doing some work, weeding out negative relationships, and following my authentic voice as a sociologist and writer, I began to wonder about other women’s experiences. I conducted extensive interview research with women about their identities and relationships.

I discovered that I was not alone. The details differ, but the overarching narratives are the same. Many women carry wounds from their childhood as well as their disappointing or failed romantic relationships. I’ve heard countless stories about women settling in life and love, chasing partners who withhold, chipping away pieces of themselves to try to appear a certain way, and excusing hurtful behavior as somehow their own fault. I’ve also heard innumerable stories of daily body image struggles and self-deprecation. Women who agonize every day about what they do or don’t eat, sucking their stomachs in, squishing themselves into Spanx, over or under exercising, staring at their pores or wrinkles, and worst of all, berating themselves for every “flaw” and every choice. Women who cloak themselves in feelings of failure. Each story implicitly comes down to one question: Am I enough?

Based on my interview research I developed a concept called “low-fat love.” To me, low-fat love is about settling for less than we really want and trying to pretend it’s better than it is. Think butter substitute instead of butter, but with our feelings. We accept low-fat love for all kinds of reasons: we don’t think we deserve more, can get more, or will get more. We try to fake ourselves out and subsist on less than we want leaving us feeling empty, starved, and craving something more. Wanting to share what I learned from my own experiences and those of my interviewees, I wrote a novel titled Low-Fat Love. While I had previously experienced success as a nonfiction author, this was my first foray into fiction: frankly I didn’t even expect anyone to read it. I think that was a blessing in disguise because I didn’t hold back. The book is raw and honest. To my surprise, the novel became a bestseller for my publisher. It hit a nerve. I was suddenly inundated with emails from strangers who wanted to share their stories with me. At book talks and conference presentations, readers lined hallways, waiting to whisper their most intimate stories to me. Stories of loneliness came up time and again. I learned many people are dissatisfied in their lives but too afraid to let others know, so they put up a front which makes them feel fraudulent and more isolated. Even friends shared stories with me about domestic violence, sexual assault, alcoholism, eating disorders, and loneliness (none of which I knew about).

It was an incredibly humbling experience. I wanted to somehow honor the stories women were sharing with me. I was also developing more insights and needed to dig deeper. I conducted a new set of interviews with fifty-six diverse women ranging in age from their twenties to seventies, from all across the United States. Each woman could select to complete an interview about relationship with a family member, romantic partner, or another person from her life that she perceived as dissatisfying, or her interview could focus on body image and identity. The deeply personal stories they shared were heart-wrenching, emotional, and incredibly brave. The women expressed feelings of anger, resentment, regret, love and compassion. I felt deep empathy for the women and their struggles, and visceral responses to their pain and hope. Visual artist Victoria Scotti and I collaborated, selecting seventeen representative interviews and created a collection of what we term “textual-visual snapshots.” In essence, there is a visual concept representing the themes in each woman’s interview, followed by a short story written in the first-person and drawing directly on the woman’s own language, and a final portrait representing her emotional journey. The final portraits also offer an alternative to the kinds of representations of women we see in pop culture. We titled our book: Low-Fat Love Stories. Because the stories were so raw and I wanted to do justice to them, this project took many years to complete. I hope it as a source of wisdom, empowerment, and inspiration.

Based on my own struggles and what I have now learned from countless women who have generously shared their stories with me, I have some things to pass on. These are the things I know for certain.

Life is far too short to waste it on negative energy. Create an affirming audio in your head, one that helps you live your best life. There are no struggles you can’t overcome. Positive thinking is always a good start. Don’t settle for diet relationships and low-fat love. You deserve the real-deal. No one can create or fill a hole in your soul. You have power and authority over yourself. The most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. Invest in it wisely. Always have your own back. Find your voice and don’t waver from it. Integrity and authenticity are everything. Without them it’s impossible to feel good about yourself. The “likes,” “shares” or “comments” you get on social media are not a measure of your worth. Build a sense of self from within by finding and pursuing your passion so you develop a purpose. That purpose will serve as your compass as you navigate your own path. Bet on yourself. You are possibilities. You are enough.

Author’s note: Dedicated with love to Madeline. Special thanks to Dr. Victoria Scotti, Dr. Sandra Faulkner, and Celine Boyle for clarifying my thinking around these issues and boundless gratitude to the women who trusted me with their stories.

Low-Fat Love Stories is available here

Low-Fat Love is available here

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16 replies

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  • Bethany Heinrich
    Bethany Heinrich Mogul Influencer
    over 2 years ago New York, NY, United States

    I love the concept of low-fat love and not settling for it. This was very eye opening for me and thank you for sharing the powerful message. It's amazing to me how relationships can impact our self-worth. How long did it take you to heal from the bad relationship you were in to be able to date again? Did you take a lot of time by yourself first before being able to meet someone?

    I love the concept of low-fat love and not settling for it. This was very eye opening for me and thank you for sharing the powerful message. It's amazing to me how relationships can impact our self-worth. How long did it take you to heal from the bad relationship you were in to be able to date again? Did you take a lot of time by yourself first before being able to meet someone?

    • Patricia Leavy
      Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
      over 2 years ago Maine, United States

      Thanks so much for your comments. Yes, I think relationships hugely impact our self worth, and at the same time, how we feel about ourselves influences the relationships we choose and how we behave in them. It all starts inside of us. I did take time to heal without any dating. I focused on figuring myself out, building my career, my friends & daughter. More than a year later I started dating and immediately met a wonderful man. We're now happily married. Had I not done the work on myself, I never would have appreciated how wonderful he is, nor would I have been able to be a good partner. I think it all starts within ourselves. Thanks again!

      Thanks so much for your comments. Yes, I think relationships hugely impact our self worth, and at the same time, how we feel about ourselves influences the relationships we choose and how we behave in them. It all starts inside of us. I did take time to heal without any dating. I focused on figuring myself out, building my career, my friends & daughter. More than a year later I started dating and immediately met a wonderful man. We're now happily married. Had I not done the work on myself, I never would have appreciated how wonderful he is, nor would I have been able to be a good partner. I think it all starts within ourselves. Thanks again!

      • Bethany Heinrich
        Bethany Heinrich Mogul Influencer
        over 2 years ago New York, NY, United States

        This is all great to know! Sometimes taking a break is much needed for sure. I'm so glad it all worked out for you and again can't thank you enough for sharing such a profound message.

        This is all great to know! Sometimes taking a break is much needed for sure. I'm so glad it all worked out for you and again can't thank you enough for sharing such a profound message.

        • Patricia Leavy
          Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
          over 2 years ago Maine, United States

          Thank you! Always happy to share.

          Thank you! Always happy to share.

  • Courtney Dercqu
    Courtney Dercqu Content Marketing Strategist & Writer
    over 2 years ago

    I love this. I was teased in grade school. I was your stereotypical fat, stringy haired, acne riddled loser who *also* was always picked last in gym class. The guy I liked in 5th grade didn't pay me the slightest of attention. I was very juvenile - as kids should be - yet I was scrutinized for wanting to buy a Build-a-Bear when they first came out because I was ten, and since when was ten, too old to be a kid? My entire childhood was rooted in the sense that I wasn't good enough, and that propelled me to starve myself, and get a job at Hollister, so I had an automatic response that screamed, "I'm not a loser - look at me, I work at the most popular store on the planet!" At 17, I met my first husband at that job who was disrespectful to me from day one. When we got married when I was 18, he was abusive - emotionally, verbally - and it took me years to get over what had happened. After being alone, I was able to find a relationship built on honesty. He loves me for exactly who I am - good and bad. To him, I am enough, but to be honest, I've become enough for myself too. If I don't like something about my life, I change it. It took me years to be courage enough to achieve that. So articles like this are necessary. Women need to hear this.

    I love this. I was teased in grade school. I was your stereotypical fat, stringy haired, acne riddled loser who *also* was always picked last in gym class. The guy I liked in 5th grade didn't pay me the slightest of attention. I was very juvenile - as kids should be - yet I was scrutinized for wanting to buy a Build-a-Bear when they first came out because I was ten, and since when was ten, too old to be a kid? My entire childhood was rooted in the sense that I wasn't good enough, and that propelled me to starve myself, and get a job at Hollister, so I had an automatic response that screamed, "I'm not a loser - look at me, I work at the most popular store on the planet!" At 17, I met my first husband at that job who was disrespectful to me from day one. When we got married when I was 18, he was abusive - emotionally, verbally - and it took me years to get over what had happened. After being alone, I was able to find a relationship built on honesty. He loves me for exactly who I am - good and bad. To him, I am enough, but to be honest, I've become enough for myself too. If I don't like something about my life, I change it. It took me years to be courage enough to achieve that. So articles like this are necessary. Women need to hear this.

    • Patricia Leavy
      Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
      over 2 years ago Maine, United States

      I can't tell you how much I appreciate your note. Thank you! We have a lot of similar experiences (I too was picked last in gym and I too tried to do things to make myself look "cool"). My ex treated me very poorly too, and now I am also married to a wonderful man who values me. Like you, I also make changes when I'm not happy-- but it took me many years to get here. I'm sorry for all of the struggles you have gone through and I'm so glad you've made it to where you are now. Sending lots of good energy.

      I can't tell you how much I appreciate your note. Thank you! We have a lot of similar experiences (I too was picked last in gym and I too tried to do things to make myself look "cool"). My ex treated me very poorly too, and now I am also married to a wonderful man who values me. Like you, I also make changes when I'm not happy-- but it took me many years to get here. I'm sorry for all of the struggles you have gone through and I'm so glad you've made it to where you are now. Sending lots of good energy.

      • Courtney Dercqu
        Courtney Dercqu Content Marketing Strategist & Writer
        over 2 years ago

        Thank you! I'm so glad to hear things are better for you now. When I have kids, I'm making sure to relay to them these stories to empower them, so maybe they'll have it much better than I did and not take so long to recognize their worth.

        Thank you! I'm so glad to hear things are better for you now. When I have kids, I'm making sure to relay to them these stories to empower them, so maybe they'll have it much better than I did and not take so long to recognize their worth.

        • Patricia Leavy
          Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
          over 2 years ago Maine, United States

          Thank you! That's awesome. We can always try to make it better for our kids, or other kids in our lives.

          Thank you! That's awesome. We can always try to make it better for our kids, or other kids in our lives.

  • Lost_ Yank911
    Lost_ Yank911 Random thoughts from an EMT
    over 2 years ago North Carolina, United States

    Thank you, Patricia for sharing your heartfelt journey! This resonates with so many people of all walks of lives!

    Thank you, Patricia for sharing your heartfelt journey! This resonates with so many people of all walks of lives!

    • Patricia Leavy
      Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
      over 2 years ago Maine, United States

      Happy to share! Thanks for your kind words.

      Happy to share! Thanks for your kind words.

      • Lost_ Yank911
        Lost_ Yank911 Random thoughts from an EMT
        over 2 years ago North Carolina, United States

        Your welcome! If people would realize they are enough, they are far more likely to reach their goals and make dreams happen.

        Your welcome! If people would realize they are enough, they are far more likely to reach their goals and make dreams happen.

        • Patricia Leavy
          Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
          over 2 years ago Maine, United States

          Absolutely!

          Absolutely!

  • JOUZGE
    JOUZGE Mogul Influencer. Entrepreneur. Cultivator of JOUZGE.
    over 2 years ago Madison, WI, United States

    Amazing. Our internal conversations can truly build us up or tear us down. Looking forward to reading your book and stories!

    Amazing. Our internal conversations can truly build us up or tear us down. Looking forward to reading your book and stories!

    • Patricia Leavy
      Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
      over 2 years ago Maine, United States

      Yes, I think they really can. Thanks so much for the support! Hope you enjoy the book.

      Yes, I think they really can. Thanks so much for the support! Hope you enjoy the book.

  • Cathy
    over 2 years ago

    I've ordered your book "Low fat love", which is due to be delivered today. Can't wait to read it.

    I've ordered your book "Low fat love", which is due to be delivered today. Can't wait to read it.

    • Patricia Leavy
      Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
      over 2 years ago Maine, United States

      That's so kind of you! Thank you! I really hope you enjoy it.

      That's so kind of you! Thank you! I really hope you enjoy it.


Patricia Leavy
Independent Sociologist, Bestselling Author, Book Series Creator and Editor

Patricia Leavy, Ph.D. is a bestselling author and independent scholar (formerly Associate Professor of Sociology, Chair of Sociology & Criminology and Founding Director of Gender Studies at Stonehill College). She is an international leader in the fields of arts-based research and research methods. [...]

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