I recently was chatting with some friends who have elementary and middle school aged girls. The subject of body image came up, and frankly, I had a moment of gratitude that I don’t have to wade through the waters of self-image with a girl of my own.
I remember clearly the first time someone made a negative comment about my body. I was sitting at the lunch table, eating a cookie that I’d bought (remember those cookies that were raw in the middle?!) when another girl said that if I kept eating that many I was going to end up fat.
Talk about getting the wind knocked out of you! That hurt y’all. It hurt a lot. In fact that one comment led to 3 years of anorexia, and nearly 30 years of body image issues.
And I know I’m not alone.
If kids were talking like that when I was in elementary school, I know it can only be worse now, with all the exposure we all have to “picture perfect” bodies from advertising and social media.
Thankfully, there is a counter-movement sweeping through, placing an emphasis on body positivity rather than perfection.
The body positivity movement has not caught on so quickly by accident either. Women, it seems, are growing tired of being taught from an early age to hate their bodies.
You may, like me, remember with surprising clarity where you were the first time someone called you ugly, or fat or stupid. These wounds pierce our psyche and it can take years to heal from that pain.
Appearance is one small factor of who we are, but we place a high value on it in our society. Fat shaming is rampant, even despite the body positive movement’s attempts to bring some fresh perspective to having a different body type than slender.
Where did we learn to take this message and internalize it? Here are three places you probably first learned to fat shame yourself.
Our families are supposed to be a place of nurturing, love and mutual respect, but it isn’t always like that. Sometimes our families are where we first learn to dislike ourselves. Family, sometimes under the guise of being helpful, sometimes just to be mean, like to point out negatives about our physical appearance.
“You’re gaining weight, aren’t you?”
“She’s a chubby thing, isn’t she?”
“Sweetie, boys don’t like fat girls.”
We internalize these messages at a frighteningly rapid pace. Why? Because we trust our families. They love us and we love them. If they say it, it must be true. So we go through life repeating their words to ourselves like a sickening mantra.
Children can be SO cruel to each other. Any irregularity is quick to be pointed out and emphasized. They are especially cruel to overweight children.
Ask anyone who has grown up with extra weight on them, and they will tell you some sad stories: being chosen last in gym class, looked over during social events. Dating in high school while fat? Forget it!
Before long, it’s easy to just assume you won’t be accepted because of your weight and to not even try. Or a person may swing the other way and be willing to do anything to gain acceptance, which can set a kid up to engage in risky behaviors such as underage drinking and drugs.
The beauty of romantic love is that it can change your life, and the way you see yourself. But this is also the pain. Lovers come into the most intimate contact with our body, and because they do, they are in a unique position. Their criticism can deeply hurt us.
We stand literally naked before them. If these people come so close to us and tell us that we are too fat or unpleasant to look at, we are very likely to believe them. After all, who sees us naked besides ourselves and them?
Stop Body Shaming
You deserve a life free from the body shame. There is no reason to believe what these people say.
I want you to take a hard long look at yourself in the mirror. It may be the first time you have really seen yourself in quite a while. Take a look and find three things you like about yourself. Maybe it’s your eyes or your freckles or your awesome butt. There are no wrong answers here!
Then I want you to create a body positive mantra. It can be something you make up, or feel free to use one of these mantras:
- I love me, and my opinion of myself is the only one that matters.
- I am just as valuable as everyone else.
- I choose to be happy and love myself today.
- I appreciate my body always.
Speak your mantra every day. Write it on your mirror. Stick it on your computer. Make it the background on your phone. Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself of the truth in it.
In time you will find your way out of the layers of shame you have been buried under. Your body will thank you.
Do you body shame yourself?