I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw this photo posted by the page, My Favorite F Word is Feminism.
It made me wonder: when exactly did I start hating my body and why have I let it cause me to hate myself?
I remember being in sixth grade and trying out for the cheerleading team. I had to take a physical exam at my doctor's office to get cleared to try out. When the doctor came back in with the chart after I was weighed, he told me that I was 101 lbs. I got very upset. I cried. Not sniffled, I mean I actually broke down and cried in the room.
I wasn't told that I had cancer. I wasn't told that I was dying. I wasn't told anything severe enough for me to break down and cry like my life was over. I was only told that I made it to over 100 lbs. I remember my doctor telling me that I was "only a little overweight" for my "height and age" but I would "be fine." He didn't get how big of a deal this was for me.
I felt like no other girl in my class weighed this much. In fact, most of them were in the 70s-90s range, and they were very proud of it. I felt even worse when my mother and grandmother informed me that they didn't even weigh over 100 lbs until they were almost in their 30s. The whole situation just made me feel fat, disgusting, ugly and worthless. I know that's horrible language, it's incredibly negative and despicable, but that's how I truly felt at the time.
I didn't make the cheerleading team that year. I was crushed. I came to the conclusion that I didn't make it because I was "too fat." Now, you could argue that I simply wasn't good enough. That I didn't have the skill. You could even say that my confidence went down due to feeling bad about my weight gain and it reflected in my try out. You might even say I was actually pretty good, but the other girls who made it just had better showmanship. However, the next year, my sister had the credentials to give me a physical exam and she put something like 90lbs on that sheet and I made the cheerleading team that year. I even became one of the co-captains the year after that.
Though 6th grade seems like a very early age for a young girl to start having these thoughts about inadequacy and hatred for her body, unfortunately, that wasn't the first time I felt that way.
I first started school at age 5. I remember being in kindergarten and there was this super nice girl named Jasmine. People would say that Jasmine and I "kinda look alike, except Jasmine is prettier." I felt like there wasn't a day where Jasmine and I weren't being compared. She was smaller, thinner, her mother let her wear her hair down (mine was always braided mine in ponytails and I despised it.) I didn't know I wasn't supposed to like myself, but slowly I realized that she would get the compliments and I would get the insults. It made me feel like crap. I was used as a rate of comparison for how much better Jasmine was than me. I didn't appreciate being insulted to build Jasmine up, and I don't think she appreciated being used to tear other people down.
I was chubby. I knew it and so did everyone else. I would hate when the teachers would lean down and pinch my "chubby cheeks" in front of the class and talk in that strange voice adults do when they're talking to kids. It was like they had a special voice for the chubby child. It was degrading. I didn't feel special or adorable and it just reinforced the idea to the entire class that I was chubby and therefore made me feel fat and inadequate. I hated being called "cute and chubby," as opposed to Jasmine who was described as "beautiful and little."
In third grade, it just got worse. I remember being called fat and ugly all the time by the kids at school. It was like they knew I hated my body and they just enjoyed tearing me down. I couldn't eat in front of people without being called out for "stuffing" my "fat face." If I didn't eat during lunch, someone would just say that it was probably killing me not eating and that I'd probably eat my whole family when I got home. I was just miserable. I felt sick. I hated school. I hated people. But most of all, more than anything or anyone else, I hated myself.
The women in my family have always complained about their weight. I remember my mother and grandma shoving down disgusting looking "healthy" foods in order to lose weight then eating some sweets later and feeling horribly guilty.
I remember my mom passing her reflection in grocery stores and telling herself to "suck it in," while looking at her stomach in disgust. I remember being taught how to hold my stomach in and how to walk so I could look skinnier.
I remember fad diets, weird exercise machines at my grandmother's house, girdles that looked like torture devices and laxative teas. I've even seen a few different types of weight loss pills.
I have had days where I've skipped meals. Days where I would stand in front of the mirror and cry. I even remember literally taking my fist and punching my stomach in an attempt to make "the rolls go down." I've done the cleanses. I've rubbed preparation h on my tummy and wrapped it with plastic wrap. Why? Because I hate my body and it was absolutely frustrating trying to walk around and live like that.
But now I'm starting to realize that it's not my weight that's the issue. I haven't battled or struggled with my weight for years. No. I've been struggling with how I view myself. I've been struggling with how I was taught to view myself.
When I finally made it down to a size 0, I still hated my body. I wanted to know why I wasn't at a 00. When I made it to a 00, it still wasn't good enough. When my body started to change again, I started making it into the 1's and I was crushed once more. Now, well, I'm no where near that size anymore. I had that "ideal clothing size" and I still didn't feel good enough.
I'm not saying all of this to blame people for bullying or to gain sympathy. I'm not even saying all of this to make some huge statement about how I've overcome body shaming. Though I have healthier practices now, I have not overcome it. I still hate my body. I still hate myself some days. I'm just getting to the point where I can actually look at myself in the mirror, but it's only at some parts at a time and it's only on some days. Now that I'm older and people actually have nice things to say about my appearance, I don't believe them. I have a hard time accepting compliments and sometimes I just think that people are being either sarcastic or making a joke. But I'm happy to say that I do have some days where I feel incredible and confident which is something that I've never had before.
The thing is, slowly but surely, I'm starting to learn that the issue is internal. Whether I weigh 70 lbs or 700 lbs, it doesn't matter because it's really about the way I feel about myself inside. I don't think that I was born hating my body. I actually didn't even pay attention to the fact that people even had different body types. I never thought that any of the women in my family were "too fat" or "overweight" until they told me that they were. I didn't know that there was a fat or skinny or medium or whatever until someone told me. I just thought people were people and we just looked the way we looked and it wasn't a big deal. I had to be taught over time not to have those kind of ideas. I was re-programmed to think otherwise.
Being healthy should be what's important, but that's easier said than done. I'm embarrassed now that I cried over something so shallow and ridiculous as being in 6th grade and weighing over 100lbs. I'm just glad that 6th grade me didn't know that we'd end up under 5"1 and over 140lbs by the time we reached college. But if I could go back in time and talk to her, I wouldn't tell her that. I would tell her that loving herself and being healthy is what matters. I would tell her that hurting and being unkind to your body is unproductive and in turn, unkind to your mind.
I think that both men and women are taught to hate their bodies. I think that as much as we shame others for being short, tall, skinny, heavy set or whatever, we also shame ourselves. I think it goes without saying that these are terrible habits that we need to stop teaching kids, but in order to teach the next generation how to love and accept themselves we have to figure out how to unlearn all the nonsense that has been taught to us over the years. But it's not easy. I, like many others, are still struggling with figuring out how to love me for me.