When asked in a recent interview what I do to relieve stress, I, of course, mentioned reading and blogging. The discussion that followed has stayed with me these past few weeks. The interviewer asked me about my blog and began discussing the blog of her friend, Bring Pretty Back. It isn’t the blog that fascinates me as much as the idea behind the blog.
The idea is quite simple: Most women, if truly honest with themselves, have body image issues. The dirty little secret is that no one wants to admit it or discuss it. Yet we let our poor excuse of a culture fill TV, magazines, movies, and more with unrealistic portrayals of the female body. Then we expect young girls, and ourselves, to live up to those unrealistic expectations.
I’m going to share a bit of my own fight with my body image, which began as soon as I entered kindergarten. What angers me most is that I internalized all of the negative messages I received as a child – all at the hands of my classmates. It should not have to be this way.
Before I started kindergarten, I never thought of myself as fat or thin, athletic or unathletic. I was simply me. I did compare myself to my older cousins – I wanted to be just like them – but I never worried about it. I always thought I’d catch up when I was older. I’d grow taller and thin out. It never happened, of course, but it was a theory. My cousins never made me feel bad about my body or unwanted when we did anything physical. All of that was left to my classmates.
More than anything, I had a love/hate relationship with school. I loved learning and had no problems with my teachers. Gym, recess, and classmates were altogether a different story. I can’t begin to tell you how much I hated gym. As one of the shortest and chubbiest kids in my class, I was constantly picked last in gym class. I was always one of the last kids to finish when we ran. None of that was even the worst part. The worst part was being compared to a girl in my class who was much bigger than I was at the time – and the name-calling. I can only imagine what that little girl went through too.
Short, Fat, and Squatty
Got No Face,
Got No Body
It is sad I remember that rhyming taunt all these years later, but it seemed to never fully go away. I don’t remember who came up with the chant or when, but it followed me throughout most of elementary school. It is supposed to insinuate that not only am I fat, I am ugly too. I have no redeeming physical characteristics whatsoever. Is it any wonder I became an introvert?
Most of the outright bullying stopped in junior high and high school. I was then simply left out. I was never under any illusion I could ever be popular or even fully accepted socially. The school district I attended K-12 valued athletic ability almost to the exclusion of everything else. You might do OK socially if you weren’t an athlete providing you had everything else going for you, but you’d never be among the most popular kids. That social status was reserved only for the best athletes.
In high school I threw myself into school work and simply bided my time until college. I never really dated in high school, and in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. At the time I didn’t need any high school boy further damaging my already fragile body image.
Although it took a while for me to come out of my shell, I finally did start to have some kind of social life in college and took advantage of much of what Michigan State has to offer. By the time I graduated in 2004, I actually was within 15 lbs. of what I should weigh for my height. A cocktail dress I wore in high school actually fit me better in 2004 than it did in 1998 when I purchased it. And yet I still considered myself incredibly fat. I could not see my body as anything other than fat.
What deeply saddens me is that I would give anything to revisit my weight in either high school or college. Now I truly am fat. I can only hope one day to have enough self-respect to actually care and do something about it. It may already be too late. When are we going to wake up and do something as a society? The obesity epidemic will not be resolved by diet and exercise alone.