I Started Feeling Fat When I Was Only Five-Years-Old: From Body Shame to Body Positivity
Today, I’m sharing reflections on my relationship with my body and my journey toward adopting a body positive mentality.
The body positive movement has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and for good reason. At long last, women are hearing messages encouraging them that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, textures and sizes. It’s an awesome thing to see brands like Dove and Aerie showing real (not re-touched) people in their ad campaigns. Plus-size models are becoming more mainstream, clothing companies are becoming increasingly size-inclusive and Target now features full-figured mannequins in their stores.
This movement is needed because #thestruggleisreal when it comes to body image for most (all?) women. I, personally, have been struggling off and on with my weight throughout my entire life. Well, maybe not my entire life, but it’s darn near close… (I’m guessing most of you can relate.)
Have you ever thought back on the words, experiences or moments when you distinctly felt shame over your body? I did some journaling about that at one point a couple years ago, based on my therapist’s recommendation, and I was shocked (and a bit horrified) to realize I first felt like my body was not enough when I was only five-years-old.
I recalled feeling self-conscious about my weight in kindergarten and I really don’t know where it came from. We rarely ever watched TV and I don’t remember my mom talking about weight issues. I don’t recall anyone ever saying anything to me that made me feel that I was overweight as a young girl. However, I definitely picked up the idea that “skinny” was the gold standard of beauty.
Quite honestly, I was not overweight. However, I was muscular and weighed more than my friends. Yes, I actually remember girls talking about how much they weighed (why on earth that comes up in kindergarten I do not know?). I felt horrified about weighing 50 pounds, when my friends said they only weighed 40 pounds.
Body shame entered in at five-years-old, but, thankfully, it was not ever-present. There were many moments I felt beautiful and confident throughout my childhood, yet it’s shocking and sad to reflect back on the insecurity I felt at such a young age. I remember my body insecurity really spiking though when I was in middle school (hello, captain obvious!).
I remember taking a silly online quiz with my friends in our middle school keyboarding class. One of the quiz questions asked for you to list your body type–skinny, average, or overweight. My (very skinny) friends were all doing the classic fishing-for-compliments move and asking, “What should I put for body type?” and the other girls would chime in, “Skinny, of course! You are SO tiny!!”
I again experienced that horrified feeling, realizing I was “different.” I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t really overweight either, so I quietly selected “average” on my quiz. Average seemed like a death sentence to me and “skinny” became my new goal in life.
I started Weight Watchers (just at home with some resources my mom had from going to the meetings herself) and started tracking everything I ate as an 8th grader. Looking back, I had very disordered eating during this time, although I probably wouldn’t have technically had an “eating disorder.” I lost 15 pounds and was very thin. It was the only time in my life that I could wear a size 2 (I think I even had a size 0 jeans). While size 0 is perfectly healthy for plenty of people (and I, in no way, want to shame anyone who is thin!), I was bordering on being too thin for my body type.
I stopped hard-core dieting once high school rolled around. I experienced a big confidence boost when I happened upon running cross country as a freshman. It turned out, I was pretty good at running long distance. I ended up breaking my school’s cross country record and qualifying for state finals that year. I think all the running helped keep my weight in check and the self-esteem boost helped me feel less concerned about finding my value in being skinny.
Of course, the body image issues never really went away. I always carried with me the feeling that I was the “fat girl” in my group of friends…from high school through college. Again, looking back at pictures from most of high school and college, I really wouldn’t consider myself fat at any point in time.
My weight would fluctuate and sometimes I would be heavier, but I was never really at an unhealthy weight. That didn’t seem to stop me from always feeling like my arms, legs, stomach (you name it) were too big. I was just average and, again, not being skinny made me feel like my body was all wrong.
Fast forward to the past two years, after having my second child, and my weight kept climbing and climbing until it reached an all-time high by the end of 2017. I never had dreamed I’d see such a high number on the scale. I was aware of the body positivity movement and I wanted to love and accept myself (despite my weight gain), but that felt impossible to do. I was overwhelmed by all my failed attempts to lose the weight. And I felt distressed to watch the scale climb higher when I so desperately wanted the number to go down.
This February, I decided to change my life (not exaggerating). I started the Optavia diet program, while also committing to moving my body more regularly. I’ve lost 35+ pounds, ran a 10K and am continuing to exercise regularly. However, I still am 50 pounds away from my healthy, goal weight. (Actually, according to the BMI scale, I need to lose 75 pounds still to be considered at a healthy weight, but I think that scale is pretty bogus since it doesn’t take your muscle/body density into account at all).
Despite being 50 (to 75) pounds overweight still, I think I’m finally starting to embrace the body positive movement–not just in theory, but in how I actually think about and treat my own body. Just yesterday, while exercising at the gym, I saw myself in the mirror and I thought–Wow, I feel proud of my body. I feel strong. I actually might be able to say I truly love my body.
I felt that self-love yesterday, but maybe I won’t feel that everyday. Just like any relationship, I need to choose to love myself each day and to treat my body with kindness. Today, I’m choosing to LOVE my body…right now, even with my cellulite, belly fat, double chin and those pesky stray hairs that have started popping up on my chin.
While I’m still considered “obese” according to my BMI (again–ridiculous and such a hard label to swallow), I also know that my body has naturally birthed two amazing human beings without even a Tylenol. I know that I can run over 6 miles without stopping and I can hold a plank longer this week than I could last week.
I’m sure I’ll spend many more days sorting through decades of distorted body image junk, but today I am celebrating my imperfectly wonderful and miraculous body. And I am also celebrating the different ways beauty is represented in each one of YOU.
Will you join me, friends? We NEED to expand our definition of beauty and our own inner self-talk dialogue, not only for our own selves, but also for the little eyes and ears that are watching us.
Let’s stop sending messages to five-year-old girls that their weight defines them. Instead, let’s do the most radical thing and show them what it looks like to embrace our own beauty, even when–perhaps especially when–we look nothing like the models we see on magazine covers.
Who’s with me?
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