Growing up, I was the “skinny girl.” I had a big appetite but also a naturally fast metabolism, so I had very little body fat. I was constantly hearing phrases from my classmates, my peers’ parents, teachers, and my relatives such as, “You’re so teeny!” and, “Are your parents feeding you?” I remember my two older sisters making comments on how I was too skinny, even going as far to call me anorexic before I knew what that was. When I was in 8th grade, I remember overhearing a conversation between two girls trying to decide who the skinniest girl in the grade was, and my name was mentioned. While this would be bizarre now, I didn’t blink an eye then. In 9th grade, my mom aggressively tried to get me to eat three helpings of dinner one night. When I asked her why, she said other parents had been making comments about my body during my basketball game. Whether those parents meant it as a joke or not, I was mortified and angry that adults were talking about my weight.
Constantly hearing how small I was made me feel as if I had to fit the role of a skinny girl. For as long as I remember, I was terrified to gain weight. In middle school at the end of every night, I would run through everything I ate during the day and feel immense shame if I deemed it to be too much. Running cross country was a huge part of my life prior to college, and if I’m honest with myself, I only ever joined in 7th grade because I wanted to lose weight. I wasn’t even 90 pounds yet! When I got into high school, I found myself comparing myself to every other girl and feeling insecure that I was no longer the smallest. When I went through a growth spurt and gained 15 pounds, I freaked the hell out. But this was normal! I wish I could have told my younger self that your childhood body is so temporary and meant to change. Just as some people lose baby fat as they get older, it is also common and normal to gain healthy weight. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the root of my insecurity and obsession with my weight growing up came from hearing comments about my weight my entire childhood.
If I wasn’t hearing about how small I was at home, at school, or during my extracurriculars, would I have been so aware of my skinniness? We, women (and men!), need to be conscious about how we make others aware of their body type, starting when they are children. Body image is truly constructed in childhood. Constantly bringing attention to one’s body’s parts reinforces the thought that their body is not normal, even if they may look a little different from what is considered the norm. The adolescent mind is so malleable, our first sense of identity comes from what others tell us about ourselves. So in terms of our perception of our bodies, if we are always told our body looks a certain way, we will believe it. And in cases like mine, we may try to commit to this body type even when it’s not reasonable. I’m grateful to have a healthier perspective on my body image now. Though I can’t go back and talk to my younger self, I am determined to be a healthy role model regarding weight and self-perception to children I raise, or encounter, in the future. Let this serve as a reminder that even if no harm is meant, words make a lasting impact, especially to the growing mind. Body image is constructed in childhood, and if we are aware of this, we can be healthy examples of body acceptance in adulthood.