The first time I thought I was fat is a day that is embedded in my memory. It was the summer of 1986; I was 11 years old. This pivotal moment came rushing back to me almost 30 years later, in the summer of 2014, during 2 visits to the playground with my beautiful energetic 4-year old niece, Reia. I experienced something that took me back to the beginning of a lifetime of my own chronic body dissatisfaction.
On the first occasion, Reia found a friend to play with on the sliding board, which gave me a much-needed respite from running around with a bunch of children. I’m always curious about the conversations little kids have with each other, so I inserted myself into the mix. I started by asking the little girl the typical questions that adults ask kids:
“What’s your name?”. She told me.
“How old are you?”. She replied, paused, then said “I’m just heavy”.
Confused, I repeated the question, thinking maybe she didn’t understand me.
She said, “I’m 3, but I’m just heavy”.
I quickly realized that she was just repeating something that she’d heard someone else (probably the adults in her life) say in response to the question about her age.
I was stunned.
Then I put the puzzle pieces together. When someone asks her about her age, she tells them, then they probably respond “Wow, you’re big for 3!”. Her adult caregivers chime in, “Yes, she’s just heavy.”
I’m just speculating, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? Why else would a 3-year old say something so sad?
Fast-forward 3 weeks to another playground with my niece. THIS time, my sister and I were exercising and 5 or 6 kids joined in because we’re cool, fun grown-ups.
When we finished our sweat fest, one of the girls asked if we’d be back for another workout next week. She wanted to exercise with us because, “My mom told me I need to get rid of THESE”, she said as she patted her 13-year old thighs.
I quickly told her that she was perfect already and there was no need to get rid of anything. But I knew that my words in the middle of a playground on a hot, summer evening were not enough to override the years of negative talk hurled her way by family, friends, and classmates.
Unfortunately, many women, including me, have childhood stories like these. Our stories weren’t exactly the same, but there is a common thread:
As a female in this society, we learn at an early age that you’re never quite enough…there’s always something you could or should do to make yourself more acceptable to the world.
The first time I thought I was fat was in 7th grade…I stepped on the scale to see the dial shoot up to 118 pounds. I don’t know why I thought that number was too high, but I remember immediately thinking that I needed to do something about it. Maybe it was because the kids at school referred to me and my best friend as “pork on a stick”…I was the pork portion, she was skinny so I’m pretty sure she was the stick.
Or maybe it was because my own father frequently told me that, as someone who is only 5’2”, I have a “small margin of error”. Translation: even the slightest bit of weight gain would turn me into a little butterball, so I’d better be careful.
Body shaming is a legacy that gets passed down from generation to generation in far too many families.
My constant quest to be smaller and my dissatisfaction with myself and my body started that day in 7th grade and lasted for 25 years. That’s WAY too long to not accept yourself. Unfortunately, many women suffer much longer than that.
Think about this for yourself, for the little girls, and for the grown women in your life. They’re buried in an avalanche of images and messages of what we “should” be, what we “could” be if we just lose a few pounds.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of it. It’s time to finally put an end to this nonsense.
Let's end the notion that something is inherently wrong with us and we need to spend a lifetime trying to fix it.
The good news is that we have the power to stop it. We can re-program ourselves and our little girls to believe that a smaller size isn’t the most important thing we can be in this life.
I’ll do whatever needs to be done so that my niece and any other little girls don’t spend a lifetime trying to fix something that isn’t even broken.
So, how about you? Do YOU remember the first time you thought you were fat? Share your story in the comments below.