My hate list was long. And it was written on a nice white piece of A4 refill paper from high school.
In a lovely logical fashion too, as you’d expect from a Type A personality like me. On the left-hand side were listed all the things that I hated about my body. While on the right hand side were the list of improvements that I needed to make to my teenage body.
Kind of like a DIY renovation list for your kitchen, only this one was for my body. Yes weird.
I wish I still had the list, in some weird frankinstein-distorted kind of way – so I could try to understand my teenage-brain. But I don’t need the list in front of me to tell you exactly what was on that list of hates, because it’s still etched painfully, line by line, on my brain.
And what with all the discussion about Weight Watchers (I refuse to call them “WW”) release of their new app Kurbo for kids this week (gag!), what better time to talk about body image stuff?
Okay, that was a rhetorical question, you don’t need to answer.
But truly, I’m horrified that Weight Watchers is now going after kids as young as 8 years old with the Kurbo app – which their marketing frames as a way to help kids eat healthier. Oh pleassse ‘WW’, we didn’t come down in the last rain-shower. All this is going to do is create a whole lot of judgement and dissatisfaction around food and their bodies, possibly for a lifetime…
10 Things I Hated About Me
I have no idea why I hated my body as a teenager. Some might say I was too thin. Actually, some did say I was too thin. And some said I looked like I was anorexic. So there was that.
And there was the boy at school who said I was flat chested and looked like I had two fried eggs for boobs. And the ‘friend’ that pointed out to me that two boys at the movies were laughing about how small my chest was.
And the other ‘friend’ who said my knees were so knobbly and looked weird.
And the family members who laughed about how “boyish” my figure was.
And trust me, I’m not asking for your pity here. I know that being too skinny is not the worst thing that can happen in life.
But what is really tough, is receiving message after message as a teenager that your body is not good enough.
Soon enough, you start to believe it, right?
And then you add other things to your list, all of your own accord, after gazing too long in the mirror and hating the reflection.
- I decided my part-time need for glasses was unacceptable.
- My bluey-grey eyes were too boring a colour.
- My mousy-brown hair was horrible.
- My inability to tan much, and definitely to not tan evenly, was also a fatal flaw.
- My lack of a waistline was a failure.
- My hips weren’t rounded enough.
- I had flabby, cellulite laden thighs.
- Plus, I was too boring a height – I wanted to be shorter and cuter, or taller and more striking. Not just a boring middle-sized girl.
Add to that my lack of chest, knobbly knees and boyish figure – that my kind friends reminded me about regularly – and I had a nice list of at least 10 things to hate about myself.
There was more – but I’ll spare you the details. Cos you get the picture. And I know I’m not alone in having hated my body as a teenager. That collision of hormones, media images of air-brushed women, and callous teenage friends is a toxic mix that can set the stage for a lifetime of body dissatisfaction.
Horrible Body Comments Heard As A Kid, Cause Body Image Pain As An Adult
A couple of years ago I wrote a nutrition column for the NZ Listener magazine about how parent’s comments about a young girls food intake and body shape affected their levels of body satisfaction as an adult. It was based on a research study on the same.
These researchers discovered that comments about how much food young girls were eating, didn’t have a great deal of impact. But there was a clear link between parents making negative comment’s about their daughters body, and her levels of body dissatisfaction as an adult. The more negative comments she heard as a child about her body, the greater her levels of body dissatisfaction as an adult – no matter what size she was as an adult (thin, average or larger).
So if she’d heard lots of negative body comments as a child, she was statistically more likely to dislike her body than another woman with exactly the same weight and body size who had NOT heard negative comments about her own body as a child.
Which goes to show – what people say to us about our body in our youth, has a huge impact on our body image as an adult.
Reclaiming Your Body And Your Wellbeing
Like a lot of girls, I carried those body-hurts from my youth into adulthood. Throughout my twenties I never felt good enough or pretty enough. And nothing anyone said could change that – I’d locked in that idea that my body was my identity, and my body was not good enough.
As my weight climbed and I swung from too-thin to too-thick, my body image woes didn’t disappear, they just morphed to hate from another angle.
Not helped by one girlfriend who said to me, “I never thought you could be overweight, but wow, last winter you really got big…” (and yes that was the same friend that laughed about the chest comments.)
I carried all of that into my nutrition career and worked hard to restrict my food intake and be thin, just not too thin.
By the time I was a mother, I was too busy #mumming to write lists about my body woes, but I still carried a virtual list around in my head.
It really wasn’t until I discovered the non-diet nutrition and intuitive eating and Health At Every Size (HAES) movements that I really began to question my own body issues. And here’s what I learnt about my body issues that changed my life.
6 Lessons I Learnt After Hating My Body
- I am MORE than a body. Like a LOT more – I have brains, a personality, a sense of humour, lots of love to give, and so much more to offer. I won’t be defined by my body shape for another day. (P.S. If anyone says something negative about my body or anyone else’s around me, they’d better expect a BIG blowback from this woman).
- Those body woes are driven by a diet culture that preys on our body insecurities and tries to make them worse, so we’ll spend our money buying their useless solutions to fix the supposed body problems. I won’t fall for their tricks any more.
- We live in a patriarchal society in which men hold power and prestige over women, including by critiquing our bodies – yes, subjecting women to ridiculous body critiques is a historical part of that system that prevents women from being their most powerful selves, because we’re too busy counting calories and macros. It’s such an unseen way in which woman are consistently pulled down – critiques about the image of female politicians, are one great example. And no-one cares what male newsreaders wear, but they always comment on the female newsreader’s outfit. There are clear double-standards for our respective body images. A woman’s body shape and clothing choices are no-one’s business but her own. So I’m taking my power back.
- Health At Every Size should be our goal – because body size is not a reliable indicator of health or lifestyle habits. We all know thin people who eat a rubbish diet and don’t exercise, yet stay slim. And larger people who eat healthy stuff all day and exercise like crazy, and they still stay large. How can body size possibly be an indicator of health or lifestyle habits? Enough with the body discrimination! Bigger people are not automatically lazier or unhealthy. The only thing lazy around here is the assumption that body size indicates anything about health or lifestyle.
- Fatphobia is real – if you struggled with point #4 above, then I’m going to gently call you in and ask you to consider whether you might be fatphobic. Don’t worry if you are, it’s pretty common in this #dietculture we live in. We live in a fatphobic culture, where fat is considered the height of evil, akin to Hitler. And that’s bullsh#t. I used to be fatphobic for sure. It doesn’t matter what size you are – you can still be fatphobic. In fact often the most fatphobic people are those that live in a larger body – they hate themselves and their body with a passion. But I, for one, am not going to join in on this cr@p anymore. I’m working my hardest to flush out every last fatphobic thought from my brain – but it’s like peeling an onion, every time you think you’re peeling the last layer off, you find another underneath.
- Lack of self-compassion is a major cause of body image problems – yes really. If you have a habit of being mean to yourself, then chances are you probably have a worse body image than the gal sitting next to you. And here’s the real issue – your lack of self-compassion, not your thighs or your tummy. Self-compassion is about more than being kind to yourself, or chanting a couple of body positive mantras to yourself (which is why I teach it in my Zest membership program). But in basic terms, you really need to be treating yourself with the same compassion you would a friend who is hurting (only not like that friend of mine that mocked my weight and chest, okay? just kiddin’).
If my teenage-critical-self was to write a list of body woes about my adult body, she’d find a lot more to complain about than her youthful body. Maybe two A4 sheets would be needed – ha ha! B
But here’s the thing – I am much happier today with my body image than I ever was in my youth.
So, are you ready to lay down those body image woes? It’s empowering beyond belief to take charge of your own life and your own body and set your own standards. It’s freeing to look at everyone around you and have compassion and kindness for them, irrespective of their size.