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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.