I can say that I enjoyed my years, there. I was entrenched in the music department, lived in the library and was pretty good at staying out of trouble. I was pretty shielded from the traumas of weight that the outside world was facing. My peers, however… that was another story entirely.
You could see it at the lunch table. The girls I hung with, these tiny little size 2s, would bring back salads, and eat maybe a fourth of it. Or they’d get french fries, and eat maybe only one or two of ’em. No one would admit it, but everyone was extremely concerned about their weight. You could see it on their faces.
Enter this Today Show segment, with Joy Bauer discussing a spread she did for Seventeen magazine featuring a candid discussion with teenaged girls about weight and perceptions of beauty.
There is a problem when you cannot find a high school girl that is happy with herself. There is a problem when a girl says “I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve looked in the mirror and have been completely happy with myself.”
Let me explain. Sure, when I wake up in the morning, I notice things that may stand out about myself in a way I don’t love… but I love me. No matter what my physical “flaw,” I’m still happy with me. I’m still going to be dope. I’m still going to put on my flip flops, my six inch pumps, or my kicks and do what I do… and do it well.
In other words, a perceived physical flaw does not dictate my self-esteem. Ever. I deem myself worthy of esteem because of what I give to the people around me and how I aim to make the ones I love better people.
I hate that young, impressionable high school girls aren’t getting that message. Are we giving it to them? I mean, actively telling girls that beauty, albeit powerful, is nowhere near as powerful as the emotional value of accomplishment or giving or growth or successes? Why have so much of your value tied up in appearance? To the point where she cannot say she is happy with herself?
I’m not going to bring up the girl talking about buying the 7-pack of kit-kat bars and hiding them in her bedroom (oops, guess I did anyway), or their apparent lack of understanding of their relationship with food. I’m just wondering why weight carries so much weight (no pun intended) when it comes to a teenage girl’s sense of self-worth.. and what we can do to counteract that in our young women. Hell, what can we do to correct that mentality in ourselves?
Enter this foolishness. Meet Maggie. See Maggie stare longingly in a mirror at her “skinny” self, while holding a dress several sizes too small. Ever heard of aspirational dating? Aspirational dining? Maggie, the young girl, is dieting. Aspirationally.
…because, ladies and gentlemen, Maggie is going on a diet.
From Bitch Magazine:
In this week’s douchey children’s lit news, Aloha Publishers is catching heat for a picture book they’ll be releasing in October called Maggie Goes on a Diet, written by Paul Kramer. Here’s what the publisher tells us of the book’s content, which is targeted at young children:
Maggie has so much potential that has been hiding under her extra weight. This inspiring story about a 14 year old who goes on a diet and is transformed from being overweight and insecure to a normal sized teen who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.
Where do you begin to unpack the problems with a book like this? Let’s start with the cover, which shows a fat Maggie holding a too-small-for-her dress up to herself while she looks into a mirror at a skinnier Maggie. This image perpetuates the idea that hidden inside of every fat person is a skinny person waiting to get out (Tasha Fierce writes more on the “skinny girl in a fat body” trope here). The message behind this book is clearly telling young girls that they’ll only be happy and “normal” if they’re thin, AS IF THEY AREN’T FED THAT MESSAGE OFTEN ENOUGH ALREADY.
It’s really hard to carry this message on a blog about weight loss, because the vast majority of people who come here believe that they are worth less than their actual worth because they’re fat. Many people believe they deserve to starve themselves until they look the way society wants them to look. Many of the people who come here do genuinely believe there’s “potential” hiding underneath all that extra weight. (Pause: potential for what? Potential to be a beautiful young girl, because she surely couldn’t be one while she’s fat? Potential to be an athlete, because we ALL know that all it takes to be an athlete is to be thin… and we all certainly know that athletes got good at their craft by dieting, not participating in the actual sport they’d succeed in and, in turn, become more fit and lose the weight?)
I think a big part of that has to do with how we grow up. We put a priority on “not being fat” instead of “being healthy,” while forgetting that the same things that keep us healthy are the things that keep us fit, whether fit be a size 2 or a size 12. We focus our attention on “curing childhood obesity” and singling out overweight kids to make them eat “fat kid meals” instead of teaching all children how to live a lifestyle that protects them from unnecessary weight gain. All because we insist on telling people that their potential is mitigated by the fact that they’re fat. The book’s hero goes “from overweight to normal.” To say nothing of why, in a country where we’re almost 70% overweight, we’re still acting like “being overweight” isn’t “normal,” already… can I at least ask why we use these words around children who are still learning what the word “normal” implies? Because, let’s face it – as a Black girl with thick, coarse hair…. if the message, for me, was to conform to what “normal” was around me? I might be bending over backwards with no identity trying to be what everyone else wants me to be.
I write this blog in the way that I do because I believe that even though we want to change our outward appearance, I believe that also means we deserve to hear these messages without being told we’re worthless until we change our outward appearance. I believe that w should have the right to change our bodies if we want – and only if we want – and when we choose, we should be able to get that information without being made to feel like crap. I also think that’s the cornerstone of how we should be talking to our young girls. If you feel awkward about your body, it’s okay because you’re still growing into it… and if you want to work out, fine, but know that it absolutely does not change who you are and what you are worth to the people who matter most in your life. As parents, if we are to build solid young women who are going to grow and be able to proclaim that yes, they are happy with themselves, then the answer won’t be in buying them a freaking book that glorifies weight loss as the “one thing that can unlock your potential as a human being.” It’ll be because we teach them to love and care for themselves properly, so that they can adequately give society the finger as they progress through life.
At least, that’s what I’m doing with mine. She’s gotta at least be of voting age before she’s giving anybody the finger literally, though.