I remember high school. I’d pretty much prefer to forget, honestly.
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.
Another great post Erika! It’s crazy how society begins dictating to us at an early age that we are not enough. And how as adults we unknowingly (or knowingly) perpetuate the same issues onto the youth in our communities. The truth is that if affecting you as an adult it is also affecting the youth that you know and probably in a more direct way because as children/young adults they are still on the path of discovery.
This is definitely indicative of a larger problem our American culture perpetuates – and it’s one of falling in line and not questioning why we believe certain things. Many people will blame “society” but it’s really just you.
Contrary to popular belief, no one can control your mind or your feelings but you, but we’re not a culture that cultivates critical thinking, emotional independence, or self-esteem. When we are told: “This is way we need to look” (either internally or externally) then we simply fall in line and don’t question why. We teach people (children, teens and adults) to be compliant – and it’s what creates not just low self-esteem, or fatphobia – but every other oppressive system that has ever existed.
I personally feel that we can’t teach teens (or ourselves) to have self-esteem when we haven’t challenged or changed the premises on which low self-esteem and self-hate are taking place. I don’t think the focus should be on changing and challenging media – that’s a symptom, not the cause. We should start teaching ourselves – and everyone else – to have critical thinking skills and be able to say, “No” no matter how old they are.
All of our problems begin – and end – with the mind; our philosophies – what we think and believe about the world. The philosophy our nation has adopted needs to change.
“I don’t think the focus should be on changing and challenging media – that’s a symptom, not the cause. ”
I think, actually, a big part of this:
“We should start teaching ourselves – and everyone else – to have critical thinking skills and be able to say, “No” no matter how old they are. ”
is challenging the media and the messaging from the status quo. The first part of learning how to say “No” and recognizing that you need to use your critical thinking skills IS to challenge and question the auto-pilot messaging you’ve been receiving, IMO.
So, while YES it is “really just you,” that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge the sources of this foolishness on a regular and often basis.
Very good post. This reminds of something a friend and I have been talking about lately. I found some pictures of me from high school and middle school and I just couldn’t believe my eyes. All those years I thought I was FAT, and I couldn’t believe how small I was. I started my first diet in the 6th grade at the urgeing of my grandmother. I think that just started a cycle for me. I was always worried about my weight, not health. Hence, the first diet being the cabbage soup diet.
I am 27 now and have been on and off diets for more than half my life. I have missed out on so many opportunities and fun being worried about my weight. I am happy to say that now I am more focused on health and don’t worry about my weight like I used to. And it feels WONDERFUL! I’m like is this what loving yourself feels like!
I stopped hating my body and living and accepting it for what it is.
I lost half my weight in middle school but I’m still a size 16.
I grew up thinking I was fat when I wasn’t and then was because kids and my mother.
I would look at girls in my high school confused. They could eat tons and never gain weight. They all seemed healthily thin.
However, one of them thought that she was fat and got angry when she saw models on a magazine (she wasn’t anorexic but very thin amd ate whatever she wanted).
Maybe because our cultures don’t believe in diets or maybe it’s their metabolism and will “catch up with them” when they get older.
I had no clue and still don’t. I just hope they don’t aim to get thinner because they’re all fine where they are.
I grew up with self image complexes because I was the fat cousin…I wore a size 8 in pants and had hips while all of my other cousins were 4 and below. I COMPLETELY LOVE this article and as a mom I agree! My daughter I’d only 5 and already says she doesnt want to be fat:( I always tell her whatever she is, she will be frikkin AWESOME!!! And I mean it with every fiber of my being. Words cannot fully express just how much I appreciate your words and just how much I am disgusted by that book.
Thank you, Erika!!!
I was having this conversation with my 8y and 10y old sons yesterday. They see me and my husband work out and join us and wanted to know if we wanted to be skinny and I quickly told them that, we are doing this to be healthy. Every skinny person is not healthy, you have to eat the right foods and exercise, get proper rest, etc. It’s not just about looking the role you have to actually live the lifestyle. Yes, I am losing weight in the process but feeling better and knowing that I am making my health a priority is for me, the greatest reward.
Drat, this totally encapsulates how I think about my body – and have for a very long time. I was 125 lb when I was in high school and I thought I was fat… When I got married 7 yrs ago I was 142 lb and I thought “oh, I’m so fat!” Two children later I’m 172 lb and I think “oh, I’m so fat! I wish I could be 142 lb again.. and then I’ll keep working til I’m 125 and then I will be perfect!”
I just can’t let go of this mentality and I think about my weight ALL the time. I look at other women who are fatter than me and think “ha, ha, you suck!” and then I look at women who are thinner than me and feel envious. I wish I could stop thinking like this, just be content with how I am NOW, but exercise and eat healthfully just because it feels good. Well, now I’m back at work after my second child (she’s two) and I have time to focus on myself (lunchtime workouts – yay!). I just have to think positively – this blog may help! Thanks for posting all these awesome articles!!
I agree it’s hard to control the inner monologue sometimes! I had no idea what Erika’s article about “Losing weight makes you hate fat people” was about until it started happening to me (right around the time, after 81 lbs that men started really giving me looks).
In another vein, since losing 81 lbs, and being at 176 and seeing the looks men give, and knowing how good I feel jogging, doing squats every day, there is NO ONE who can tell me I don’t look fantastic, because I know how far I’ve come. So anyone who’s on the street trying to judge me for my size, they’d probably flip out if I told them “I’m not fat, I’m good. 81 lbs ago I was fat, but not anymore!” No matter what society says about me at my 176.
As mothers we are the teachers of our daughters. Growing up I was allowed to have seventeen subscription at 13. I spent my teen years thinking there was something wrong with me. My mother did nothing as she watched me cut my eyelashes and eyebrows off. Cut my hair to try and look like the girls in the covers. Keep in mind I did this MYSELF. Then at 16 eating disorder that I was hiding for a year showed up. I am the product of how a mother can destory her daughter.She did it my not teaching me that the women or girls in the covers are not real.
When I was a teenager, I was at a healthy weight. Maybe even a little on the thin side. My parents had been going through their own issues at the time and felt the need to take their frustrations out on me. I still remember,vividly, my Dad calling me ‘pork’ and making oinking sounds when I sat at the table for dinner. I never understood why. I never thought I was fat or even thought about my weight until that happened. Maybe that was his way of trying to keep me from gaining weight. Whatever. It was messed up. I can’t completely blame them for my weight issues today, but it was a blow to my self-esteem and still affects me some 30 years later. This article is a great reminder that parents have such a huge influence on their children’s self-esteem, health and happiness. Those influences, good or bad, carry into adulthood. In today’s society,with crazy standards of what is ‘normal’, children need all of the positivity, support and love that they can get from their parents.
i’m a 17 year old girl, living in Africa, the place where essentially, big is beautiful. at least, it once was, i have struggled with weight all my life, and 38H bust.
my side of the world needs more people who see beneath exteriors, who dont estimate my value by my weight and who are able to speak our for girls like me who due to pressure from parents and society have been forced to work out at 12, yoyo diet, buy smaller clothes and live in fear they i will never have a family because no man will look at me twice.because i am big.
thankyou for this, i know there is hope. i pray there is hope for me
Loosing weight doesn’t change your perception of yourself. In high school I was bigger than the rest, size 12/14 165lb. when I graduated. I was semi active, so I only gained 15 lbs in the 4 years of high school. In college my weight increased, due to the fact I was not as active.. to about 201. Then after college from 22 to 29 I gained another 25lbs. Over those years I did the yo yo diets.. lost 5 lbs here and there, only to put them back on. It was not until I was 29 that I finally figured out weight maintenance is a life long change in habit and not a quick fix… Fast forward to today 5 years later 156lbs and a size 6, I still look in the mirror and tell myself I am fat..sometimes. Lucky with age comes wisdom and deep down I know I would rather be healthy then fit some commercial idea of thin. Unfortunately, we are feeding one picture of fitness to our kids and not even an healthy one. When did being stick small become healthy. If you are working out.. you will put on muscle which means you will not be stick thin( well for most people). So I make it my duty as an educator in the middle school grades to discuss body image with my young ladies and guys in class when there is a teachable moment.. I let them see me eating greens and fruit… enjoying it. When I see the young ladies talking about their weight I always make sure I mention that all body types are different and at your age no one is fat, you are unique. Focus on being healthy and active. Instead of the fries at sonic, ask for the apples. Instead of going to Sonic, walk across the street to 7-11 and get a fruit salad or turkey sandwich. Drink water instead of the soda. I tell the boys especially go over to Pasado’s a Mexican restaurant instead of Sonic… The food is not necessarily low fat but its home made and their are many dishes that are grilled.
To be fair, it honestly can – but it all depends on what occurs during your journey. For me, a lot of healing happened and it changed my perception of myself and my capabilities, and my willingness to be open minded and try new things.
I can understand why and how that won’t always be the case for some.
I am a believer in therapy/coaches/support to help women work through these issues in the direction they need to go, though. I would strongly encourage you to get out there and pursue that.
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