Can you remember when you first realized that what you looked like mattered? Or when you first became aware that people are quick to judge someone based on how they look? How old were you? When was the first time you ever felt self-conscious about your physical appearance?
I say “when” and not “if” because I think this is something everyone has gone through or struggles with at one time or another. Or perhaps all the time.
I would say it happened for me around 6th or 7th grade, you know, the junior high years. Weren’t those just the best?
One of my first memories of starting to question if I was pretty enough happened while I was with my best friend from school at the time. We were in my room and I told her that I thought I could be considered attractive – and she burst out laughing, like, fall over on the floor laughing. This was my BEST friend mind you…
Another time at school, we had taken school pictures and our photos were getting passed back to us. I got mine in the envelope that has the clear plastic on it so you can see the photo underneath. And the girl sitting behind me yelled, “oh my gosh, RETAKE!,” while pointing at my picture. And you know what, I did get retakes. All because one person had made fun of how I looked.
I’m sure you all have stories from your childhood like this that you could share. It’s so sad for me to think about because I know how much it hurt at the time. And I was so young, maybe 10 or 11. My son is almost 2 years old, so how many more years does he have before he experiences something like this? How long can I protect him from the false idea that appearance matters? And not only that it matters, but that it’s what gives a person value?
Fast forward a few years to about the beginning of high school, so I’m like 14 or 15. Obviously, kids this age are interested and worried about their appearances. At this age, you probably had some guy or girl that you were interested in and hoped would notice you, and you knew that the best way to get their attention was to look good. Or was that just me?
Well, one thing that girls about this age are really concerned about is their body, like, their figure. To be more specific, like, who had one and who didn’t. As a coworker of mine tactfully put it, girls who are “well-endowed” or those who are not. And I have never been, nor will ever be, a “well-endowed” girl. I remember many years of having hope that maybe I still had time, maybe when I was 19, 20, or 21, I would suddenly blossom into a gorgeous, full-figured woman. But no, my body type is just different – which equated to bad and ugly in my mind. I guess I have more of an athletic body type, or at least I would I was athletic… haha!
I remember that when I was that age, I had a super-high metabolism. I could eat and eat and eat and I just wouldn’t gain weight. I remember deciding that I wanted to try to gain weight, because maybe I would look more “womanly” if I had a few extra pounds. The “curse” of not being able to gain weight is no longer mine to bear these days, and unfortunately I never did magically gain weight in all the right places, so it was not a great solution to the problem anyway.
Where did I get this idea that being “well-endowed” even matters? Why does this have to be a measure for women to try to live up to? Why does it have to be shameful for me to tell you that even the smallest standard bra size still isn’t a good fit for me? So I find myself looking in the “junior’s” section at stores. There’s a big boost for a woman’s confidence! (sarcasm, please note the sarcasm.) Even department stores are putting me to shame for being different – this is the culture we live in.
I remember taking a class in college called, “Christian Home.” (I went to a private Christian University in Arkansas.) We talked about all kinds of issues, it was actually an interesting class. We tried to talk about issues from the perspective of Christianity, I guess. I remember one class period, we were discussing what the “ultimate” woman would look like (I don’t remember why, but we were.) One of the guys in our class piped up and said, “blonde and well-endowed.” I remember thinking how cliche that was – and it made me angry. Add to that that I was neither blonde nor well-endowed, and again, I was left feeling shameful about my appearance; I was not what guys wanted.
Other women can also be a source of shame to one another about this issue, either purposefully or accidentally. I can only remember a few times when I was younger where girls purposefully made fun of me for this, but kids can be mean – no surprise there. But even as an adult, I still feel like women have a tendency to shame one another. Sometimes it’s accidental, but still happens anyway. An example of an accidental shaming might look like a woman using the hashtag #bigboobproblems to talk about why being well-endowed is not all it’s cracked up to be. Someone like me can see that and actually feel a little bit resentful. I can see that and think, “I wish I had those problems!” I do recognize, however, that there are people who may have been a bit resentful when I said that I used to have such a high metabolism and I couldn’t gain weight if I tried. I know many of you out there may be rolling your eyes and thinking you wished you had had that “problem” when you were younger.
So we all have different things we might be insecure about, or that we might envy about someone else. And we probably all have “problems” that other people see as blessings. It’s easy to want something you don’t have because you only consider it from the perspective of what you are lacking. A typical “grass is always greener” scenario.
My hope by sharing all of this, is to give people a perspective of what it’s like to struggle with these things – and to see things from the other side. So if you’ve never struggled with any of these issues, maybe it gives you a glimpse into what it might be like. No one can experience everything – we can’t be and do all things. So sharing your story and your heart with someone is a great way to help them understand you. It’s a great way to develop EMPATHY.
I’d love to hear stories from others – from you – stories that will help me develop empathy, because it’s so important. Please feel free to comment, send me a message or meet me for coffee if you’re local.
***Wow, so this post is already over 1100 words, so I think I’m gonna cut it off here. There’s so much more I could share about body image, which I’ll try to sum up in PART 2. Thanks for reading!
2 thoughts on “Body Image: My Story – The Good, the Bad, and, of course, the Ugly (pt. 1)”
Great post! While I can’t really comment on the girly stuff, that guy who said blonde/busty doesn’t speak for every man (at least not me lol). Also I have never heard of men getting personally polled by random women, so I always assumed that “desirable” traits were enacted/enforced by women.
It’s kind of like asking how a stereotype gets created (IMO). I feel like there’s elements of truth and fact but they get exaggerated or twisted and complicated. Somehow growing up I got enough signals from media or people of what they wanted women to look like. It’s nice to know that in reality I think men are more diverse – although I do think it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing a stereotype. Thanks for reading, Walt.