I remember very clearly the first time I became acutely aware of everything wrong with my body. I was in second grade carpooling to school with a neighbor. She hopped in the van, rolled her eyes and said with exasperation, “UGH, I hate how the fat pools out under my thighs when I sit down. Don’t you?” I’d truly never thought about it before. I thought about sunburns in the summer and bad shoes causing blisters, and that was about as far as my body consciousness went. To be fair, I had an older brother and we were slightly more concerned about defeating Bowzer than making sure my thighs weren’t touching. Perhaps girls with big sisters were exposed to this earlier.
But sitting there next to her that morning, suddenly restless atop my own pool of fat, I decided that, yes, I did hate my thighs. And so began a lifelong battle of worth versus weight.
I hid myself most of the time. Baggy t-shirts and stretchy leggings. Oversized overalls and one-piece bathing suits well into middle school when all the other girls were in bikinis with their new boobs. I never vocalized my own dissatisfaction but I soaked everyone else’s up like an insecure sponge. Every problem someone had with their body, I applied to my own. Thighs too big. Boobs to small. Hair too frizzy. Butt too flat. Tummy too soft. It was never-ending.
With adulthood (and education and a strong yoga practice) came a new appreciation of and respect for my body as a powerful machine worthy of good food and exercise and love. But not before years of starvation, compulsive exercise and all around disordered behavior.
Things are better now. I’m not always nice to myself, but I am hyper-cautious to keep those thoughts to myself. Because the second I vocalize my own insecurities, I run the risk of laying that burden on someone who would otherwise perhaps not have to bear it. And that’s a responsibility I take seriously.
I run in the fitness industry now. And while this biz has its fair share of warm fuzzies and body love and girl power, it is also infected with a viral spread of self-loathing. You hear it in the locker rooms and in the lobbies, on the mats under their breath: I hate my [insert body part here].
It breaks my heart to hear people talk like this, not only because of the havoc they’re wreaking on their own psyche but because of where else those powerful words might land–on the ears of an otherwise confident child or on the heart of an already burdened and insecure soul.
It has taken me a lifetime to decide that this hate doesn’t have to be my own. And I would encourage you to affirm that it isn’t yours either.