My size, shape, and figure have been a topic of discussion and an issue that I haven’t been able to avoid since the 6th grade (or since I was 10). All my life I’ve struggled with body image, but even now at 22, I find it hard for myself to appreciate what I see in the mirror.
My shape has been an issue for me since the day I discovered v-neck t-shirts. I remember one day in the 6th grade my mom made go back inside the house to change my shirt. I vividly remember her telling me that she wasn’t letting anyone dressed like a “slut” into her car. I had on a white v-neck t-shirt. I became annoyed that all the other girls in my grade could wear v-neck t-shirts and I couldn’t.
In 7th grade my mother confided with my grandparents about her concerns about my weight. It was one sunny summer afternoon my grandmother sat watching me eat, and she said “you know Tari, you really shouldn’t eat so much. Don’t you want to be beautiful? What activities are you doing now at school?” I was so embarrassed. I ran to the bathroom, locked the door, and started crying. When my mother found out, she scolded me for being too sensitive.
By the 8th grade, my body had taken a turn for the “worse”. I now had fuller hips, and even larger breasts. Full disclosure: I am not plus size (and I wasn’t then)– I can walk into any store and find clothes that fit me without a problem. However, my parents had been perpetuating fat shaming rhetoric towards me since elementary school, and it became significantly worse during puberty. This caused me to be very critical of my then size 4 frame. That same year, my mom signed me up for cross country, in an effort to help me shed some weight. I trained everyday after school for 3 months, and I lost 10 pounds.
“Isn’t she starting to look good?”, my mom said to my dad one evening.
It was during this time that I began to curse my body. Each morning was a constant fight with my parents when it came to dressing for school. I couldn’t wear certain t-shirts because they would accentuate my boobs. I couldn’t wear shorts, because my butt was “too big” and my legs were “too thick”. I couldn’t throw something on all willy-nilly without wondering if I was going to be showing off too much of my curves–even if I wasn’t trying to. With a curvier frame clothes automatically look different on your body, no matter what you do. A normal black dress can look one way on a mannequin, but once on, it magically becomes shorter, and tighter. Knowing this, I started buying clothes in larger sizes. When my mom saw me wearing these bigger clothes, she told me on a regular basis that I looked fat. Conversely, when I did wear tight clothing she shamed me for my overt sexuality.
In recent months I’ve put on 10-15 pounds, and I’ve been avoiding my family like the plague. Just imagining what my mother could say about my body has me on edge. When I visit family and hear some of the familiar shaming comments, it takes me back to a less confident version of myself–the one that put those negative thoughts to action (by restricting calories + over exercising). If you are still living with your parents or have body negative relatives, here are 3 ways to respond to these fat shaming attitudes.
- Mentally ready yourself — Eating disorder expert, Jenny Taitz (PHD) says that “there are tons of ways we can take care of ourselves. It may sound silly, but try messaging your hands, noticing colors around…”etc.. This is a good example of something I learned in therapy called “coping ahead”. Damage-control/Coping ahead is a lot easier if you’ve anticipated the scenario and have some quick tips to prevent you from exploding
- Let silence speak volumes — Sometimes the most powerful response can be a non response. If a family member comments on how big your belly is getting, just look at them and say nothing at all. Don’t laugh it off. This shows that you’ve heard what they said, but won’t engage, which might make them feel embarrassed.
- Cut them off — This may sound extreme, but why would you want people who are constantly bringing you down around? If they are constantly making you uncomfortable, consider limiting the time you spend with them. Some people will always be hurtful.