Body Hate. When Does it Begin?
When I think about Mother’s day, there is one memory that specifically comes to mind.
I am thirteen years old and balling my eyes out. The hot tears that stream down my face do not have time to dry on my skin before another wave comes crashing down.
And then I feel an arm wrap around me. There are no words, just a silent embrace.
She listens as the words of hate come billowing out of me, cracking between tears and sniffles.
She hugs me tighter.
I let my demons out. I shout from the depths of my being all of the dark, negative thoughts that play through my mind. I let the terrible words I have heard from my peers seep into my self-worth, and I let it become my truth: “I hate my body. I hate my face. I hate everything I see in the mirror.”
She breaks the silence.
“I will not give in to the negativity that you see. I will not fight the feelings that you feel. But I will listen. I will hold you, and I will sit with you until you can look in the mirror and see that you are enough. You are exactly as you should be.”
I continue to fight with my demons, the words rushing from me like an erupting volcano.
She continues to listen and hold me until my shaking and shallow breathing mellow out. My heart calms, and I feel our hearts become in sync with one another.
“Are you ready to see yourself?” she asks. “Are you ready to look with fresh eyes, without judgment and really look at yourself?”
And we look in the mirror together. I stand there for what feels like hours before I can look myself directly in the eyes. And for the first time, I see beautiful eyes. And I look to my forehead, the forehead that was teased and for the first time, I push back my hair instead of pulling it in front of my face.
And it continues like this. Looking at each piece of myself and fighting the urge to let the negative thoughts in.
She is my mother. She is my warrior. She is the one who did not allow me to hide but instead showed me how to embrace myself. She was and continues to be my greatest advocate against body hate.
Why does this matter?
My body hate began when I was 11 years old. But, the terrible part is, that by today’s standards, a child making it to 11 years old without body image issues is rare. In fact, studies have found that in the U.S., body image issues begin as early as five years old.
Five years old.
At this age, children have started or are just about to start kindergarten, often meaning more independence, less parental supervision and more social interaction. Based on this information, whatever the child has picked up at home about body image, whether in a positive or negative light, has been absorbed by the child. This is the baseline for the child to learn about their bodies and they will use it as a baseline for their own body relationship.
Because it does get worse. By age 7, approximately 25% of children have engaged in a dieting behavior.
So, what do we do?
Many experts and body image influencers urge society to ban fat talk. It is an amazing start, but it’s still not enough. Because even if those words are not being said aloud, they are still present in our minds. And simply shutting up, does not solve the underlying problem.
We must understand our relationship with our bodies and understand both the mental and physical components that form positive body image.
Am I a body image expert? By education, no. By experience, absolutely. I am another human who has suffered from negative body image for years and has taken the time, oh so much time, to understand body image and how it affects our mental, physical and emotional health. It is my hope, that if these words help even one other human with their own body image problems, that we are making progress.
I will leave you with a learning, one of my favorites that I keep with me and remind myself of when my body is not functioning how I would like it to:
Body Functionality: Body functionality refers to appreciating the functions the body provides. Body functionality is not solely physical ability but instead embodies the various body systems including, but not limited to, the circulatory system, the digestive system, and the immune system, to name a few.
Our bodies are truly amazing and full of systems that occur without a thought crossing our minds. I urge you to take a moment — your heart is beating, and your lungs are breathing — let’s start there.