This week I have been vigorously trying to get self-esteem workshops put together and have been doing a lot of thinking about the message that the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty encourages. I'm extreamly motivated and inspired to be an actionist for this campaign. Jessica Weiner defines an actionist as “Someone of any age, race, class, and gender who wants to walk their talk out in the world and lead by example.”
I have taken this to heart and it’s forced me to take inventory of my own thoughts, beliefs and emotions about beauty and my own self-esteem.
Recently I found the diary I had when I was in elementary school up until 8th grade. The pictures below are actual scans. This particular entry is from January, 1987, making me 11 years old at the time. I cut out some parts about a boy I liked because quite frankly, it was just embarrassing, but what I wanted to show you was the entry about thinking I was fat. I think this is right around the time I started puberty, and probably my hips started to stretch out. I can't remember how tall I was, but I was always average for my age. I weighed 82 pounds and I thought I was fat.
Finding this diary and reading this made me want to go back in time, 22 years, and hug that little girl. I was eleven years old. I grew up hating my body and was never even overweight. Ever.
In my life coaching training we were taught exercises about looking to your “future self”, 20 years into the future. We explore what our future self would say to us, encourage in us, etc. It dawned on me that right now, I am my 11 year olds future self. If I could talk to her, I would tell her she was beautiful, all 82 pounds of her. I would tell her she would grow up to be someone special and that lots of people love her just the way she is. And also warn her about how self-destructive these thoughts are.
I don't know where it came from. My mom was rarely critical of her own body, or at least I don't recall her being that way. It may have been friends, TV and movies and just things I inadvertently heard along the way. But I do remember thinking nothing was wrong with me because I had these thoughts. It was normal to hate your body and criticize yourself.
Fast forward to when I was 27. I was engaged to be married and was at the gym standing on the scale in the locker room. As I gently tapped the scale to the right watching the pointer reach higher and higher, waiting for the scale to level out so I could stop pushing it. 137…138…139…it stopped at 142. I weighed 142 pounds, the most I had ever weighed in my life. Watching it go past 140 was horrifying. A few weeks before a guy friend jokingly mentioned that my ass was getting big. Those two things combined flipped a switch in my head that I'm sure millions of girls and women have had happened to them: I was going to lose weight. And I did. At first I only wanted to get down to 130 (a healthy weight for my 5'4″ body), but it seemed so easy I kept going all the way down to 117. The attention I got was confusing. Some women were so impressed, asking me how I did it, others seemed worried. My fiance said I seemed happier. I was miserable and starving.
I'm lucky I got out of that cycle when I did. I gained the weight back and have been able to stay at a healthy weight. But the thoughts aren't gone completely.
Thinking about hosting the workshops has brought all of this up for me and I'm glad it has. We need to talk about this. We need to acknowledge that it's painful and confusing. Talking about this is new for me and it's embarrassing and empowering at the same time. It's all around us….just take the time to listen to other women's conversations and you will hear a common theme: Commiserating together about how fat their thighs are, what diet they want to do or did you see how fat or skinny so-and-so is.
I encourage you to take inventory of your own feelings of body image. It's not easy, I know. But the more we think about it, the more we can talk about it and hopefully make a change. If not in yourself, maybe in some eleven year old girl who writes in her diary that she thinks she's fat. You CAN make a difference, even if it's just in yourself.