‘Watch out! Your legs are going to break!’ I stopped wearing shorts outside no matter how hot it was.’: Woman overcomes childhood body shaming, urges self-love for young girls

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“I was a very thin girl in my early adolescence. In fact, I was so skinny people called me scrawny and pinched my skin, telling me to put some meat on my bones. At first, I didn’t realize these remarks about my weight (or lack thereof) were negative until a classmate asked me if I was anorexic.

We were twelve years old. I had never before heard the word anorexic, but I got the sense from my classmate’s tone of voice and confrontational attitude that it was a negative thing.

So I replied, ‘No.’ How could I be something if I didn’t even know what it was? But my classmate wasn’t satisfied with my answer and insisted I was lying. The fact she assumed I was lying made me angrier than her assumption I was anorexic.

Skinny girl wearing tank top with hands on hips
Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

After school, I asked my mom what the word anorexic meant. She became angry when she found out why I wanted to know and told me to ignore my classmate because she was just jealous of me.

I didn’t understand why my classmate would be jealous of me. After all, she was a prettier girl than I was; she wasn’t all skin and bones like me. She was even budding into womanhood, whereas my body still wasn’t showing any signs of moving on from childhood. What was there to be jealous of?

Before that day, I hadn’t been aware of my own body image. I was oblivious to my body and what it should look like according to societal standards. I was just a girl living my life and having fun. But that day, I lost my childlike innocence as I started to pay more attention to my body and how I looked to other people.

As I went into junior high school, more and more classmates began commenting on my lack of weight, including my friends. They would tell me how scrawny I was and then they would go on to complain about how fat they were. It confused me when my friends called themselves fat. They weren’t as thin as I was, but they certainly weren’t fat.

One day in seventh grade, I finally got so tired of hearing one of my friends call herself fat, I pointed out a grossly obese senior girl and said, ‘You’re not fat. That is fat.’ I thought by making a comparison my friend would stop complaining about her weight. But it made no difference. She continued to call herself fat as she gazed longingly at other beautiful, thin girls.

It didn’t help that the boys in school added to my female classmates’ insecurities about their bodies. The boys were quick to hurl insults about how fat, scrawny, or ugly we were, and oftentimes, the popular pretty girls would add their own insults and laughter into the mix.

I hated wearing shorts in gym class because one of the boys in my class would shout at me from the bleachers as I ran laps, ‘Watch out! Your legs are going to break!’ When I complained to my mom about the things this boy said to me, she said he was teasing me because he had a crush on me.

Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

This comment from my mom made me angry. How could this boy like me? He was so mean to me and made me feel insecure about myself and my body. He said other mean things to all my friends, so how could he have a crush on all of us?

I hated this boy. He was a bully and never should have been allowed to get away with his mean words, but my gym teacher never stopped him or corrected his behavior, so this boy continued on shouting his venomous words and making my life, and the lives of other girls in my class, miserable.

The kids at school continued to ask if I ever ate. I would get angry and defensive and shout, ‘Of course I eat! Didn’t you just see me eat everything that was in my lunch bag?’

‘So you’re not anorexic?’ they’d ask doubtfully.

‘No!’

As this continued on throughout high school, I began to feel ashamed of my lack of weight and the size of my legs, so much so that I stopped wearing shorts outside of gym class and refused to wear dresses, no matter how hot it was in summer.

Instead, I chose to wear wide-legged pants and sweaters that were four times too big so I could hide my body from everyone’s eyes in hopes the accusations about my weight would stop.

*

*Before I continue with this post, let’s get one thing out of the way: thin privilege. I am NOT denying that I had thin privilege as an adolescent teen. I acknowledge my experiences with bullying and body shaming are not the same as the experiences of those who have suffered systemic oppression because of their body type.

HOWEVER, I would like to make it clear that body shaming in any way, shape, or form is not acceptable, not even if it’s directed at people who have thin privilege.

In fact, body shaming is a very real problem in our modern-day society, and it’s the reason men and women are finally having conversations about thin privilege, body shaming, fat-shaming, and fatphobia.

I believe in order for us to reach a place where there is body acceptance of all body types, we must have these conversations to incite change.

Skinny girl wearing long red dress
Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

Let’s get back to my story…

The bullying about my lack of weight continued to worsen throughout high school, especially after the day we had to do the fat test in the ninth grade.

We called it the fat test, but it was a test used to measure our body mass index. I had heard about this test already in eighth grade and had been dreading the day it would come because I knew the girls at school would use it as another way to belittle me and make me feel ashamed of my body.

Then, in my late teens, an article I read in a women’s magazine made the claim that men don’t find skinny women attractive because they prefer a woman with curves. After reading this, I was devastated and felt completely hopeless.

Not only did I have to contend with the fact that my thinness made me the object of everyone’s scorn and ridicule, but I was now being led to believe a man would never find me attractive because there was nothing about my body that could be loved.

I went through adolescence feeling ashamed of my body because I was thin. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at my naked body in the mirror because I believed that my body was repulsive and something to be despised.

Teenager wearing tank top and camouflage bandana
Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

It’s no wonder when my metabolism began to slow down and I gained weight in my mid-twenties, I was relieved.

I should have been upset about gaining weight, but I wasn’t, and I can tell you why:

My weight gain meant I would no longer be pinched and told to put some meat on my bones.

It meant I would no longer be told to stay indoors on windy days so I wouldn’t blow away.

It meant I no longer had to shop in the boys’ clothing section and could finally wear women’s clothes that fit me in all the right places.

It meant I would finally feel like I belonged with other women who liked to commiserate about their weight, and I didn’t have to remain silent about my own insecurities.

It meant a man would love me because I finally had some curves.

Woman wearing white stands outside
Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

Even though I’m no longer skinny (in fact, I’m now considered to be borderline obese), the shame I felt about my body in adolescence cut so deeply into my heart it has stayed at the forefront of my mind all these years later.

In fact, to this day, I’m reluctant to wear shorts and dresses even though my legs are much more shapely than they used to be.

I even go to great lengths to ensure the body image I project of myself on social media is pleasing to others. This means I will never post a picture of myself without makeup or a picture that shows my body in an unflattering way. I also don’t allow my husband, my family members, or friends to take pictures of me without my permission, and I will ask them to delete any photos I don’t like.

Woman wearing blue tank top stands by wall
Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

I do this because the insecurities I feel about my body are rooted so deep in my heart and mind, it will require some serious work to dismantle the lies that continue to whisper at the back of my mind with comments like, ‘You are ugly. You are not good enough. You will never be loved.’

I wish I could return to a time when body shaming never entered my thought process and vocabulary, but unfortunately, it’s not possible to erase the past.

What I can do, however, is choose to think and speak positively about my body from this day forward, especially when I’m in the presence of my niece and other young children, so I can have a positive influence on the next generation of young girls who have the chance of growing up in the knowledge that they are beautiful as they are.

Woman wearing blue dress stands by fence
Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

If you are a mother, grandmother, auntie, or even an older cousin to younger girls, I challenge you this:

The next time you see a scrawny or fat girl, or even a woman you think is prettier than you, and begin to compare your own body to hers:

STOP

Forget the adjectives. Forget the comparisons. Tell yourself you are beautiful and tell her she is beautiful, too.

Why?

Because you were carefully and intricately created by your Heavenly Father when you were still in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).

And so was she.

I pray one day you may see yourself the way your Heavenly Father sees you—as his most precious and beautiful masterpiece.

Before you go, I want you to know this: it doesn’t matter if you are fat or thin, short or tall, curvy or big-boned, or [insert your preferred adjective here].

You are beautiful.

You are enough.

You are worthy of love.”

Woman with glasses stands in sunlight
Courtesy of Charlene Parsons

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Charlene Parsons of Small-Town Girl at Heart from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. You can follow her journey on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from Charlene here:

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