Trigger warning: Body image issues
Confession: I have struggled with my body image my entire life.
When I say “my entire life,” I mean that since the fourth grade, at age 10, I was sizing myself up in comparison to those around me.
Like a lot of women, I developed earlier than the boys in my class. This meant that my growth spurt had me taller than my crush and my shape rounded out in order to accommodate the height increase.
Living in that “too tall” and “too round” body, surrounded by short and skinny male counterparts, confused me. Why was I bigger than all the boys? Boys were supposed to be bigger than me. I was supposed to be able to snuggle into their armpits or have them lift me over their heads. I was supposed to look up into their eyes while they gazed down into mine. It wasn’t supposed to be the other way around. (This is all in my cute little fourth grade brain. I’m positive boys weren’t thinking about me much at all.)
Nevertheless, I was consistently getting the message that things were “wrong.” My body was wrong. My size was wrong. My weight was wrong. I was wrong.
And let’s not forget that the other girls in my very small elementary class were also small in stature. As if being bigger than the boys wasn’t already difficult, going through puberty in the fourth grade had me growing at a faster rate than a lot of the other girls as well. All I saw were tiny young females surrounding me. At a time in school when you are regularly grouped by height, I was always in the front of the room, gazing down the line at the rest of the class.
Numerical weight became a topic of conversation around this time as well. Weighing in at 100 pounds was truly traumatizing when the other girls were still registering 85 pounds when they stepped on the scale. Being in the triple digits for weight was like being punched in the stomach with the message that you are big, you are fat, you are not normal.
I think it was in that year that I decided I hated my body because it didn’t fit the narrative in my mind of what a pretty girl had or what a cute guy would want. Forget the fact that I had lots of friends and there were boys who liked me; in my head, no matter who I had a crush on, we wouldn’t look like a “normal” couple on television. My fourth grade brain didn’t think a tall, chubby girl dating a short, skinny boy was a normal couple.
Two years later, in the sixth grade, when I finally finished going through puberty, my body thinned out and all was well. I was getting new attention for looking “thin” and “filling out” correctly. I remember getting compliments from adult women in my life who asked how I was suddenly so thin. I smiled a wide grin and just said, “I don’t know. It just happened, I guess.” They looked amazed. People were proud of me, even though I had done nothing to warrant approval except live in my body and allow it to complete its growth process that I had literally nothing to do with.
But I liked the approval. I liked the attention. I liked finally feeling like my body made sense in society.
I think I’ve been chasing that approval my whole life. I’ve chased after being a “small” girl ever since I recognized that I wasn’t one.
Even though it has been 18 years since I was in the fourth grade, I find myself regularly reverting back to that fourth grader’s mentality. When I look in the mirror, I am still chasing after a “small” girl title. In my head, I’m still a chubby fourth grade girl. My inner child is a too-tall, too-round 10 year old who is constantly nervous that she’ll be too big for the other kids.