Tell her she’s okay

I just read a post online. By a 24 year old girl. Her post was a manifesto of self-loathing.

She was talking matter-of-factly about how she’s a bit overweight, and she has extra tummy fat, and she doesn’t have a “thigh gap” and never did even at her leanest.

I felt like I wanted to cry reading her words.

Because I remember being age 13 and having a BMI of just over 20 (which is on the light end of things, and well within the normal, healthy range), and feeling fat. My father used to call me “buffalo butt” and laugh at me, so the dieting began.

I haven’t had a normal relationship with food ever since.

I remember my mother asking me “should you be having that?” when I wanted to have dessert along with my brother and dad, and I remember being hungry a lot of the time, but wanting to lose weight so badly. Because I didn’t look like the girls in the magazines. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much weight I lost, I still didn’t look like the girls in the magazines.

Ever since then, I’ve never been able to eat a meal without guilt – without either “watching it” or, if I ate normally, then compensating the next day for actually eating my fill. It wasn’t long after I turned 13 that I started binging on chocolate and chips, and being unable to control my portions in some types of food.

I’d restrict my eating for days at a time, then have a blowout and break the reins a few days later. I couldn’t hold it in, and I thought something was wrong with me, because I wasn’t strict enough with myself. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t good enough at denying myself the good things in life. I was a bad person. I was a failure at being a woman, because successful woman were thin, and you couldn’t be pretty and attractive if you weren’t thin.

When I talk to my friends about this, now we’re all grown women, I find that my experiences are really, really common. In fact, none of my friends seem to have what I would call a “normal” relationship with food. We see foods as “good” and “bad” – we associate eating with guilt and denial. We starve ourselves way too often, only to binge when we break the unattainable rules and goals we set ourselves later on. We all feel like failures, and we all hate our bodies.

When I think back on everything I’ve been through, and how disordered my relationship with food and my own body is, I can’t help thinking that we have severely damaged our femininity and sense of self with all of this. I don’t know why my dad thought it was appropriate to call his 13 year old daughter abusive names. Maybe he thought it was funny. Maybe he thought it would encourage me to diet and get skinny. But it stuck, and made me hate myself instead.

I looked at my body, and everything I saw was ugly. If my own father saw me as horrible and not worthy of love, what chance was there that any other man could ever find me appealing? Obviously I was truly horrible.

The truth, looking back on it, was I was a normal teenager. I wasn’t fat: I was lean and gangly, all arms and legs. I wasn’t hideous, although I felt that way.

But even if I had been fat, that’s exactly the time in my life that I would have needed support from my family, not words of abuse. I needed their love and acceptance when I couldn’t find it inside myself. Maybe I’d have felt different about myself my whole life if they’d treated me differently, and taught me a different relationship with food.

I don’t know, and it’s too late now.

But I’m a mother with a daughter of my own now. I have the power to change things. For her, there are no good foods or bad foods: there is just food. We don’t restrict food, and if she is hungry she can eat. We never force her to clear her plate. I tell her she is beautiful. And we believe it, all of us. She is beautiful. She’s amazing.

Getting back to the girl who posted, the 24 year old whose article I read, no wonder she hates her body. All she sees are photoshopped pictures of women who who are so manipulated by photoshop that they can’t physiologically exist.

This woman can't physiologically exist. Yay for photoshop!
This woman can’t physiologically exist. Yay for photoshop!

She sees images of models who are so skinny they literally risk death. Women who all fit just one mould, one shape, one age, one size. The women who she sees are so similar it’s hard to tell them apart. They’ve ceased to look real, and photoshop takes away any remaining humanity.

I don’t know the girl who posted in real life but I say she is beautiful. She is okay. We’re all okay. I’ve had enough of the one-size-alone-is-acceptable rubbish. I want moulds of a million different colours and shapes and heights and builds and musculatures. I want variety. I want to see role models for all of us. I want our young women to know that whether they’re a size zero or a size sixty, they’re okay.

If I could go back in time and talk to my 13 year old self, I would teach her so much. But most of all, I would tell her that she is beautiful, exactly as she is. She doesn’t have to look like a model to be beautiful. She just has to look like herself. And I’d tell her father to shut the fuck up. He has no right to call her names. No one has any right to call anyone names.

I never intended this to be a rant, but maybe we need more rants. There are too many women hurting here. Too many women who can’t eat a meal without feeling that they’ll need to diet the next day. Too many women who don’t want to look in the mirror because they hate what they see.

It all starts when we’re so young, and if we’re going to change our world, we need to start with our girls. Support them. Nurture them. Love them.

Tell them they’re beautiful. Tell them they’re okay.

They're all okay. Exactly as they are.
They’re all okay. Exactly as they are.

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