Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When Did Your Body Issues Begin?

I recently read "Healing the Little Girl in You: An Interview with Christiane Northrup, M.D." on OM Times. I've mentioned Dr. Northrup before, as one of her books is on my list of books I think every woman should read. The article was mostly about women's body issues, but also about a new book Dr. Northrup wrote to help promote positive body images in young girls. I found the first part particularly fascinating:

Years ago feminist Germaine Greer wrote, “I know of no woman for whom the body is not a fundamental problem.” That quote has stuck with me for decades, and I have seen the truth of it both in my own life and in the lives of the thousands of women I have met over the years.
Yet no little girl begins her life feeling as though her body is a fundamental problem. Nope. Little girls love to dance, spin, wiggle their bums, and revel in the joy of being embodied.
So when does this change? Pre-puberty? Adolescence? Young adulthood? For me, the love-hate relationship (which many women have with their bodies) began when I was still a toddler. My parents had a friend who was a former German Olympian named Karl (the Arnold Schwarzenegger of my childhood). Karl used to sit me on his lap, pat my belly, and say “starky” in a thick German accent. Starky meant something like “solid” or “fireplug.” That message went right into my bone marrow, and stayed there, running my sense of self for the next 40 plus years!
It made me think and I pinpointed the moment for me where I became aware of being judged for my body. It happened when I was in fourth grade. I have to give a bit of backstory before I get to the actual moment, so bear with me.

In fourth grade, I was going to a private Baptist school run by the church I also attended with my family. I felt strange about being a redhead because it was so uncommon, but didn't think too much about it. The only problem I had with my appearance was that I was constantly dressed in hand-me-downs, often from older girls that also attended the same school/church, so, of course, everyone recognized them. But for the most part, I was too interested in learning and playing and being a tomboy to give a shit about how I looked.

I loved playing soccer during recess, even though one of the fifth grade boys was an alternate on the junior varsity soccer team (that's the kind of shit that happens at a small school) and was a show-off and ball-hog. That often made things boring in my opinion. Standing around waiting for something to happen wasn't my idea of fun! So one day, when this guy was taking his time with fancy footwork and everyone else was just standing around letting him show off, I walked up behind him and kicked the ball out from between his legs. To say that everyone else was shocked was an understatement. And that guy had it in for me from that moment on.

So fast-forward to the next school year... I had become notorious for not being intimidated by older guys while playing sports, and the whole sneak attack thing didn't work for me anymore because people actually paid attention to me on the field now. One rainy day we had recess inside the gym. We were playing a game the teachers had devised to keep us from going wild inside. We were divided into two teams, lined up on opposite sides of the gym, and given numbers. When our number was called, we were supposed to run out and have a soccer-esque bit of game play with the other person also called while the rest of the team played goalie.

Wouldn't you know it, I got called out at the same time as that one guy. We both ran for the ball in the middle of the gym like mad. I could tell he expected me to give up and let him have it, so, of course, I didn't. And we collided. Now this guy was short. Like short short. Shorter than me and I am not a tall person. Back then I was one of the shortest and scrawniest in my class. But I managed to stand my ground while he bounced off of me and fell to the floor... and chipped a tooth on the tile!

I was surprised and somewhat amused, I have to say. But as we were in line waiting to go back to the classroom afterwards, he loudly said something to his friends about "the smaller object bounces off the larger object..." with the implication being that I was a massive blimp or something. Now I realize he was trying to save face. But at the time it crushed me. I already had no friends and was the weird, poor, aggressive, smart kid. I had just added another thing they could mock me for to the list. That's when I started feeling bad about my body instead of just enjoying the power and pleasure it gave me.

So that's my story. Would you like to share yours? Leave it in the comments! And since I realize that body image issues aren't just something women go through, I'm interested in hearing what men have to say about any similar experiences.

This, though, is just for women: If you're feeling bad about how you look compared to women in magazines, and would like a reality check, you should head over to My Body Gallery. It's a website where you can enter your height, weight, measurements, and see how other women with the same body type look. If you want, you can submit your own photo.

Related posts:
3 Books Every Woman Should Read
Andi's Travel Journal & Bedouin Thoughts on Women
The Great Wall of Vagina

3 comments:

Nancy Wilson said...

May,
I learned a long time ago I can't really control what other people think of me. I am who I am and that's that. Like me /love me for whom I am or head on down the road that brought you to me. Something's about how I look I can control the rest would take money and doctors to change. To be honest I'd rather be me than a rebuilt version that in the end only really benefits the doctor's bank account. No matter what you have done to yourself you're still the same person inside you was to begin with.
I am me, as you are yourself, love who we are and the rest who don't like can go piss themselves.

May said...

This isn't about controlling what other people think. It's about early experiences exposing us to cultural bias and body-shaming. I think everyone has been negatively affected by our current cultural standards of beauty, and I find it an interesting topic of discussion.

Nancy Wilson said...

Ok I see your point but I don't let the current standards of beauty rule or play a part in my opinion of someone. I as well don't hang with those who do such to others. Nobody is perfect I'm not thats for sure nor is anyone else. We all have some sort of a flaw. But to judge a person based on a flaw they have is mean and hateful and I don't let those who do so share the world with me. Life is to short to allow such. I believe I have felt this way since grade school because I as well am a true ginger and some thought it was funny to make fun of me and I decided they was fools and I don't let fools ruin my day.