When children are young, adults always comment with pride, “look how big you are” or “look how much you’ve grown” and parents beam with bittersweet pride at getting the next size up in clothing for their child. This goes on through elementary school for girls, and perhaps middle school for boys, and then growth and size become something not discussed, until it starts back up towards the end of high school and into college. In those later years, the focus becomes the opposite. That fond expression of a childs growth and development switches in tone to being one of disapproval, disgust even. The focus shifts from growing into the next phase of life and age to growing too tall, too broad, too muscular, or too heavy.
I remember sitting on the white hard plastic covered wood chip lunch bench next to my childhood best friend Chelsea, looking at how our thighs spread out on the bench as we sat. We were wrapping our hands around our leg to see if they could meet on both sides or not. With pride I announced that my thumbs couldn’t meet around my leg while Chelsea’s easily could. I was tall and mature for my age, reaching 5 feet tall by the fifth grade and I was strong from many hours of climbing in trees. The only body based shame I ever felt was not being able to run the entire time in the mile fitness tests that were mandated by the government each year.
In middle school gym we had nurses come in, weigh us, measure our height and other basic measurements for our health chart. Boys were separated from girls and on the girl side, the scale was up against a wall and all of us had to sit against the other wall to keep our weight private. When my name was called I marched up, still wearing my heavy winter sweater and sneakers. The nurse asked me if I wanted to take them off to get a more accurate reading, I responded confidently with a no, that I didn’t care if my chart reflected a higher weight than what it truly was. She shrugged, took my measurement, and called up the next girl. All the others went shoeless and without any extra layers.
Looking back I am proud of my choices. I was a strong and healthy girl. I had no care if I weighed what others thought I should or if my legs were bigger around than my closest friend’s. I strode with such pride and confidence in my body as many children do and I carried that pride on through high school.
Sadly, that pride and self-love ceased as I went into college.
to be continued