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As a child, I started my period at 9 years of age. I came tall, complete with hips, a bust and derrière. Along with my height and curvy shape came added numbers on the scale. I remember my female P.E. teacher (we’ll call her Mrs. Allen) talking with me about my womanly figure and blaming my parents for what they fed me, when in fact, many generations of women in my family had started their periods at an early age, some even younger than me.
However, knowing how Mrs. Allen felt about my body and seeing my appearance was a problem with my parents to blame made me start to wonder about things I hadn’t been concerned with before. The way Mrs. Allen publicly and privately treated me made me feel like something was wrong with me. For the first time in my life, I felt embarrassed of how I looked. Naturally, you can imagine I was completely mortified when the class was asked to line up and be weighed… in front of each other. More importantly, I was being weighed in front of my significantly smaller (as most boys are at that age) crush.
I knew I was taller and heavier than most of the kids class. I also knew I was the only one who wore an actual bra and received monthly visits from Aunt Flo. I was aware that I wasn’t the standard child and I had been okay with that before but I began to feel differently.
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When I stepped on the scale at school I remember my head pounding in fear of what Mrs. Allen was going to say and praying that she would say it quiet enough so only I could hear. Her exact words were, “Mary, you weigh way too much for your age.” I felt like I had been slapped across the face. What was worse is I knew that my crush standing directly behind me heard what she had said. I hated my body then. I was almost sorry that Mrs. Allen knew my weight and that she had to have such a horror in class. The giant woman girl, the deformity: me.
Before Mrs Allen, I enjoyed co-ed P.E. class. I had always been good at sports and loved to be outside. I was very active and muscular; however, it only took one teacher at such a delicate time to change the way I saw myself. I didn’t tell anyone what was happening and no one asked why I started slumping down when I walked or sat. No one asked why I started wearing baggy clothes. I was trying my best as a child to blend in with everyone else; I slumped to be shorter and I wore baggy clothes to look/feel I was so small in them that I was drowning in fabric. I didn’t know what I was doing.
My bad habits and skewed self image continued into my teens. I believed healthy meant skinny. I thought the lower the numbers were on the scale was an indication of how healthy you are. For a long time I believed that.
Sadly, Mrs. Allen wasn’t a doctor, nor did she have any right to tell me how she felt about my body. It should be said that I’m not blaming Mrs. Allen or anyone else for my actions; however, I do sometimes wonder where I would be if she never told me her opinion on my appearance. I wonder if things would have been different if someone would have noticed my drastic changes and helped me learn to accept myself.
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In my life of 24 years I have lost weight, gained weight, felt good in my skin, looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I’ve struggled with bulimia, anxiety and severe depression. I have worked my butt off to look “healthy skinny” and to please a person that has become my worst critic… me.
After many years of hurt that I’ve inflicted upon myself, I’m finally beginning to see a real change. Strangely, it came to me when becoming a mother. I recognize through my own experience how vital it is to teach children by example that health doesn’t look like starvation or over indulgence; health is balance. Being healthy is achieving goals and loving your body for the work it does.
My 9-month-old is my inspiration to inspire. We work out together; we go on walks or I use her as weight as I do squats, shoulder raises and kiss her cute face while doing pushups. There really is no excuse for me not to practice a healthy lifestyle. There is no reason for me not to love and appreciate my body, especially in front of my daughter… I made her for goodness sake! I’m going to equip her with the tools she will need to love herself and hopefully repair the damage I’ve caused myself along the way.
Please, be aware of how your children view themselves and if you aren’t sure, ask. Kids know more than we think and they too carry silent struggles all their own. So, embrace your babies young and old; tell them they are beautiful just the way they are.