Scrawny: Reflections on Body Shaming

Scrawny: Reflections on Body Shaming_Small-Town Girl at Heart

I was a very thin girl in my early adolescence. In fact, I was so skinny that people called me scrawny and pinched my skin, telling me to put some meat on my bones. At first, I didn’t realize these remarks about my weight (or lack thereof) was negative until a classmate asked me if I was anorexic.

We were twelve years old. I had never before heard the word anorexic, but I got the sense from my classmate’s tone of voice and confrontational attitude that it was a negative thing.

So I replied, “No.” How could I be something if I didn’t even know what it was? But my classmate wasn’t satisfied with my answer and insisted I was lying. The fact that she assumed I was lying made me angrier than her assumption that I was anorexic.

After school, I asked my mom what the word anorexic meant. She became angry when she found out why I wanted to know and told me to ignore my classmate because she was just jealous of me.

I didn’t understand why my classmate would be jealous of me. After all, she was a prettier girl than I was; she wasn’t all skin and bones like me. She was even budding into womanhood, whereas my body still wasn’t showing any signs of moving on from childhood. What was there to be jealous of?

Before that day, I hadn’t been aware of my own body image. I was oblivious to my body and what it should look like according to societal standards. I was just a girl living my life and having fun. But that day, I lost my childlike innocence as I started to pay more attention to my body and how I looked to other people.

As I went into junior high school, more and more classmates began commenting on my lack of weight, including my friends. They would tell me how scrawny I was and then they would go on to complain about how fat they were. It confused me when my friends called themselves fat. They weren’t as thin as I was, but they certainly weren’t fat.

One day in seventh grade, I finally got so tired of hearing one of my friends call herself fat that I pointed out a morbidly obese senior girl and said, “You’re not fat. That is fat.” I thought that, by making a comparison, my friend would stop complaining about her weight. But it made no difference. She continued to call herself fat as she gazed longingly on other beautiful, thin girls.

It didn’t help that the boys in school added to my female classmates’ insecurities about their bodies. The boys were quick to hurl insults about how fat, scrawny or ugly we were, and oftentimes the popular pretty girls would add their own insults and laughter into the mix.

I hated wearing shorts in gym class because one of the boys in my class would shout at me from the bleachers as I ran laps, “Watch out! Your legs are going to break!” When I complained to my mom about the things this boy said to me, she said he was teasing me because he had a crush on me.

This comment from my mom made me angry. How could this boy like me? He was so mean to me and made me feel insecure about myself and my body. He said other mean things to all my friends, so how could he have a crush on all of us?

I hated this boy. He was a bully and never should have been allowed to get away with his mean words, but my gym teacher never stopped him or corrected his behaviour, so this boy continued on shouting his venomous words and making my life, and the lives of other girls in my class, miserable.

The kids at school continued to ask if I ever ate. I would get angry and defensive and shout, “Of course I eat! Didn’t you just see me eat everything that was in my lunch bag?”

“So you’re not anorexic?” they’d ask doubtfully.

“No!”

As this continued on throughout high school, I began to feel ashamed of my lack of weight and the size of my legs, so much so that I stopped wearing shorts outside of gym class and refused to wear dresses, no matter how hot it was in summer.

Instead, I chose to wear wide-legged pants and sweaters that were four times too big so that I could hide my body from everyone’s eyes in hopes that the accusations about my weight would stop.

*

*Before I continue with this post, let’s get one thing out of the way: thin privilege. I am not denying that I had thin privilege as an adolescent teen. I acknowledge that my experiences with bullying and body shaming are not the same as the experiences of those who have suffered systemic oppression because of their body type.

HOWEVER, I would like to make it clear that body shaming in any way, shape or form is not acceptable, not even if it’s directed at people who have thin privilege.

In fact, body shaming is a very real problem in our modern day society, and it’s the reason men and women are finally having conversations about thin privilege, body shaming, fat shaming, and fatphobia.

I believe that in order for us to reach a place where there is body acceptance of all body types, we must have these conversations to incite change.

*

Let’s get back to my story…

The bullying about my lack of weight continued to worsen throughout high school, especially after the day we had to do the fat test in the ninth grade.

We called it the fat test, but it was a test used to measure our body mass index. I had heard about this test already in eighth grade and had been dreading the day it would come because I knew the girls at school would use it as another way to belittle me and make me feel ashamed of my body.

Then, in my late teens, an article I read in a women’s magazine made the claim that men don’t find skinny women attractive because they prefer a woman with curves. After reading this, I was devastated and felt completely hopeless.

Not only did I have to contend with the fact that my thinness made me the object of everyone’s scorn and ridicule, but I was now being led to believe that a man would never find me attractive because there was nothing about my body that could be loved.

I went through adolescence feeling ashamed of my body because I was thin. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at my naked body in the mirror because I believed that my body was repulsive and something to be despised.

It’s no wonder that, when my metabolism began to slow down and I gained weight in my mid-twenties, I was relieved.

I should have been upset about gaining weight, but I wasn’t, and I can tell you why:

*My weight gain meant that I would no longer be pinched and told to put some meat on my bones.

*It meant that I would no longer be told to stay indoors on windy days so I wouldn’t blow away.

*It meant that I no longer had to shop in the boys clothing section and could finally wear women’s clothes that fit me in all the right places.

*It meant that I would finally feel like I belonged with other women who liked to commiserate about their weight and I didn’t have to remain silent about my own insecurities.

*It meant that a man would love me because I finally had some curves.

Even though I’m no longer skinny (in fact, I’m now considered to be borderline obese—see before and after photo below), the shame I felt about my body in adolescence cut so deeply into my heart that it has stayed at the forefront of my mind all these years later.

Scrawny: Reflections on Body Shaming_Small-Town Girl at Heart
Left: Me at 14 years old; Right: Me at present day. Small-Town Girl at Heart 2021, All Rights Reserved.

In fact, to this day, I’m reluctant to wear shorts and dresses even though my legs are much more shapely than they used to be.

I even go to great lengths to ensure that the body image I project of myself on social media is pleasing to others. This means that I will never post a picture of myself without makeup or a picture that shows my body in an unflattering way. I also don’t allow my husband, my family members or friends to take pictures of me without my permission and I will ask them to delete any photos I don’t like.

I do this because the insecurities I feel about my body are rooted so deep in my heart and mind that it will require some serious work to dismantle the lies that continue to whisper at the back of my mind with comments like, “You are ugly. You are not good enough. You will never be loved.”

Tap here to read more about how body shaming affects mental health and how to cultivate a healthy body image mindset.

I wish I could return to a time when body shaming never entered my thought process and vocabulary, but unfortunately it’s not possible to erase the past.

What I can do, however, is choose to think and speak kindly about my body from this day forward, especially when I’m in the presence of my niece and other young children, so that I can have a positive influence on the next generation of young girls who have the chance of growing up in the knowledge that they are beautiful as they are.

*

If you are a mother, grandmother, auntie, or even an older cousin to younger girls, I challenge you this:

The next time you see a scrawny or fat girl, or even a woman you think is prettier than you, and begin to compare your own body to hers:

Scrawny: Reflections on Body Shaming_Small-Town Girl at Heart
Stop. Small-Town Girl at Heart 2021, Stock Photo Courtesy of Canva

Forget the adjectives. Forget the comparisons. Tell yourself you are beautiful, and tell her she is beautiful, too.

Why?

Because you were carefully and intricately created by your Heavenly Father when you were still in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).

And so was she.

I pray that one day you may see yourself the way your Heavenly Father sees you—as his most precious and beautiful masterpiece.

Before you go, I want you to know this: It doesn’t matter if you are fat or thin, short or tall, curvy or big-boned, or [insert your preferred adjective here].

Scrawny: Reflections on Body Shaming_Small-Town Girl at Heart
You are Worthy of Love, Small-Town Girl at Heart 2021, All Rights Reserved. Stock Photo Courtesy of Canva


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Self-Worth Truths to Live By

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