My inner critic revealed herself at a very young age. My first memory of deliberately berating my body was in Miss Thompson’s 4th grade classroom. I remember comparing my healthy, strong legs to those of the other little girls, and shamefully pulling down my shirt to cover my thighs. When my mother and I went clothing shopping later that week, she asked me if I was hiding my body. To spare her feelings, I swiftly muttered “no” and changed the subject before the rising lump in my throat could give away my cool facade. Unfortunately, too many of us can relate to these feelings; 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being “fat” (Statistic Brain Research, 2017).
When I first chose to write this article I presumed it would be as simple as tying my shoes; I was armed with years of turbulent personal experience, as well as the stories of my loved ones. I knew a plethora of people who had something to say, or a thought to share. Yet, I couldn’t write a single thing. Not for a lack of passion or emotion, but rather a lack of insight — the origins of my poor body image were as baffling to me as the scribbles I left on the page. Was it my family? My friends? Media? Interestingly, everything I suspected seemed to congregate around one central theme — how I felt was always a result of what was around me.
Growing up, I slowly became what I saw. 80 to 90 per cent of females in Canada are unhappy with their physical appearance (Canadian Women’s Health Network, 2012). I saw peers and mentors poke and pull at their arms, their legs, and their tummies. So I would go home and do the same. I never heard anyone say “I love my body” — instead, voices praising women for weight loss echoed in my memory. As if there was always something that needed fixing, as if our bodies were broken unless they were thin. Vivid conceptions of beauty were burned deep into my subconscious; washboard abs, 00 skinny jeans, and bodies that didn’t jiggle. I was taught that models were goddesses, and that if I studied them, they could teach me how to love myself.
Our perception of bodies, ourselves, and our worth are all framed by the themes in our environment. However, our environment is malleable, and when it comes to shaping it, we are just as influential as everyone else around us. We influence it with the examples we set, the comments we drop, and the food we eat. And so, we must all hold ourselves accountable, both as the victim and as the victimizer. In order to change our environment, we must stop sustaining it.
Ironically, body image is a journey we experience with our minds, not our bodies; it is not how we look, its what we see. Even among students of normal-weight (based on BMI), 19% believe they are too fat, and 12% attempt to lose weight (Healthy Settings for Young People in Canada, 2008). Despite there being so much emphasis on changing our weight, what is so much more challenging and important is changing how we feel. But there is no quick fix, developing positive body image is an ongoing journey, accomplished by patience, daily practice, and most importantly, a supportive environment. We must remind each other daily, that loving ourselves doesn’t have a size.