What we teach girls about body image takes a lifetime to unlearn

Man its hard being a woman. On top of all the other societal pressures, patriarchy and sexism, girls are taught from young age that their value increases or decreases based on their appearance. Most of this we inherit from our mothers, sisters, friends and other women in our lives. They mean well but they too are passing on a dangerous message that haunts many young women well into adulthood.

And that message is this: if you are slim, you are attractive. Being ‘pretty’ you will get far in life, if your body looks a certain way you will be accepted and be more lovable. And if you grew up in the black community then lightness and ‘good hair’ is hailed as the ultimate achievement, a goal worth working towards that can be attained.

I was at the gym the other day in the change rooms when a mother and her daughter walked in. The little girl looked to be about 7 or 8 years old, not slender but by no means chubby either. The mother was fit and looked like someone who took great care of herself. I honestly wouldn’t have paid much attention to them, until I heard her run back to her mother after weighing herself shouting “45 mom 45!”

…what I saw was a little girl already body conscious looking to her mother for affirmation but getting none.

Ummm okay I thought to myself, things have certainly changed since I was her age! At this point were other women in the change room with us when the girl’s mother said “jeez that’s 10 kilograms less than me”. Her tone cut her daughter down to size and made me cringe. I tried to act as though I wasn’t aware of their conversation but that moment broke my heart.

I may have just been observing a 2 minute conversation but what I saw was a little girl already body conscious looking to her mother for affirmation but getting none. To the girl, 45 kilograms seemed to be a good number but her mother appeared less impressed. And worst of all she said that in the presence of other women.

That little girl and many others like her have to deal with snide remarks about their bodies from kids at school and kids in the neighbourhood. That’s to be expected, kids can be mean. But when the one woman, who at that tender age you look up to, does not affirm you by telling you that you may not look like other kids but that your uniqueness makes you beautiful, you have a perfect recipe for body image issues and eating disorders in the making.

Some of my insecurities were of my own making, but many were the result of someone’s ill thought out opinion of me.

And sometimes it is these callous comments that we make without giving much thought into that leave a lasting impression. I pride myself on being a thoughtful person but it’s possible that I’ve made a harmless comment that had a lasting impression on someone. And I remember countless times when people have said things to me, some of which I still remember very clearly, that led me to agonise of minor imperfections for years after the fact.

Some of my insecurities were of my own making, but many were the result of someone’s ill thought out opinion of me. I was the always the ‘bootylicious’ one of my friends while they were the more skinny, scrawny looking kids. I looked more like a teenager, like the big sister in the clique and this made me painfully self conscious.

This coupled with my quiet nature made seem older than I actually was and led to a lot of unwanted attention from the opposite sex. This was an insecurity that I had created in my own head, but I only became aware of my fivehead (not forehead) and knock knees when other people in my life made jokes about them.

I have since shaken many of them off by understanding that no one is perfect, we all have issues. I try to have a healthy balance between eating well and exercising regularly but also enjoying all the food that I love sometimes and opting to go watch a movie instead of going to the gym after work. I love to read and write and develop my mind not just obsess about my appearance.

Many women are still walking around as hurt little girls and hurt little girls will inevitably hurt other little girls.

I believe that we should start affirming young women’s abilities, talents, dreams, voices and achievements far more than we do their looks. And this starts at home, in our friendship circles, at work, at church, and at school. Many women are still walking around as hurt little girls and hurt little girls will inevitably hurt other little girls.

Featured image: Alesia Kazantceva/Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s