Negative body image in young girls

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body image

The only thing I have ever successfully sewn is a jumper I made for myself in 6th grade. For weeks, I labored diligently over some blue and white checked fabric. My patient sewing teacher, Mrs. Robinson, coached my clumsy hands to success. It was nothing short of a miracle. That I have never repeated such success testifies the fact.

At  twelve years old, I felt pure elation that I could create something wearable! I was eager to show my handiwork to my peers.

A pattern of pink flowers was woven throughout the checks, and I carefully matched a coordinating pink Hanes teeshirt to wear underneath. What better shoes to complete my look than my trusty old hiking boots? Sort of a business-casual approach. Pink socks, a pink scrunchy, and some pink nail polish completed my look.

On that big day, I felt pretty. I liked my appearance. Not even the faintest cloud of uncertainty threatened to shadow my glow. I realize now how rare and splendid such a feeling is for a young girl. For a teenage girl. For a woman.

When do we ever just enjoy our appearance without an obligatory, “Are you sure?” or “If only…” or “I just wish I had…” None of that nonsense tainted twelve-year-old me.

The time and effort invested in my ensemble lent me a well-earned, solid wave of confidence.

How I looked was something that I  had planned and put together. By myself. With Mrs. Robinson. I was so proud.

I spent a lovely day telling my friends that yes, made my dress with Mrs. Robinson, and yes, I would be making more maybe with Mrs. Robinson.

The daydreaming seamstress: with a dresser full of  Hanes teeshirts, the possibilities were endless. Ideas exploded in my brain, and looked something like the cover of a Babysitter’s Club paperback.

After school my mom took us to get an ice-cream cone at Thrifty’s. I was the last one to get my cone, and therefore the last kid to get to the van.

Cone in hand, I plucked my checkered skirt and shimmied through the parking lot, kicking my clunky heals like a merry clodhopper.

That’s when I heard them–the cruel strangers who started it all.

Sometimes I wonder what quality of confidence I might have enjoyed and maintained had I not heard them. I spent my entire adolescence despising my appearance–and I can remember the very moment my self-loathing began.

“Wow. That’s about the homeliest girl I’ve ever seen.”

He jerked his head in my direction, and his eyes crawled that ankle-length jumper from top to bottom, and then back again. I accounted for every last dreadful check in the time it took to assess me. He was probably in his early twenties. What business he had checking out a twelve year old I do not know.

My boots felt like lead on that asphalt, and I struggled to take another step.

The other guy just laughed and agreed with something like “Yikes!”  They disappeared into the store, clueless that they had just crushed a young girl. A girl on the brink of becoming a young woman. A girl who, up until that moment, felt pretty and confident.

Crushed–shattered–decimated, in one casual blow.

Somehow, I managed to move myself forward and take a seat in the van amongst my noisy siblings. Nobody had the slightest clue that their sister was completely devastated. My ice cream tasted salty underneath the pent up tears, but I waited until I got home to fully release them.

As soon as I shut my bedroom door I ripped the odious thing off, hoping to snap the buttons in my fury. I cursed my new skill and Mrs. Robinson’s vigilance.

Not a single button budged.

I wanted to throw the hideous contraption away, but there was no way it would go unnoticed. I had made too much of a show out of it. If I wanted to keep my secret I had to keep up the act. One thing was certain: no one would know of this.

Embarrassment. Shame. Revulsion. I felt all those things and for what? I had done nothing wrong, but it was too despicable for me to say out loud.

Isn’t that always the way with these stories? Somebody kills your dream and it’s your fault. Ugh.

In my life I’ve heard some doozies. I don’t consider myself to be a very sensitive person, but I’ve certainly had my share of hurt feelings and hurt pride.

Yet, that comment thrown outside of Thrifty’s remains the worst in my life.

In a brief sentence, that guy trampled all over me. It was because he was an adult and a stranger that gave weight to his words. Sure, it would have hurt if one of my friends said it, but I would have fought back. And won. This though, was beyond me. They weren’t trying to hurt me. I don’t think they wanted me to hear them. It had to be true, and that’s what hurt.

I’ll never forget that feeling of having the wind in your sails completely withdrawn. Talk about a downer.

In the next couple of weeks I want to talk more in depth about self image and how we handle it in our children. I really hope y’all will open up and share your experiences too. I know we have all heard those crushing words in some form or fashion. If you haven’t, well, you’re extremely fortunate and probably physically perfect. And you probably don’t read this blog ????

I’ll be asking this question on Facebook as well, so feel free to answer in either forum:

At what point in your life did self image become a struggle? Would you share the words that crushed you?

Ok, now after such a bummer, you can go read about nice words here!!

53 thoughts on “Negative body image in young girls

  1. villagegirl

    Oh my goodness! You poor thing. Something similar happened to me when I was about 13. I felt hideous for weeks and to this day remember the exact setting, person and words of that awful moment. I was camping with my cousins. I was sitting with my girl cousin (who I always thought was gorgeous) and her brother came up to us and introduced us to his new friend. The friend asked which one was his sister. ‘The ugly one?’ he asked and gestured to me. I don’t really recall the rest of the conversation, pretty sure I tuned out after that. Needless to say I avoided him the rest of our stay and will never forget that moment although, now I know better and believe that there is beauty in every single woman on the earth.

    I will also be making sure that my boys never EVER be the cause of intentionally crushing a girl’s self esteem…or any other human being for that matter.

    Reply
  2. dumb mom

    It’s sad that so many of us have these stories. I can’t really say that I have a specific about me, but I remember my mom once saying that she never wants to be fat like someone we knew growing up and I remember thinking that I didn’t want that either. We would do Jane Fonda workouts together in our living room every night. It’s actually a fond memory featuring her in a unitard and me in my Gettin’ In Shape Girl leg warmers, but her obsession with her body probably had a lot to do with how I view my own.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Yah, my always thought of herself as needing to lose five or ten pounds and that definitely stuck with me as well. It’s not their fault, but it just reinforces how important it is to watch what we say in front of our kids!

      Reply
  3. Zits

    […] the past two weeks I have shared some tender subjects with you. The first subject is firmly rooted in the past, and so I can use my  aged perspective to work through what was once […]

    Reply
  4. Crystal

    I just found your blog looking for new hairstyles for my daughter with short hair (but incredibly thick. Thanks to you she went to school with a princess crown style but she may never wear it again because her tender head didn’t like the hair ties ANYWAYS) I’m so happy to have found your blog. This post is painful but everyone should be talking about it. It’s so important how we treat our girls, young women, even each other as grown women.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Hope your daughter doesn’t resent me for that sore scalp :0 Hehe

      Reply
  5. Ashley

    One of the worst parts of this story is that those guys probably had no idea the affect those words had on you. Your story really is a great reminder of the power of our words – even to perfect strangers.

    Reply
  6. Natalia

    Oh geez what meanies! I don’t have a particular point, people told me a was pretty or that I could be pretty but I really never believed any of them. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know why! I don’t mean to say I’m beautiful or anything but why do young people automatically think the worst? I’m with ya girl!

    Reply
  7. Chris Carter

    Awful. I pictured every detail of this story and your precious heart torn apart while stumbling to the van still taking in the blow. Wow. Isn’t it amazing the things that change us? It is so important to plug into every tiny detail of our children’s lives for this very reason. One comment from a stranger can devastate them, us.

    I was back from a trip to Florida in fourth grade… because my hair was so “white blonde” it now had a green tint to it because of non stop swimming in the chlorine!! Everyone in the class made fun of my “green hair”.

    I remember this awful mean kid calling me “pizza face” in front of every one at the drop in on a Friday night…8th grade. Devastated me.

    I am constantly telling my girl that she is fearfully and wonderfully made by her Creator. (Psalm 139) This verse always frees me of self criticism and judgement!! I will constantly put everything into building her faith as she embraces her own creation. Even through the blows…

    Reply
    1. hillary

      I heard pizza face too. This whole episode was long before my battle with acne, so I got to have all sorts of breaks between the comments.

      Reply
  8. Amy

    It was 6th grade for me. All of a sudden all of the kids I was friends with from kindergarten through 5th grade stopped talking/sitting/playing/associating with me. I couldn’t understand why and my only thought I could come up with was it had to do with my appearance. I was still the same girl emotionally, but changing physically. I was bigger than other girls my age by at least 20 pounds. I lived with my single dad and no mom influence. My dad, bless him didn’t tell me to do things like a mom would. For example brush my hair, clothes look better when they match, or that there were such things as mousse and gel that could be put in my hair to make it less frizzy. So started a span of a good 7 years where I felt unloved and unliked, by myself included. I used to be outgoing and do things like speak up in class, try out for school plays or play sports with kids on the playground. No more of that! I remember a boy I played with both in my neighborhood and on a baseball team walking up to me at lunch in 7th grade and dumping his bag of chips on my head completely unprovoked. Not a word was exchanged, perhaps it was to impress his friend. I say there trying not to cry and he must have felt guilt because he lamely attempted to give me a piece of gum afterwards. He dropped it in my lap and walked away. (Which I gave him back later in the day. I didn’t have any self worth but I knew I didn’t deserve the cruel behavior). My other most humiliating experience came in PE, the same year. I got paired up with a boy who I was supposed to do a wheelbarrow race with. He didn’t want to be the one walking on the ground so he had to hold my legs. Not even halfway out to the spot where we had to go he dropped my legs on the ground. At this point we were the last pair to be going and it was dead silence in the room when he said to the teacher “she’s too fat,I can’t do it.” Everybody laughed including the teacher. I loved school but at the same time hated it because of having to interact with other kids who so obviously found something wrong with me.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      what is wrong with people???!!! How do children go from being sweet, nice kids to horrid, cruel creatures? You poor thing. Can I reach out and hug you?? Also, can I reach out and slap those douche bags? I love that you gave the gum back. Seriously, that was the high, classy road and he probably felt like crap hehe.

      Reply
  9. Amanda

    Oh yes I remember this moment clearly. It was somewhere in junior high school. There was this new girl at school and we were newly best-friends, a trio of sorts, with another girl whom with I had been close for a few years.

    Reply
  10. Kristen

    I don’t remember one specific moment but fourth thru eight grade was terrible for me. I had moved from NJ to Alabama and I was an outsider. I needed glasses and they were huge and ugly. I was the tallest in class and while we had uniforms to wear, picture day was miserable because I didn’t shoo the same stores. To thisday, that experience has effected my self esteem.

    Reply
  11. Jessica Cobb (@DomesticPirate)

    I’m tall and broad, so in middle school when I was much taller than any of the boys they started calling me Amazon. I have pink cheeks (not rosacea, but looks damn close) so people would ask me what was wrong with my face, and it would turn even more pink. And I have rough skin, so people called me chicken skin. I was a choir nerd and got called a stupid cow a lot.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Oh my word. This breaks my heart. People are so freaking cruel! I don’t understand. Behind every eating disorder is a laundry list of horrible comments. Thank God for sweet spouses who help bolster our broken image.

      Reply
  12. Kelly @ IdealistMom.com

    No words crushed me. It was a sound.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Oh, I am so sorry! I hate how those memories still hurt ???? Kids can be so cruel. One of my biggest fears as a parent is that my child will be cruel to another.

      Reply
  13. Amanda Nelson

    I had almost the exact same experience! I was 12 years old, and I had spent weeks sewing a dress with my Mom. I picked out the fabric, and pattern and everything. It had a very 60s “groovy flower” print, and we even appliqued a big flower on the front. I was absolutely in love with it, and totally bursting with pride. I came skipping down the hallway the first day I wore it, and my Mom’s friend said to her, “You aren’t actually letting her wear that in public, are you?” I was devastated!! I still hate that woman. Who says that to a 12 year old!?!?

    Reply
    1. hillary

      You poor thing! Do you still have a picture of it? I’m trying to get a picture of it this weekend when I go home to my parents. I’d love to see that work of art!. What a jerk though. She sounds like a total witch.

      Reply
  14. Sierra

    You write so well. I found this so enjoyable to read. (also love the name of this blog!) I”ll be back:)

    Reply
  15. Adrienne

    Words are so powerful. People don’t realize how they can pierce our souls. I bet that dress was awesome! ???? I wish you had a pic!

    Reply
  16. Addison

    I am twelve and it was forth grade for me. A girl two years ahead of me would kick and insult me every day on the bus. I went home and to school crying. I hated it and nobody said or did anything. I went to a sycatrist (idk how to spell it) for two years and moved and I still wore turtle necks and sweats didnt talk to anybody it took my mother dying to get me to realize I need to be myself and even then I felt dirty like god made a mistake when he made me.

    Reply
  17. Beth

    First day of seventh grade. I wore a plaid vest and fuschia jeans. (Fuchia? Fushia? No matter how I type it, it says it’s spelled wrong.) Whatever. I thought I looked dang good. But it wasn’t a comment I heard that messed with me, it was what I DIDN’T hear, whispered between giggles and stares in the hall. I think I sat by myself for the first month of middle school. It really sucked.

    Life is funny, though, because right now I think I would love to have another pair of fuschia/fuchia/fushia jeans. And a plaid vest to go with. I think I’ve finally got some of that confidence back. Just not the clothes to go with it.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Ok, my high school email address was [email protected] because of an inside joke with a friend about the spelling of that ridiculous word. hehehe.

      Reply
  18. aimee

    I have a history of eating disorders so I’ve always had that in my mind to pray for my daughter as she enters into teenage years..what has struck me hard though is that at 6 years old she is already struggling with the comments that other girls have said to her about her body image. It’s been so hard to wrap my head around the loss of her sense of joy and unashamadness for herself (if that makes sense) at such a young age. I just keep praying for her and reminding her of the beauty that she is and that God created her to be…no matter what.

    Looking forward to this series!

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Six years old and already hearing negative comments? Ugh! This makes me so sad. I want to say to my daughter, “the world is your oyster!” But in reality, the world is a freaking mine field of disaster. We have to tread so carefully to avoid being ruined by the backlash of our culture. Hang in there, mama. We have to fortify our troops and fight this thing!

      Reply
  19. Sierra

    You write so well! I enjoyed this. (I also love the title of your blog)…so I’ll be back for more;)

    Reply
  20. Mothering From Scratch

    {Melinda} My heart hurts for you as I read this. I had very similar experiences in 6-9th grades. I was a late bloomer. Finally, mercifully, in 10th grade, I got contact lenses and lost the braces. But it was too late. My self-image had been completely obliterated. It hasn’t fully recovered yet, even though those experience were more than 25 years ago. I’m very vigilant with my children and have tried to protect them from threats to their self-image. They don’t struggle in the same way I did. But they’ve been attacked by other attacks to their view of themselves — academic struggles, health issues, etc.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Its amazing how it sticks with us, isn’t it? Now that I’m the mom of a little girl I am extremely sensitive to all the threats to her happiness and confidence.

      Reply
  21. Amanda

    Oh and I forgot to ask, do you have a photo/ still own that dress? I am super curious about it!

    Reply
    1. hillary

      I wanted to but I don’t have a copy on me! I’m going up to my parents house in a few weeks and I’ll be able to dig one up–I’ll be sure to share it ????

      Reply
  22. Shell

    I had to come find this post! I’m so sorry you had this happen to you.

    Reply
  23. Alison

    I remember the moment and it still makes me cringe. I was 10 years old and had just started middle school. It was the first time I had to take the bus. The girl in front of me turned around and started asking me if I was sure I was a girl and not a boy because I had a mustache. I was so humiliated. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I am 28 now and I still am really sensitive about any facial hair. I honestly don’t even have much more than other people, it just stands out because I am incredibly pale but have very dark hair.

    Reply
    1. Amy

      I was at a band practice at another school in 7th grade. All the middle schools would get together every year to play a concert. I’d recently had to cut my hair because of lice and living with a single dad I knew nothing of hair products or how to style my hair. My curly hair, combined with my new ‘do resembled a mushroom. Very poofy and short. Of course I also dressed in boy-ish clothes because of self image problems and plain just not knowing how to dress girly. Also, back then if you were a bigger girl, there were no cute clothing options like there are now. It was either shop out of boys section or what I call the grama clothes section. After practice I waited for my ride and a girl from the other school left her group she was in to come ask me if I could go out with her because I looked like a boy…that’s what she said. I was hurt and didn’t know what to say, just turned away and fought to not cry in front of them. I hope I can teach my daughter to understand differences and not to pick on others.

      Reply
      1. hillary

        Do you think she was trying to be mean? At 7th grade, girls can be very manipulative and cruel. Sounds to me like she was exploiting your situation by being subversive.

        Reply
    1. hillary

      Thank you! Glad to have you here ???? I think this will be an awesome series for all of us to learn from.

      Reply
  24. Tori

    I have battled with my self-image for a really long time. Thanks to a rather unfortunate melding of my parents’ genes, I got stuck with my mom’s big teeth (she has a giant Julia Roberts-esque smile) in my dad’s tiny mouth (he has what I call “chicklet teeth” perfect little squares). I also have battled acne for years and years. I now, at 25, have just gotten braces. I’m really hoping that having straight teeth will help me feel better about myself.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Oh my gosh. I’ve heard the talk of butterfaces. That is terrible. So sorry you had to hear that. And yes, how we talk in front of our kids is really matters! Big time!

      Reply
  25. Katie

    I will never forget a clerk at Thriftys asking my mom if I was a boy when I was 13. The Dorothy Hammell haircut was not a good look for me, but in my 40s I’m still self-conscious.

    Reply
  26. Cyndi

    Can remember washing the family car when I was 12. My dad had just walked home from work as I was finishing and I said ” Hey, Daddy, I washed your car and he replied- yeah, you missed a spot”. I know my daddy does not remember this but to this day-I am now 57, I HATE to wash the car! Be careful, parents, at your words. I love your blog and too many memories of my own childhood self esteem issues to go into here. Tall, skinny, red hair, freckles,etc. I have my own daughter now who is beautiful but she struggles also. Such a sad culture we get sucked into.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Ugh! I want so badly to spare my daughter those scars. People are careless and witless–and usually dont mean any harm. But unfortunately the results can vary from hurt to utter humiliation and shame.

      Reply
  27. Abby

    I am 12 and I had a self confidence issue ever since 3rd grade. I was in a class who I thought was my friend. But she gave me looks like something was always wrong with me. I thought that I was doing something wrong and so I was self concise about almost everything. ( I didn’t know how to match) My mother always let me dress myself. It just crushed me. She’s still a brat today. I now realize that no matter how you look, people are still going to hate you for th stupidest things. I haven’t talked to her for a while and I’m doing fine with better friends who make me feel good about myself.

    Reply
  28. Caffeinated Chronicles

    For me it was 4th grade. It was awful, it still makes me cry. We didn’t have the video about our bodies (developing breasts and menstruating for the girls) until 5th grade, so I didn’t see it coming. And bless her heart, I love my mother, but she was not overly feminine, nor was she observant. I went to class picture day actually dressed very nicely in a white button down, velvet vest, corduroy pants and my tan boots. Keep in mind this was about 1994 and I was about 9yo. It was very warm in our classroom so I opted to take my vest off. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had recently developed ‘breast buds.’ You know the puffy mosquito bite look? And they were easily visible through my thin white button down shirt. Everyone in the class saw and there was giggling and laughing. My best friend saw and told me to put my vest back on and why. I was so humiliated. And ashamed of what was happening to my body. Angry at my mom too, for not noticing/warning me. I developed early, had my period by 11 (7th grade) and was a c cup by 8th grade.

    Reply
  29. Julia

    I recently found your blog and I am really enjoying it! There are so many blogs out there that depict this “perfect life”, but I must say I relate much better to the blogs that are honest and REAL, showing not only the good, but the not-so-good as well.

    I remember my confidence crushing moment like it was yesterday. I was in 5th grade. My Dad was in the military, so we moved around a lot. I had just started a new school, so I didn’t have too many friends. A girl in my class was having a pool party. I desperately wanted to go and be a part of the fun. Another girl in my class asked if I was going, to which the girl standing next to her said, “she can’t go to the party because she probably can’t fit into a swim suit.” I felt humiliated. I wanted to crawl under the table and dissapear. It was the first time I cried at school. Unfortunately, it set me up for many years of batteling self image, an eating disorder, and putting WAY too much empasis on how I looked depicting my self worth. Fortunately, with age comes wisdom, and I now see the importance of inner beauty. I am expecting my first daughter in June, and I pray that she grows up knowing her beauty comes from God, not from not others’ opinions. Thank you for your blog ????

    Reply
    1. hillary

      So glad to have you here! I definitely try to keep it real, as much as I can on the blog. You will find many things, but you won’t find perfect.

      Reply
  30. Sue - The Spin Cycle

    I want to beat that twenty year-old up for you. Nobody talks to my Hillary like that.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      I love you, Sue! I was a rather late developer and envied all my friends who got to look like “women” in Jr. High. And then when it did come, it came on like a ton of bricks and BAM! I had no idea what a burden boobs were. I had other guys in high school say things to me that now I realize were pick-ups, but at the time I was mortified and just wanted to strap all women parts down with duct tape!

      Reply

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