There is one thing which always makes me cry. This weekend, I got to witness it firsthand.
There’s a girl in the sixth grade on the track team I volunteer as a coach for. The entire team is girls of middle school age, and each week the coaches bring up a topic to discuss as a group before we run. Bullying, gossip, puberty, fun life things. This week the topic was body image. All was going relatively well, then one girl raised her hand to share an experience from dance class. She said her dance teacher had called her fat, so she tried not to eat for the following two days. She said in that moment, she’d wished she was anorexic. I, and everyone else, knew that it wasn’t just in that moment.
There’s this weird age between childhood and adolescence when kids are developing adolescent insecurities but still speak with the openness of children. I felt like I knew too much. She tried to hide it, but her vulnerability was so apparent. I told her anorexia is not a diet, or an exhibition of self-control, that it’s an illness which could kill her, and most definitely alter her life forever. I don’t know if she believed me. I don’t know how long it’ll take for her to see herself, young and growing, as more than an object to be perfected. She is so bright, and inquisitive, and a great runner. It took all my will not to hug her and cry then and there. (I postponed the crying until I went to bed that evening.)
I’d throw around clichés here, and say, “I don’t know why, but it really gets to me,” but I know exactly why it makes me so upset to see a little girl hating herself. Boys too. Any viral video involving little kids discussing gender inequality or societal pressure always results in heart-tugging and whimpering. Even FCKH8’s “Pottymouth Princesses” brought moisture to my tear ducts.
Beyond a child’s realization of the wage gap and the harsh constraints of gender roles, the acquisition of self-doubt, the faltering in their self-worth, is saddest to me, because that was me. It is me. I remember the first time someone called me ugly at school. I was in second grade. I remember wishing I could be a size smaller in Abercrombie Kids, and feeling shameful when I had to start wearing women’s sizes. The first time I weighed in over 100 pounds at the doctor’s office my dad congratulated me, and I went to the bathroom and cried.
I’ve grown to accept myself for who I am, and I know that I am more than a weight, or a clothing size, or my makeup quality on any given day. But I’m still uncomfortable with how I look, and most people around me are, too. I can barely remember the brief time when we weren’t.
I just want that poor girl to care about herself as much as I do. ♦