Growing up as a young girl, I vividly remember my mother complaining about her body and about the clothes in her cupboard that no longer fit. I remember watching her turn to junk food for comfort when she was feeling down about her appearance. And I remember, at the age of 12, thinking I was too fat to be seen in a bathing suit without shorts on.
I was not an overweight child. I was actually very slim, and had no reason at all to think that I was fat. No reason except for my mother’s attitude towards her own body. Because my mother wasn’t fat either, in fact she was a very comfortable size 10 with little evidence of the three children she had given birth to. So how was I to know any different?
“As I grew up, everyone told me I was looking more and more like my mother. This only reinforced the idea that if she was fat, I must be fat too.”
My family used to go jet-skiing at a river in our hometown, and I would sit on the bank and watch everyone else have fun for fear of exposing my “fat” thighs to the world. When we went to Byron Bay, I sat on the sand while the rest of my family ducked in and out of huge waves, squealing and laughing and having a wonderful time. I sat, and I watched, and I wished my thighs weren’t so fat, or that mum would let me wear shorts in the water to cover them. I look back at my 12 year old self, and I pity her. I wish she knew just how beautiful and perfect she was. I wish she didn’t miss out on all those fun times because of a false belief in her mind. I wish I could go back in time and tell her that her mother’s body image problems did not have to be passed down the family line.
As I grew up, everyone told me I was looking more and more like my mother. This only reinforced the idea that if she was fat, I must be fat too. In my teens, I would often try on a few different outfits, convince myself I looked too fat in them and then refuse to go out with my friends. Just like my twelve year old self, I would sit at home and wish that my body was thinner so I could go out and have fun like everyone else. I turned to junk food to comfort myself during these times when I felt down, and as my waistline grew, so too did my body hatred. At any one time, I was either starving myself to lose weight, or binging on junk foods until I felt sick. I became increasingly anti-social, spending my weekends at the local fast-food drive thru and eating in the darkest corner of the carpark in the privacy of my car. I didn’t want anyone to see ‘the fat girl’ eating fast food all alone.
I am now twenty-four years old and have been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people throughout my life who have opened my eyes to my destructive pattern of body-shaming. My weight has fluctuated incredibly over the years, and a few years ago my comfort eating was so bad that I gained almost 10kg in just four months. But I am now in a good place, and I feel like I have broken the cycle of body hatred and comfort eating. Food is nourishment and fuel for my body – it is no longer a source of comfort nor punishment. I exercise because the movement is healthy and energising for my body, not because I hate the way I look. I am so proud of myself for finding unconditional love for my body, despite of what I was taught, indirectly, from such a young age.
I once blamed my mum for the way I viewed my body. I used to think it was her fault that I used food as comfort and that I was never happy with my reflection in the mirror. But I’m old enough now to know better, and I know that if she knew what she was teaching me, she never would have said those things out loud. I know that everything I learnt from her can only be attested to her own body image, and rather than blame her for that, I feel sorry for her. My mum and I have a wonderful relationship and I do everything I can, each and every day, to improve her body image and remind her how beautiful and perfect she is. Her body-shaming habits were passed down to her from her own mother, who probably got it from her mother, and so on. But I’m taking a stand, and the curse stops here.
My children will not hear me speak ill of my physical appearance. My children will grow up knowing how loved and special they are. My children will grow up with an understanding that physical appearance is such a small part of what makes us whole. Their body image will never hold them back from living life to the fullest, just as mine doesn’t stop me now. I am grateful for every single person in my life journey who has healed me from my family pattern of body-shaming, and I am so grateful to you for reading my story.
I held tears in my eyes as I wrote this, and I hope that my message gets through to you.
I hope that you realise that you are beautiful and perfect and you deserve unconditional love. I hope that you never speak words of hatred towards your body in front of your children again, because I know how much that can affect a child throughout their life. And I hope you go now, look in the mirror, and love and accept what you see.
Life is too short – don’t let your body image hold you back from living each and every day to the fullest.