Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

HIJACKED!

I’ve been thinking about body image a lot lately, along with a question that keeps bubbling to the surface of my mind. I want to ask every woman I meet (all those who identify as women)–

How old were you when your body got hijacked?

Maybe this didn’t happen to you, but I think many females in our society have a similar experience. First, there was your Age of Innocence. You were a child, with a body, and you were just basically You. You lived mostly in the present moment, you played and laughed and cried and slept and didn’t really think about having a body. It just Was.

And then, something happened– maybe it was a comment or judgment from someone else, getting teased or compared, or some physical experience. At some point you developed a self-consciousness about having a body, realized that other people saw it, that your body could be good or bad. Often these realizations come because of a negative experience.

For me, it was getting comments about my body starting somewhere in elementary school. I was the eldest of three sisters, and I picked up the labels that there was the thin one, the normal one, and then me, the chubby one. I started feeling pretty fat, even though photos reveal nothing much out of the ordinary. I was teased about my weight, got compared to other girls, and was encouraged to lose weight. I had shame-inducing dressing room visits with my mom, trying on clothes– I developed hips and curves early, and it was hard to find pants that fit. I felt terrible and resolved to change myself to have a body that everyone would praise me for.

Yes, already hijacked here.

This began a journey of over 40 years of body-shame and self-loathing, making a “home improvement” project of my body, with starvation diets, punitive exercise, weight loss and weight gain, eating disorders, even more weight gain, and always trying-trying-trying to be good enough (and never getting there).

It has only occurred to me recently that what was really wrong was that I innocently believed all the messages I got from the world around me, messages about my body and girls’ bodies, beauty and worthiness, and that I needed to change. As I see it now, I was Hijacked as a young girl, plucked up from my relatively harmonious state of existence, and plopped down into a world where my body was a thing to be scrutinized, judged, discussed and deemed unworthy. I thought this was just what happened when you grow up. I didn’t know to question it, reject it. I wish I had.

Today I’m trying to come back around to that girl I was, to get away from the judging and self-loathing, which never did one lick of good for me. Our society continues to put criteria on women’s bodies for what is good or acceptable or beautiful or “healthy” (men too, but it’s definitely worse for women). Believing this bullsh*t has messed with me on so many levels and had a huge negative impact on my life for over 40 years. Now I’m going to see what it’s like when I take back my body and live in it from the inside again. I won’t let myself be held hostage again.

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24 Comments

  1. I was around 8.

  2. I was about 5 or 6 when my mother told me that if I had been born a boy her marriage wouldn’t have failed. That was most likely the start of it for me. I had failed from birth, but until I reached 9, I could at least be as boy-like as I wanted. I was an “early bloomer” and so was devastated and depressed that I had no choice in the matter. I never accepted a feminine persona or really understood it.
    In the years that followed my mother would say things like “You’d be pretty if you…” implying that physically I was never good enough and needed some sort of improvement (She laid the mental equivalent on me too).

    As an adult, I can consciously reject the things she said, but even today it is still a conscious effort.

    • Wow, Gio… thanks for sharing that. What a devastating thing to hear from your mother when you were so young, to put the blame on you. We soak in these messages, whether they are as direct as your mom, or sometimes indirect, and it just screws us up at a vulnerable time. I so totally get it, about being able to consciously reject it but how you still have to fight through it. Sometimes I can intellectually reject the messages but some emotional part in me is still believing it. It’s work.

  3. Sadly, this really resonates with me, as well. I think I was 9 or 10, and like others, an early bloomer when I started hearing the “You would be prettier if…”, “Now that you’re developing, you need to/should/have to…”. I always felt I wasn’t “feminine” enough, but when I tried to be more “femme”, I didn’t feel like me.

    I’ve learned to love my body, but some days I still struggle.

    • Thanks, Terri… we were hearing these messages at such impressionable ages. And it all came down to us never being just good enough (or great!) just the way we were. I feel like I’m still pretty new to this learning to love my body journey.

  4. I was in 4th grade I think, so what, maybe 9? My mother usually sewed all my dresses (we only wore dresses back then). I think she was tired of that and somehow found enough money in the budget to buy me 4 or 5 ready made dresses, which I adored. She bought them on sale in the spring. Then it happened, a growth spurt, and it was both up and around. Nothing fit me in the fall and oh, was she mad at me. That’s when the labeling began. Ironic, because as a younger child she forced me to take a horrible tonic every day because I was too small. I guess I chose the wrong moment to start growing.

    • Oh no! Such pressure to be under! And kids bodies just grow… that can’t really be planned in advance. I’m so sorry you were subjected to that, Jean. Our poor dear little girl selves!

  5. The first time someone told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. I climbed the tree anyhow. It went on and on and on, from parents, teachers, other kids, movies, magazines, TV, books, radio, and even the Sears catalogue.

    • Good for you… it sounds like you had spunk! But yes, the messages sure come from everywhere, not just about our bodies and our appearance, but about what we can do or be, or can’t. How to be our true selves in the face of all this?

  6. I was 10.

    My body was changing–I’d just started my period and I was putting on weight. My doctor put me on a diet. Up until then, I’d thought I was pretty.

    I learned two things: that I was not pretty, I was fat, and how to sneak food.

    I’ll be 58 next month. I’m still fat and still struggling with food/body issues.

    • Awww, Monica. That is so similar to me. And our bodies were putting on weight because of puberty, and women’s bodies need the fat for our developing reproductive systems! And look how it affects us… it didn’t help, and leaves us still struggling in middle age. May you find healing and know your own loveliness!

  7. Wow….well written.

  8. I think this happened sometime between my 6th and 9th year?

    I too had a family in which we had roles…I was the fat one, my sister was the stupid one. We were subject to horribly demeaning remarks, ostensibly to keep us from getting “too full of ourselves”.

    As we’ve discussed off-line…I still fight this well-instilled negativity every day:(

    • Good to hear from you, Lorelei! I’m sorry you experienced the roles and those horribly demeaning comments, too. They sure make for a firm foundation in self-judgment and dissatisfaction, and it’s hard to bust up that foundation and toss it into the dumpster. We’re doing it, though, and we’re fighting the good fight. I’m glad we’re both making progress.

  9. It was second grade. I had to start wearing a training bra. Soon after, the bra strap snapping started and older boys tried to trap me in corners or other dark places to cop feels. Sadly for them, I was well-trained in hand-to-hand combat so many of those boys found themselves writhing on the floor. After one such encounter, the principal called my parents to school to discuss the situation. His solution? Tape my chest down. My parents told him to kick rocks and to expect to keep finding boys writhing on the floor.

    • Sadly for them, heh… I think they got a good lesson from you! Way to go! I’m curious to hear if fighting back physically helped you to not soak in the messages so much into your psyche? This is a young warrior I like hearing about, and I’m so glad your parents were supportive about this. Yay!

  10. Thank you for asking this, Theresa. I was 8 or 9. I clearly remember coming home from my annual physical weighing 78 pounds, which must’ve been a greater increase than in years past, and my mother telling me I must not let it go over 80 pounds. It wasn’t until I had kids and saw their growth that I realized that I was well within the normal weight range for my age and that I was simply a girl who was starting to develop. By age 10, I was put on diets.

    • Thnaks, Pamie, for sharing… how awful to be told you shouldn’t gain 3 more lbs, when you are young and growing! Isn’t it hard, how we felt so big (and because big was considered bad, we were bad by association) when it wasn’t even true? Maybe we have a whole nation of gas-lighted women about our bodies!

  11. I loved this post. Beautifully written.

    For my, I was hijacked officially in the 7th grade. I was about 12 years old. I got my period a month before my 11th birthday, so my body underwent a lot of changes.

    I do remember being called Miss Skinny one time in jazz class when I was 11, and I remember feeling so proud of my “skinny” identity. But then puberty rapidly arrived and my body completely changed, so then came the self-consciousness.

    I do remember being aware that my body could be good or bad by the time I was 10, but I didn’t care so much. I did ballet for so many years as a child and I was always the chubby one, so I was aware about from body from a young age.

    • Thanks for sharing all this, Karina, and for the kind words! I was in dance class too, and there tended to be body comparisons, amongst the girls, and then the moms’ comments too. It was harder when we needed costumes for recitals because they had to be sewn by a seamstress, and for me there was talk about how much fabric it would take. I was a bit chubby but not really fat, but I sure felt it. All these things pick away at our self esteem.

  12. I was probably 9. I’m still working on it too.
    It makes be mad and sad all at once that so many of us can relate :-/

    On a positive note-have you seen the cover of Glamour? I don’t usually look at it, but the Jan or Feb 2017 issue has Lena Dunham and the cast of “Girls” on the cover. Lena did NOT opt to be photoshopped. I LOVE her SO much!! She is SO brave being herself. I hope she can make a difference in some girls’ lives!!

    • Yes, Rita– it makes me mad and sad too! Why do we all have this shitty common experience? Thanks so much for the note about Glamour and Lena Dunham– I looked it up and was so impressed with it, and with her! I’m so glad we (and girls today) have new role models like her. It makes such a difference!

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