I remember once when I was in elementary school, my mom let me shop by myself in Aeropostale, which of course made me feel really cool and sophisticated and independent. I picked out a few shirts (probably all plastered with felt letters spelling “Aeropostale,” because what else can you really buy there?) and headed to the dressing room, following two very hip, gorgeous teenage girls who I immediately admired for their middle-school wisdom. As I tried on my shirts, only really concerned with choosing the best shade of blue, I overheard their conversation in the stall next to me:
“Ew, look at how flabby my arms are in this dress! They’re like three times as big when I put my arms by my sides. I’m so fat.”
“You, fat?! Look at this!” the other girl said, probably pinching her barely-there arm fat, “I wish I could pull off that dress like you, you’re so skinny!”
It had never really occurred to me before then to hate my body. I immediately looked at my own arms and realized that they did, in fact, get significantly larger when they were by my sides. Did that mean the other kids would secretly make fun of me? Would I only be able to impress the 5th graders if I wore long-sleeved shirts year-round?
I’m in college now, but I still hear these types of comments left and right when I go shopping with my friends. A lot of the time, I don’t even notice; I’m a teenage girl, and I’ve been genetically programmed to spew these types of self-hating comments since before I hit puberty. To us, it’s normal. But the damage is two-fold – while you’re reinforcing whatever you’ve convinced yourself you hate about your own body, you’re also asking the person you’re talking to to second-guess about themselves.
Skinny is this thing you’re supposed to strive for, and then complain about once you achieve it. The skinny girls think they aren’t real women if they don’t have sexy curves, while the bigger girls feel like they have to hide their fat and cellulite. If you’re skinny, you’re not allowed to complain about your body; any complaint is met with a “Shut up, you’re so skinny!” as if your weight invalidates your ability to be self-conscious.
I never want to be the kind of person that makes other people feel like they should be self-conscious about their bodies. Life is so much better when you accept the body you have (even if you’re still trying to achieve the body you want).
I’m not trying to imply that I have done this — I am more guilty than anyone of poking at my stomach in front of the mirror and basing my self-worth on a number on the scale. I used to be obsessed with my weight, to the point where I planned out weeks of food and exercise plans and punished myself severely for breaking them. And I looked like this: (See Link 1 – This was the only full-body picture I could find.; I was 16, sleeping on the side of a mountain because I literally could not find the strength to make it farther up the incline to my hotel.)
Even if I had actually been dangerously overweight, my weight loss wouldn’t have been healthy. Every goal I hit just resulted in another, lower goal weight; I was never satisfied.
We glamorize our past bodies as if we weren’t self conscious two years ago, and then romanticize the future (when you’re going to be SO much fitter and happier because you’re going to go to the gym/run a 5k/eat only food farmed by a Venezuelan sea monster). If we spend so much time and energy hating our current selves, when are we going to be happy with our life as it is?
If I’ve learned anything, it’s this: No one notices your stretch marks or your love handles or your bony ribs nearly as much as you do. You can wear whatever you want; as long as you aren’t flashing me or going commando, you can literally walk around in an orange monokini and fur boots if it suits your fancy. If you have the confidence and the will to wear it, and you’re not going to a business meeting, go for it. You’re ultimately living your life for yourself, not other people. Don’t waste your energy worrying about what other people think; you should never deny yourself happiness.
And stop telling yourself your body isn’t good enough.
(P.S. I want to be clear that I know this is not a topic unique to teenage girls. Regardless of your age or gender identity, this applies to you. You’re awesome!)
Olivia is a college student in Nashville studying the music business. She has no idea what she’s doing. Her areas of expertise include Taylor Swift, Candy Crush, and getting herself into uncomfortable situations. You can visit her blog where she talks about things that she likes, or her Twitter where she talks about her cats.