This is the damage you do when you comment on a woman’s weight
The year is 2005, and I’m 12 years old. I’m just getting back from my birthday party at Clay N Latte. I painted a dog figurine — brown with a red collar and a pink tongue hanging out of his mouth. As I’m getting out of my mother’s green van in the driveway with my older sister, our next door neighbor rides over on his bike with his friends. They’re a few years older than I am.
"Hey Anna!" the neighbor yells over toward me. "Ever heard of Weight Watchers?"
His friends snicker and the boys ride off. I stand there, confused. I look down at my body, wondering what I did wrong.
Fast forward to 2012. I’m 18, about to graduate high school. Today, I’m working at the day care I’ve worked at for a year now. As the editor of the high school newspaper and a graduating senior, my schedule has been hectic. I haven’t been eating much lately, simply because I haven’t made the time for it. I’m noticeably slimmer, and for the first time in my life, I fit into my older sister’s size 0 dresses. It’s the end of the work day at the day care, and a parent comes up to me, flanked by two other moms. “Oh honey, you look so much cuter, you’re so slim now! How did you do it?” she asks me, point blank, in front of everyone. I blanch, looking down at my body.
This moment will ingrain an unspoken rule into my brain: That to be cute, I have to be hungry. This rule plagues my subconscious from that moment on.
Fast forward to last year. I’m driving friends around. My close friend, who has known me since ninth grade, is sitting in the passenger seat. We’re discussing the fact that I don’t really enjoy living in L.A. “Well, you don’t care about being thin like everyone else there,” she responds, flippantly. My heart drops into the pit of my stomach. How could she — my friend who has witnessed my body image struggles firsthand — think that I didn’t care about being thin? I’ve been comfortable with my body (finally) for the past year. I wonder, “Should I not be?”
The truth of it all is that since the moment a boy told me to try Weight Watchers, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about my weight.
This narrative — the much abbreviated narrative of my complicated, depressing, and socially-skewed relationship to my body — is a familiar one to most women.
Unfortunately, women’s bodies have been judged, held to inhuman standards, and even viewed as property for as long as we’ve walked this planet. The history of expressing ownership over women’s bodies is a long one that we all know too well.
But really? It’s 2018. Are we not smart enough yet to move past archaic, harmful, outdated, and based-on-bullshit standards?
When we look at a body that is not our own, we know nothing about it but its physical appearance. Maybe we see a scar that suggests past trauma or surgery. Maybe we see a burn, or a mole, or a tattoo. But what we don’t see is how it became what it is, or why it is the way it is. We don’t know what happens behind closed doors, like how I would binge eat during my freshman year of college after the Boston bombing (which happened down the street from my school) because eating was my coping mechanism; it made me feel in control when I wasn’t.
We don’t know if someone “got fit,” or if that person actually just isn’t eating. We don’t know if a 12-year-old is overeating, or if she is just not built like the other girls around her. The fact is that commenting on a woman’s weight is never warranted, necessary, or helpful.
If we choose to comment on these bodies without knowing their histories, our words will undoubtedly damage the people who inhabit those bodies.
It’s about time we start to reconsider, collectively, the way we speak about women’s bodies. In fact, it’s long overdue. As a once little girl who looked at her body and wondered what she’d done wrong — when all she’d done was grow — I ask you to do your part to prevent little girls from growing into women who hate their bodies. There are so many other things that women need to worry about, to fight against, than the bodies they were born with.