Body Shame: When Does It Start?
So, I had one of those moments today where my mind went stumbling back through memories. Throwing a jumble of people and places around, heaving emotions out of place and reminding me of what I used to be.
Inevitably, bad times cropped up and they always stay a little longer because I feel the pull of anger of having not reacted how I wanted. I can still feel the sting of humiliation or the lingering hum of sadness.
When I have these moments I often wonder how much they've affected me and shaped who I am. Am I afraid to make friends because of being rejected so many times at the start of secondary school? Am I forever self-conscious of the way I dress because of the barbs directed my way?
I have so many questions about how things have affected me and my self-image, and I know that because I remember them with such clarity, that yes, they have shaped me.
I find that a lot of my early memories of body negativity are because of adults. They were probably unaware of what they did, won't even recall, but to me they are key points in my life. Bad points, but I they go far in explaining pieces of who I am.
One of my earliest memories is from school and a teacher I remember liking, but this is my strongest and perhaps only memory of her now.
It was time for P.E. and we were at that age, maybe in year 1, where you stop doing it in your underwear and start doing it in a kit. I must have been 5 or 6 years old. I forgot my gym bag, and I was mortified. I went up to, let's call her, Mrs Jones (it's Wales so this is likely) and told her as much. I remember being sorry and I also remember that I definitely forgot it and hadn't done it deliberately. I remember feeling sad because I didn't think I would be allowed to play.
Mrs Jones was annoyed with me and told me that I had to do it anyway. It took me a moment to understand, to process what she was saying. I think I might have asked her what she meant, and I remember her being dismissive of me. I had to do it in my underwear because I didn't have my kit like I should have.
She was annoyed, I'd let her down and now somehow I was in trouble. I just went and got undressed to my underwear and it wasn't until I was waiting for the class to start that I realised that I would be the only one in the whole class in just my underwear. It wasn't untill then that I realised my punishment.
I didn't wear crop tops or vests like the other girls because they were too warm. I hated them. And I quite hinestly don't think my mum could afford them. I remember thinking my knickers weren't very nice. They were to big and grey, like they'd be discoloured in the wash.
This is the first time in my life I remember feeling completely self-conscious about my body. I felt uncomfortable, vulnerable, under-scrutiny. I already felt like my body wasn't like the other girls; I was never as thin. I was healthy and a normal weight, just bigger. My adult mind tells me this, but the 5/6 year old me just knew I didn't look as nice as them. Pretty girls wore bright white matching knicker and crop tops sets, girls who didn't weren't pretty. I wasn't a pretty girl.
This gym class is the moment where an adult, an authority figure, punished me with humiliation because they didn't believe the truth I was telling. It has stayed with me my entire life. It still makes me upset. I can feel being scared of what the other kids will think, what they'll say.
Some might not think this small moment should matter. They had something similar happen and they're fine. It might seem like common practice to some over a certain age, but not at mine, and not to me. It feels important to me, and that's what counts. I know that this is one of many moments that have made me dislike my body as an adult. Why I am so uncomfortable in it at times, why I worry about how it moves and what people see.
Writing this down and sharing it is scary to me. I was a very young child when this happened, you'd think I'd be fine with sharing now - it's literally more than 20 years ago. But this event is a negative piece of me, and that's why it's so damn hard. This memory is part of the bit of me I try to hide and exposing it is raw. The shamed part, the quiet part that doesn't answer back or question. A weak part that couldn't say no, not even once, even though she wanted to.
I am trying to learn to love myself and this first sting of body shame needs to be faced. Writing this down is facing it. Knowing how I felt and how I feel now, are facing it.
I see it. I accept it. It was not my fault. It does not define me. My body is capable of a great deal of amazing things. My body is strong. My body is capable. My body can doing anything I want it to.
Including scaling a climbing frame in just my too big, grey knickers. What an amazing, strong little body I have.