Learning to Listen to My Body
Emilee Russell Feminist Wednesday University Ambassador
I never really had a “baby-fat” stage. Soon after I could walk, I was always running around outside, playing sports, or riding my bike. I ate healthy, homemade meals and usually didn’t overeat. My legs grew so fast that compared to my peers I was incredibly skinny. I didn’t really gain weight, but then again I wasn’t really concerned with it. Once in awhile I would overhear a teammate’s parents or friend refer to me as “sickly skinny”, but I didn’t think much of it. At home, I was always reinforced with messages of self-care and loving my body by doing good things for it like eating well and getting outdoors.
I didn’t hit 100 pounds until I was in the seventh grade. In middle school, I was one of the “skinny friends.” I was relatively confident about my weight and health, despite my belief that my thighs were too big compared to the rest of my frame. In my small group of close-knit friends, we were all pretty healthy. One of my friends who, like me, had always been naturally very thin growing up, struggled with an eating disorder for a few awful years. I would hear her talk negatively about her body at any meal or whenever we were near a mirror. We weighed almost the same, but she was much taller than me so she looked a lot thinner. Looking back now, we were both fit, healthy girls who were just growing. Whenever I heard her complaining about her image, I would wonder if there was something wrong with me, too. Despite a couple weight-related worries, I was happy with my body and did very well in sports all throughout middle school.
About halfway through my freshman year of high school, I went through a breakup with my first real boyfriend and descended into a minor bout of depression that lasted for the rest of the winter. During this time I gained 15 pounds. This was monumental to me; I no longer felt like the skinny friend. I felt like 15 pounds was way too much to ever lose and very slowly, I gained another ten pounds over the following year. My mom assured me that it was natural but I was beginning to feel overweight. I didn’t really ever lose my confidence, but when I would look at myself in pictures, I felt chubby.
I was at a pretty healthy weight and I still did sports. I wore bikinis, shorts, and never compromised the cute outfits I wanted to wear. One of my best friends told me that she “understood the fat and fabulous thing” but that I should rethink what I wore. I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me, but it did. I didn’t really yearn to be skinny, I just strived to be healthy and athletic. My metabolism was still good so even though I had been eating a lot of junk, I was only about 10 pounds over my ideal weight. Yet being short, I thought this weight was overwhelming on my frame. I ran cross country all four years of high school and learned to listen and be in tune with my body. It was such a blessing because it proved to me that regardless of gaining a few pounds, my body can still do awesome stuff.
These days, I don’t weigh myself. Weight is not a concern for me, health is what I care about. I can easily gauge my health by what I’ve been eating, by my exercise, and simply by looking at myself in the mirror. I do know that I weigh slightly more than I should for my frame, but I don’t consider myself fat. I’m strong and I have muscular legs that I’m proud of. I have wide hips and a full chest that I would have at pretty much any weight. I have a fantastic body that I’m proud of, and though I sometimes struggle with eating well, I take great care of myself.
The way that we can change the crisis of body shaming is by modeling self-care and body acceptance. My mother has always been a great example of this for me. She cares for herself by eating well, regularly exercising, and just generally listening to her body. She appreciates her health and everything that her body can do. She is proud of her body because it created three healthy children and has never had any serious health issues. My mother taught me that if you love your body, caring for it comes naturally and easily.
The bottom line is negative self-image is a learned behavior. If younger generations are growing up with a poor view of their bodies, then we are failing them as a society. This is especially true for young girls as they face messages daily telling them to be thin and beautiful, and that this is indicative of their worth as a person. Since this is a learned behavior, we can teach them. Moms, grandmas, aunts, sisters, friends, peers, and neighbors all bear this responsibility to teach young women to love and care for their bodies and themselves. All girls should have a positive body role model, regardless of body type or weight. Appearance isn’t what matters, it’s your attitude and that’s exactly what girls will pick up on. If we are to promote self-love and body acceptance, we must practice what we preach.