Many women are so accustomed to feeling bad about their bodies, it’s difficult to pinpoint where and when it began. In a world where a woman’s worth is often measured in direct correlation to how she looks in a bikini, a constant dissatisfaction with how you look sometimes seems like it’s just part and parcel of the female experience. According to a study, 90 per cent of British teenage girls are unhappy with their bodies. Journalist Vonny Leclerc challenged tweeters to chart their relationship with their self-image by asking a simple question: “When did you start judging your body?”
Some respondents were as young as eight when their body issues first began, with insecurities ranging from tummies, height, thighs and whatever else can be criticised on a woman’s body, which is, well, anything. For me, it was my boobs. Up until around age 14, my chest was verging on concave. It wasn’t particularly of note to me, until one of my friends mentioned them (or lack of a “them”) in the changing rooms. While for her it was a passing comment, for me it fuelled months of self-consciousness and, after some time, self-loathing.
I was so concerned about my small breasts, I quite literally called on supernatural help, dedicating my nightly prayers to asking for a pair of massive knockers, promising God I wouldn’t use a DD cup for ill. Eventually, I was granted a pair that wouldn’t stop growing. After some time, they temporarily culminated at an E, which sat awkwardly on my then size-six frame. I soon realised this was a “blessing” that came with back aches, unsolicited comments from strangers and unwanted stares from men twice my age, as well as a brand new worry about their perkiness. I was screwed either way. And it didn’t help when I realised I had in fact made the wrong request and that bums were actually the coveted body part in my community.
Despite them feeling ubiquitous, problems with body image don’t form in a vacuum. Following on from Leclerc’s thread, The Pool staff share their memories of when they first began to judge their bodies.
“My body developed a lot quicker than my friends, meaning I had fully fledged curves and boobs when I was around 14. I was also quite a bit taller, so I stood out – literally. It was the age we started going out to parties and my friends would always compliment me on how I filled out dresses. It's not a necessarily negative story, but it's the first time I realised my body was up for discussion and meant something more than just functionality.”
I can't remember a time when I didn't judge my body. I think it would have started when I was seven, when I moved to a new school in a different country – as well as being teased for being nerdy and having a weird accent, I was teased for having a bigger body than everyone else. It really kicked up a gear when I was 11, though – in secondary school, my group of friends were obsessed with making me lose weight. I remember them taking my lunch money so I couldn't eat and my bus money so I'd walk home and get more exercise, and then making me give them piggybacks and run around everywhere to try and lose weight. Spoiler alert: this didn't work, and has destroyed my relationship with food, my body and exercise so much that I think it's beyond repair, as even therapy hasn't mended it.
I'm tall – six foot – and I have always been this way. Excruciatingly so, as a teenager. Aged 12, my friends were all teeny tiny put-me-in-your-pocket petites, and I towered over them, all arms and legs and angles and awkwardness. I lost a lot of weight to try and make my body fit the norm. I wanted to be feminine and dainty and all the things I believed made a woman attractive. I wound up too thin and still "bigger". It wasn't until my twenties that I learned first to say "fuck fitting in", and second that I actually enjoy being a minor giantess.
I can't remember the moment I started judging my body – that's because I am old – but the one time I remember properly feeling ashamed was when I was nine months pregnant, literally about to pop. I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, waiting for the doctor to decide whether they were going to induce me, when I bumped into another mum-to-be who had been in my NCT class a couple of months before. She took one look at me and said: “Oh my God, you're huge, HUGE. ENORMOUS!" She wouldn't shut up, and my lovely glow-y little pregnant world was shattered in an instant – and suddenly I was flooded with guilt, shame and concern. Was I huge? Was that wrong? Would that be dangerous for the baby? Twenty-four hours later I gave birth (by caesarean!) to a 10-pounder – a lovely, bonny pink scritchy bundle who has been the constant joy of my life for the last 17 years. Those thoughtless words still ring in my ears…
I think I became self-conscious about how I looked when my dad called me “a great lumptious girl" (he's from Dorset) when I was about 14. From that point on, being tall for my age, I always felt "big" and cumbersome around my contemporaries.
I was around 13 or 14 when noticed that my thighs were bigger than a lot of my friends. I remember thinking a lot about it and feeling self-conscious in my PE shorts. Not long after that, I got hips. It was before a lot of the girls in my year so that was hard. I remember a boy in the year above me telling me I looked wide from behind. Dickhead.
I probably first started to judge my body when I was about 13 and other girls at school started developing boobs. I was really disappointed in myself for being so flat-chested for such a long time. I used to think I might get a boob job when I was older, which looking back is horrible.
I started judging my body as soon as I started to go through puberty in year four. I was one of one or two other girls whose bodies had started to change visibly, and it was the first time other boys in the class started to comment on my body – an incident in which a boy told me I could no longer go braless because of my "big tits" springs to mind. I don't think I'd ever felt shame like that in my life, or realised that others expected me to treat my body as a source of shame. And, as you can imagine, it all got 10-times worse when I went to secondary school and realised that my chubby body wasn't exactly desirable to others, either.
I vividly remember being in Youth Club (around 11) and one of the men that worked there pointing out I had chubby knees. (Side note: he was an overweight male in his late forties...) I didn't think it bothered me at the time, but as I've got older I've become increasingly paranoid about them and you'll now never see me wearing anything above the knee outside of very close company.
When I was little, I don't remember being aware of judging my body. When puberty hit though, I started to feel more uncomfortable. I remember being on a school trip when I was about 15 in Cornwall where we had to get into our swimming costumes to go in the sea. Being in front of my whole class with so much of my body on show felt excruciating and it was the first time I really started comparing my body to others.
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