Things I learnt as a child which contributed to my body image issues

There are two things that I learned as a child which contributed to a three decade struggle with my weight and my perception of what I looked like: I had to weigh less than 175lbs to be acceptable (based on the BMI chart) and I wasn’t sporty. It turns out that both of these were false, to some degree or another, but I didn’t learn that until my adult years, well after lasting physical and emotional damage had been done.

When I was young, I was a normal kid with normal activity levels and normal weight. Then, my already well-established emotional eating started to catch up with me and I got chubby. Well-meaning adults tried to help in various ways, but the most notable ones and the ones that left a lasting impression were being put on a scale (see, “Nothing good can ever come from weighting your child“) and having my poor frustrated mother cry out, “Do you want to end up fat like me?” (or something to that effect). The first left me always struggling with feeling judged and feeling like I must be a disappointment because, clearly, my worth was based on a number on a scale which I could ever seem to attain. The latter mostly affected me when I was old enough to see that I was my mother’s daughter, 100%, and, as a consequence, probably doomed to be fat just like her.

I spent the next 30-ish years thinking I was fat, though there is plenty of proof that I wasn’t always fat and was often just a bit chubby at most. But, I was convinced that I was fat, because of the size I wore and the fact that I weighed 190-ish lbs. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I started to learn that the 175lbs target, from the bullshit BMI charts, was probably unrealistic and unhealthy for me. Even my doctor said that it would be ill-advised, despite the fact that it was the *upper* limit suggested by the BMI chart. And, looking back, I can see that I would have had to have been VERY thin to get to that weight. Nonetheless, the damage was done. I was convinced that I was fat, and doomed to end up fat like my mom was. [Note: My mom died years ago, so she’s not going to read this and get upset about me calling her fat. And, she was fat. She was bigger than I ever was, and I used to weigh just over 300 lbs. Also, I don’t blame her – I completely understand her frustration and the fact that she was doing the best she could with what time and knowledge she had.]

This combined with thinking that I wasn’t “sporty” meant that I never tried to get fit. What was the point? I was the “artsy type” and “not good” at sports. Which is kind of true. I wasn’t great at gym class and I was almost always one of the very last in everything fitness related. I didn’t get the gold, silver or even bronze badges. I got the “at least you tried” compensation prizes. But, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t capable or that all sports would be a waste of my time. I was an avid swimmer- not the fastest, but I still loved it. In my teen years I did the advanced swim classes, right up to the advanced lifesaving classes. Do you know how fit you have to be for the lifesaving classes? Very. But, I “wasn’t sporty” and I was “fat”, so clearly there was no hope for me.

As Rebecca put it so well on Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty:

But a childhood full of failure at team sports and a lack of innate gifts in the coordination department scared me off of formal physical activity for decades. Indeed, I was convinced that I hated working out – that I would always hate it, no matter what, and that it would take a tremendous and ongoing act of sheer will power to do it.

It turns out that I am kind of sporty, in a way. I’m just not into team sports. I love to hike and snowshoe. I enjoy getting stronger and take pride in the fact that I can bench press more than my personal trainer (to be fair, she’s very petite and her sports of choice are things like long distance running – and I suck at running!). So, clearly, I am sort of sporty, I just never had a chance to learn that I liked some types of activities because I sucked at gym and was led to believe that meant I was no good at sports.

With regards to my weight, 175 lbs is officially off the table. My personal trainer, paid to know these sorts of things, reviewed my body composition data (more on that in a future post) and told me to aim for about 190-200 lbs. I’m good with that. I kind of like the idea of always being a “big” girl without being fat. And, I definitely don’t want to be super thin – that’s fine for others, but too foreign to me. I like my curves.

Why am I sharing this with you? For a number of reasons. First, remember that even loved ones make mistakes. Second, the BMI is bullshit so ignore it. Third, please, for the love of all things, never put your child on a scale. Fourth, everyone is sporty, you just need to find what you like.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.