What We Say to Girls* Matters [New study shows what telling a girl she's "fat" really does]

by Charlotte on May 1, 2014 · 73 comments

cutegirls

Jelly Bean (r) and friends know they are working it. 

90210 wasn’t really my jam. (Sure Luke Perry was cute and all but Jordan Catalano stole my flannel-shirt-wrapped heart on My So-Called Life. I’m a monogamous TV dater.) So Tori Spelling has never been one of those actresses I’ve had strong feelings about one way or the other. There was a brief moment when she had four kids close together while I had four kids close together that I got a little squishy feeling for her but that evaporated in a sea of tabloid covers. Yet she confessed something recently that’s been on my mind ever since:

In her latest book, Spelling It Like It Is, Tori actually admitted to lying to Us for a post-baby bikini body story to make her version of events more palatable. To lose weight after her fourth kid she said she went on the “Just Keep Your F*cking Mouth Shut and Eat Air diet.” But she knew that starvation wouldn’t make her relatable to new mothers struggling with their weight.

Tori explained the deception: “For the Us Weekly photo shoot the next day, my publicist had given me clear instructions as to what I should say about my weight loss. Women didn’t want to know that I had lost weight through dieting, not exercising. I didn’t want to be the a**hole who didn’t work for it. So I said that I swam. It was sort of a bad choice. I can’t do much more than doggy-paddle.”

(From a Jezebel article on how Tori and her husband faked a cheating scandal to launch her “Real Tori” reality show – super interesting if you care how your entertainment sausage is made.)

It was sort of a bad choice. I’m honestly not sure whether she means that lying to vulnerable new moms about starving herself to lose the baby weight was the bad choice or if she just means picking swimming as her fallacious exercise of choice was bad since apparently she can’t really do it. (Go with Tracy Anderson’s workout next time, Tori! Everyone in Hollywood is doing it and it’s so boring that no one will check up on you to see if you can really do it!) But hey, does anyone really expect a celeb to be honest about their diet/exercise/weight loss/pills? You have actresses more than willing to spill all about how they groom their pubes but when asked about their trim figure it’s always, “I walk my dog and do yoga.” And on a fun day they add, “And I looooove hamburgers and milkshakes!”

Words matter.

It took me reading about a new study, published this week in the JAMA Pediatrics, to realize why Tori’s artifice is still bothering me a week after I read about it. Because the study looked at what happens to little girls when they are told they are fat.

The study followed 2,379 girls (half white and half African-American) living in California, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. and tracked their height and weight from age 10 to age 19. At the outset of the study, “58% of the participants had been called “too fat” by a close family member, friend, or boy or girl she liked.” 

The data showed that the girls who had been called fat as children were 66% more likely to be clinically obese at the end of the study. The results were unchanged when researchers controlled for a number of factors that could have contributed to individuals’ likelihood of becoming obese, such as race, parental education, income, and the age at which they reached puberty, and even whether or not the girls were actually obese to begin with. As author A. Janet Tomiyama, PhD explains in the study’s press release, “That means it’s not just that heavier girls are called too fat and are still heavy years later; being labeled as too fat is creating an additional likelihood of being obese.

Scientific proof that fat-shaming doesn’t work and may even have the opposite effect. And not only was that true for girls who were overweight but it also had the same effect on many of the young girls who weren’t overweight to begin with. So no Tori didn’t tell little girls they are fat – she did something even worse, in my opinion. She told their mothers that it’s more important to be skinny than it is to be healthy and if you have to lie to those who care about you and abuse yourself to do it, then so be it. And those are the mothers who are hating themselves when they can’t swim the weight off. And those are the mothers who teach their daughters how to be a woman in this world.

Words matter. Especially when you’re talking about weight.

And then I came across this heart-breaking story of a mom posting her anorexic daughter’s hospital pics in a desperate attempt to raise money for her daughter’s expensive eating disorder treatments. The mother explained that her daughter Emma’s 16-year battle with bulimia and anorexia started when at 8 years old she heard her dance teacher make a critical “too fat” remark. The interesting thing is that the dance teacher wasn’t even talking about Emma but rather about another student.

Now, I’m not saying that one teacher’s off-hand remark caused a crap storm of ED’d behavior that ended up with Emma attempting suicide and being tube fed for over a year. There are serious sociological, genetic, environmental and biological factors that go into eating disorders and it would be a great disservice to try and simplify a complicated mental illness down to one cause. Yet it’s also true that a vulnerable 8-year-old heard the remark and internalized it in an extremely harmful way.

I’ve talked to many, many women over the years who have hurt themselves — by eating too much or too little, by bingeing or purging, by overexercising or self-harming — who have a similar “remark” story. Whether today they are skinny, average weight or overweight, at some point someone said something to them when they were a little girl that became the rallying cry for their eating disorder.

For me it was “Wow, you sure are eating a lot. Are you sure you need that much food? Even I don’t eat that many servings a day!” I was in a 6th-grade health class and our assignment had been to track all the food we ate for two weeks and then turn in our food journals to be scrutinized by our thin, pretty teacher in front of the class. I know she meant it to be helpful. I know she wasn’t trying to tell me to go get me one of those new-fangled eating disorder diets. And yet, I did.

Suddenly I was looking around at the other girl’s charts, hyperaware that mine did show more food than theirs. I became determined to lower mine by the next check-in period. Two weeks later I’d done so well I had the least amount of food on my list of any girl there. That feeling of “winning”, of the approval of my teacher and of the envy of my classmates, was intoxicating. And that’s how my eating disorder began. It would take me nearly two decades to break free of that stupid, tyrannical food journal and everything it implied.

Words matter. Words have meaning far beyond what they say.

And we’re using our words to talk about the wrong things. We have celebrities talking about “eating air.” We have women using diet talk as the way they bond with each other. We have people telling little girls they are fat in an effort to “help” them. Instead, I wish we would use our words to tell our bodies thank you. Thank you for being strong and determined and for carrying me through all the hard times in my life. I wish we would tell our daughters (and sons) Your weight has nothing to do with you as a person. You are smart. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are every good thing. And then I wish we could tell the little girls inside us that — and have them believe it.

I feel like I talk about this a lot. Sometimes I even annoy myself – teaching positive self worth is so much more than a trite post full of righteous anger and cute aphorisms. And yet I feel like I have to keep talking about this because, well, I forget. So many things are telling me the opposite – and there are so many little “remarks” – that I keep talking, even if it’s just to drown them out in my head. And because if words have the power to do all that damage then that also means they have immense power to help fix it. Words matter.

*What we say to boys also matters too. As a mom of three boys I am deeply aware of the ways they too are told they are less than. I used “girls” in my post because that’s who the study looked at it but we do certainly need to soak kindly to everyone, regardless of age, race or gender!

Did anyone ever say anything to you when you were a kid that had a profound effect on the way you saw yourself? If you’ve ever had a troubled relationship with food (ED or no), do you remember what sparked it? (Again, I want to reiterate that I’m NOT saying a single comment causes an eating disorder, rather that they can act as a catalyst in an already vulnerable person.) And 90′s showdown: Luke Perry vs. Jared Leto – who wins??

{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Darwin May 1, 2014 at 1:02 am

As a visible minority growing up in a more racist community environment, I was physically attacked for being half-native.

And verbally attacked.

Hateful and vile words were flung at me, sometimes daily.

A large number of people tried to make me feel worthless.

A large number of people energetically tried to make me feel like I did not count.

I was ALSO ignored, ostracized, marginalized and not included by the “kinder” people who would not hit or say nasty things…

…in my presence.

My constitutional rights are routinely ignored.

Employment is more difficult.

A large number of people STILL try to make me feel worthless…like I do not count. And I am (more often than I care to admit still) ignored, ostracized, marginalized, not included, and people are disrespectful and cruel.

The thing is, they are under the mistaken belief that their opinion matters.

It doesn’t.

And I am the one who decides that.

This is what children need to be taught.

Not only are they “allowed” to decide that…

…they are the only ones who can.

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Laura P. May 1, 2014 at 3:34 am

I’m seeing a psychologist for the first time in my life and he says the same thing, and I’m working on that.

I had an eating disorder that fired up after being told by my mom that I was getting chubby as a nine year old and then being told that I looked so good after I had gone on a field trip gathering lichens with my absent-minded professor dad and he forgot to feed me.

I am trying really hard to not worry about what people think. It is one of the most liberating feelings.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Kudos to you Laura for seeing a psychologist! I’ve found mine immensely helpful – sometimes it just takes an outsider’s perspective to see how hurtful our own thoughts can be to ourselves. This: “I am trying really hard to not worry about what people think. It is one of the most liberating feelings.” made me smile SO much:)

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Laura P. May 1, 2014 at 3:40 am

Oh….and hugs to you Darwin. I really enjoy your comments.

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Heather C May 1, 2014 at 7:33 am

Darwin and Laura, I read this book years ago that said that if you let something someone thinks or says about you upset you, then you are agreeing with that assessment of you. Things like that can only hurt if you think there is some truth to it. The author goes on about how you teach yourself to disagree. Anyway, it was mind blowing for me to think of it that way. That by feeling bad, I was agreeing with that person.

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Darwin May 1, 2014 at 9:10 am

- Laura P. *hugs* I am SOO excited that you feel the joy of those liberating feelings when you stop worrying about what people think!

Even people we love and trust can be mistaken and also flat out wrong.

It’s like if someone erroneously thought “OPEC” was, say…a denture adhesive.

And they taught that to others.

Setting those others up for mocking and ridicule when THEY shared that conclusion.

This segues into Heather C.’s *hugs too* brilliant remembering about teaching yourself to disagree.

And that applies sometimes to people you love.

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Sarah May 1, 2014 at 2:38 am

First: Jared Lego and his gorgeous eyes will always have my heart!
Second: I want to give Darwin a hug…it is shameful that you were ever treated in that fashion. I can tell from the last few lines of your comment that you are an amazingly brave individual. I admire you.

I have a different story. I started out as a skinny kid. My mom was always overweight and I watched her struggle with negative body image her while life. But I was in a sense REWARDED for being skinny. I was told how lucky I was for being able to eat whatever I wanted. How I didn’t have to worry about my weight. I was envied. When I grew up and had my son, my weight ballooned (as I suspect happened to my mother). This is when I became ashamed. I hated the way I looked and then those comments from when I was a skinny kid (and teen) haunted me. I felt like I was failing. I tried unhealthy diets and “tricks”. It was only when I started eating healthy and exercising properly that I lost a ton of weight and became not only physically strong, but mentally as well.
As I read this post, I had tears down my face because I still hear those comments. I still hear the kid in my head telling me that I failed at being skinny. That at any moment one doughnut will undo all the work I just did. And then I feel insane. Because that’s crazy! There’s always that internal struggle between the me on the outside and what I hear on the inside. I suspect that’s where the mental struggle of ED comes from. It breaks my heart for those girls because so many of us are right there with them, we just don’t realize it.

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Laura P. May 1, 2014 at 3:41 am

That inner voice can be nasty. It is a daily battle with me too. Hugs.

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Darwin May 1, 2014 at 8:59 am

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS LOVE HUGS, Sarah and Laura P. ! And please consider yourselves HUMONGOUS-LY HUGGED back!

Hugs communicate more than any negativity should ever be able to!

Also,

…Time is always VERY well spent when we take the time to play with the dial and tune our inner voice to a more quality broadcast.

And JUST LIKE with the nasty inner voice, WE are in charge of the ENTIRE production, music, sound effects and SCRIPT QUALITY.

AS newbies in the positive genre/specialty broadcast, it takes time to get it all to flow smoothly and consistently and effortlessly…

…but we are ALSO in charge of our own BROADCAST LICENSE.

WE decide how long it stays on the air.

And we can REVOKE the broadcast license of the nasty inner voice.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Hugs for sure, Sarah! I can SO relate to this: “I still hear the kid in my head telling me that I failed at being skinny. That at any moment one doughnut will undo all the work I just did. And then I feel insane. Because that’s crazy! There’s always that internal struggle between the me on the outside and what I hear on the inside.” Beautifully put. I think half the battle is recognizing those thoughts are crazy talk and I think it’s awesome that you challenge them!

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Lynn May 1, 2014 at 3:11 am

Darwin and Sarah – love and hugs to you both. I, too, was a ‘skinny’ kid and yet, not pretty and told so – just not outright. It is the words, the gestures, the backhanded compliments. They all add up.

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Darwin May 1, 2014 at 9:17 am

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS LOVE HUGS, Lynn ! And please consider yourself HUMONGOUS-LY HUGGED back!

I am so truly sorry those people with subtle craftiness have tried to hold you back in such an insidious manner.

They seem to fear your success enough to try to get you to knock yourself out of competition early.

Don’t let them.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Backhanded compliments can be as hurtful as outright criticisms, perhaps even more so since you don’t even get to call them out without people telling you you’re nuts or need a thicker skin or whatever. Thanks for your perspective Lynn!

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JLVerde May 1, 2014 at 6:04 am

Jared Leto, no contest. Like Angela, I loved the way he leaned. (and Luke Perry was too dang OLD for me to believe he was still in high school)

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:14 pm

“I loved the way he leaned” buwhahahha – YES.

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Annie May 1, 2014 at 6:15 am

I very clearly remember my ballet teacher taking me aside and telling me I needed to lose weight when I was SIX years old. I mean for one thing, I don’t really have that many clear memories from when I was that young so it’s something that clearly stuck with me and I know it had a profound effect. It doesn’t surprise me that offhand comments have such power and it’s why anti-childhood obesity campaigns scare me so much. I loved what you said about using our resources to teach kids to say “thank you” to their bodies instead of teaching them that they aren’t good enough. In my yoga teaching and especially in my own practice, gratitude that my body is such a strong and amazing vessel for the poses and the feelings they evoke has been more effective in repairing my body image than just about anything else.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:16 pm

This: ” In my yoga teaching and especially in my own practice, gratitude that my body is such a strong and amazing vessel for the poses and the feelings they evoke has been more effective in repairing my body image than just about anything else.” is SO beautiful and one of the reasons I love yoga so much too! I think there is definitely an element of healing wounds against our bodies by doing something so physically powerful – kudos Annie! And I agree with you about anti-childhood obesity campaigns.

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Carla May 1, 2014 at 6:17 am

sometimes I wonder if we CAN TEACH IT?
or if we just model model PRACTICE WHAT WE LONG TO PREACH AND TEACH?

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Amen. Actions speak louder than words many times.

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Heather C May 1, 2014 at 7:29 am

When I was around 11 or 12, we were at my grandma’s for a family reunion thing. My grandma was serving ice cream to all the grand kids and told me I wasn’t allowed to have any because I was “too fat”. I have 3 cousins my same age, who I thought were super cool, and I was so embarrassed and humiliated. I didn’t have ED issues until years later and really a lot of my having issues was about control more than weight per se, but it definitely reinforced that maybe I was worthless and unworthy if I wasn’t skinny. As an adult, I realized that grandma was a nutcase. When my sister was diagnosed with bone cancer at 14, said grandma wrote my mom a letter telling her my sister clearly had sinned which had caused her to get cancer as punishment and she needed to repent.

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Darwin May 1, 2014 at 9:25 am

Wow! Such hurtful false doctrine in regards to both you and your sister. *hugs*

And so blatant.

I like to translate those blatant ones in my head into: “You are trying to tell me the earth is flat. It isn’t. Go away.”

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Wow. That is one of the most horrible things I’ve ever heard – that is unbelievable that anyone (but especially a family member) would tell a child with cancer they had brought it on themselves by sinning! I am so sorry for both you and your sister. I’m glad you can now see your grandma for the sick, painful person she was.

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Sarah May 1, 2014 at 7:36 am

I have rampant and severe obesity in my family and was told that I was fat or would get fat my entire childhood. I think that I am not fat, but my build is genetically short and stocky and it is very hard to see myself for what I really am and for what my body is genetically capable of being. It’s a struggle. But I come from a line of short, full-hipped, big-butted women and so does my husband. Odds are good that my daughter will also be a short, full-hipped, big-butted woman so I just need to get it sorted.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:29 pm

((hugs)) Sarah – I know that feeling of having your body image issues amplified by having kids. You love them so much! I have faith that you will get it sorted – your daughter is blessed to have you::)

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Holly May 1, 2014 at 7:43 am

So many moments: wishing in 2nd grade I was as skinny as the other girls (even though I was not fat at all–where did that come from?); having to buy “husky” jeans in elementary school because my athletic legs did not fit in the regular ones and my mom smirking instead of explaining that my legs were not fat but strong compared to most other kids; my former baby sitter completely astounded that I had weighed 75 pounds in 4th grade, saying she didn’t even weigh that in the 6th grade, and making some comment about the fact that I weighed 90 pounds in the 6th grade–maybe that she didn’t even weigh that much yet? and she was in high school at the time; and the worst, when I was wearing a swim suit in my grandmother’s back yard and my mom made a comment about how I looked in it and told my grandma that “we were working on it,” –meaning my weight–which we weren’t–I mean, I had always been really athletic and I ran everyday with my dad and as a family, we ate very healthy so I had no idea what the comment was about except that she was embarrassed by my appearance to her mother, who acted as though it was completely reasonable that my mother just said that. I was horrified and ashamed and pretended I didn’t notice but I internalized that in a way that was very harmful to my self image.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Oh the weight comparisons! I hated those so much as a kid (heck, I still do). This: “so I had no idea what the comment was about except that she was embarrassed by my appearance to her mother, who acted as though it was completely reasonable that my mother just said that. I was horrified and ashamed and pretended I didn’t notice but I internalized that in a way that was very harmful to my self image.” makes me want to cry for child-you. I’m so sorry:(

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Sarah May 1, 2014 at 7:57 am

Hugs to you all.

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Darwin May 1, 2014 at 9:29 am

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS LOVE HUGS, Sarah! And please consider yourself HUMONGOUS-LY HUGGED back!

And HUMONGOUS HUGS to you all, like Sarah said.

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Joemama May 1, 2014 at 8:30 am

Jared *sigh* Leto. So flannel-clad and angsty!
I don’t recall ever being berated for my weight, but simply by being thin and being ‘envied’ and told again and again how ‘lucky’ I was made me hyper-aware of my weight and caused me to freak out about putting any on. It was my identity, I thought. I feared that that’s all people thought I was worth, my thinness, and so if I let that slide I would be worthless. Enter 6 years of disordered eating. So I tried to be super smart, to blind them with my wit. I was still “that skinny girl”. I excelled, by sheer willpower, in music. I was still “that skinny girl”.
I now weigh almost 20 lbs more than I did, but I still feel like my identity is “that skinny girl” and now I’m not, really. So who am I? Well, I am a great mom, a witty raconteur, a formidable runner, a loving wife, a good worker, a smart person, and a dang good Trivial Pursuit player. I just have to remember that I’m not just that former “skinny girl”. It’s hard to remember sometimes.
I’m not bagging on growing up thin. I know I had it easier than some. I was never insulted or berated about my weight. Yet, remarks STILL MATTERED. I don’t want anyone to think I’m humble-bragging, but it was implied by so many that weight is all important and something to be coveted. I internalized that and imagined that if I lost that I wouldn’t have anything. So, Charlotte, I agree that we should tell our kids they are strong, funny, clever and great JUST THE WAY THEY ARE.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm

THIS: ” I was made me hyper-aware of my weight and caused me to freak out about putting any on. It was my identity, I thought. I feared that that’s all people thought I was worth, my thinness, and so if I let that slide I would be worthless.” I can so so relate to this! When I was a gymnast I was known as “the tiny one” (my knickname was even “little one” for a while) but when I quit and I grew 5 inches and gained 30 pounds it was like I’d lost my whole identity. That was a rough transition.
Also, I love this so much: ” I know I had it easier than some. I was never insulted or berated about my weight. Yet, remarks STILL MATTERED. I don’t want anyone to think I’m humble-bragging, but it was implied by so many that weight is all important and something to be coveted. I internalized that and imagined that if I lost that I wouldn’t have anything.”
Such a great point that NO ONE benefits from this kind of talk.

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Sarah May 1, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Nope…you are NOT bragging. I understand your comment too well. I was the skinny kid growing up too but had remarks made about it as well. I was told that I was lucky I was thin, that I better hope I stay that way (I didn’t…and that’s when I had a lot of problems), and that my own mother was jealous of the way I looked. This left a lot of damaging voices in my head today. So remarks about being the skinny kid can have the same negative consequences. You made the perfect point: we need to tell our children that they are perfect JUST THE WAY THEY ARE. That who they are has nothing to do with their weight, color, ethnicity…etc. My hugs to you! (I am loving this hug-party!)

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smac-a-roo May 1, 2014 at 9:16 am

I’m so mad right now (at the world)… and my hubby for teeling my lil not even 4-year-old she can’t be hungry since she ate a lot already… sigh. EOM

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm

((hugs)) – these things are so hard to navigate as parents!

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Marie May 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

I’ve never had and eating disorder, but I’ve struggled with body image since I was about 12. I thought I was overweight even though I wasn’t and instead of developing and eating disorder, I wore clothes that were at least 2 sizes too big to hide my “fat” body. Being poorly dressed only made me feel worse about myself. I’ve always had plenty of friends, but have never been “popular” and all popular girls are skinny, right? … so I must be fat. Yeah, lame logic. In my 20s I slimmed down to the rock bottom of my healthy weight range by becoming very active (but not unhealthy) and was suddenly rewarded with a lot of comments about my thinness. Seriously, I had to hit the boundary between healthy and unhealthy to get those comments. Now I’ve had 2 kids, and while I’m not technically overweight, I’m so far from rock bottom thin that I’m embarrassed about my weight. I wish I wasn’t, but it’s the truth. I wish I could develop a more rubenesque mentality. So, the bottom line is that I’m not going to get myself an eating disorder, but I likely never be completely satisfied with my weight, and most days I can accept that.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I think a LOT of us moms can relate to this: ” Now I’ve had 2 kids, and while I’m not technically overweight, I’m so far from rock bottom thin that I’m embarrassed about my weight. I wish I wasn’t, but it’s the truth. I wish I could develop a more rubenesque mentality. So, the bottom line is that I’m not going to get myself an eating disorder, but I likely never be completely satisfied with my weight, and most days I can accept that.” I too was praised for being way too thin and even though I know that wasn’t healthy it’s still hard not to miss that feeling of being liked… Thank you so much for sharing this Marie! I know you speak for a lot of people.

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crabby mcslacker May 1, 2014 at 9:59 am

This is all so sad! Must be frustrating for parents who try to handle it responsibly, only to send their kids out into a world filled with screwed up messages designed to mess with body image and self esteem.

But I’m confused about the Tori Spelling thing… sounds like she was lying to hide the dieting part and pretend she actually did a healthier thing by exercising, rather than starve herself? Maybe I read it wrong. But if so, seems like she would have been doing more of a disservice by being totally honest about how she lost weight. Though probably would have been even better to tell the real truth: I felt pressure to starve myself because hollywood is so f–ked up, don’t do that! Or something. :)

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:47 pm

So interesting – I didn’t think about it from that perspective Crabby! I was more thinking that it was important for her to be honest about what she was doing (even if it was sick) than to make people believe she got the body she did just by splashing in the pool with her kids. But I can def see your point about the importance of promoting the healthy image. Although I think she may have ruined that point by coming clean about it. Now it all feels like one big publicity grab…

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Bethany May 1, 2014 at 10:46 am

This is perfect:
” And yet I feel like I have to keep talking about this because, well, I forget. So many things are telling me the opposite – and there are so many little “remarks” – that I keep talking, even if it’s just to drown them out in my head. And because if words have the power to do all that damage then that also means they have immense power to help fix it. Words matter.”

Yes! You have a gift with words. Thank you for continuing to write the truth. We hear the lies every day explicitly and implicitly and we need to shout the truth from the rooftops.

Thank you!

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Thank you so much Bethany – this really means a lot to me:) Sometimes I wonder if I’m getting trite or repetitive so I’m glad this message is helping!

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Cindy May 1, 2014 at 11:31 am

I am big boned so I got the fat talk as far back as I can remember. I was given smaller portions than my brothers and denied dessert at times from about the age of 6. My mother came from an obese family and she barely ate herself in order to maintain her weight. It is interesting to see pictures of myself over the years when I understood that I was fat and the pictures show I was not. Once I left the iron control my mother had on my life I went hog wild in every direction that was forbidden and yes I am obese and loud and messy and undisciplined and …

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 1:54 pm

It’s so hard when parents are trying so hard to save their kids from what they suffered and then end up going too far the other way. But it sounds like you’ve been able to reclaim your body for yourself! Also, this: ” It is interesting to see pictures of myself over the years when I understood that I was fat and the pictures show I was not.” breaks my heart.

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Michele May 1, 2014 at 11:38 am

Sooooo…if we tell a child (regardless of gender) that she is “skinny” — she’ll grow up to be skinny? If we tell her she’s a math whiz…she’ll grow up to be a math whiz?

Come on. I expect more from your blog than propagating meaningless studies that prove nothing. If a child is overweight at age six, ten, or twelve…chances are, he or she will also be overweight at age 21, 25, and 30. Chances also are that he or she has overweight parents who model unhealthy lifestyles.

Stop trying to make this be about name-calling and self-fulfilling prophecies that are fallacies. It is NOT okay to accept childhood obesity and the normalization of 70 pound first-graders.

Is there something wrong with a parent noticing that his or her child eats excessively? Eats out of boredom? Eats for comfort? Is addicted to junk foods?

Is it wrong for a school nurse to note to a parent that their child’s weight is several pounds over the norm for his/her height and age and suggest they see their pediatrician to determine if there’s a metabolic disorder or if poor diet and lack of exercise is a factor? Is it wrong for a doctor to suggest to a parent that better eating habits and regular exercise should be part of the entire family’s routine in the interest of health?

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Azusmom May 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm

No one is saying that doctors shouldn’t talk to parents if their kids’ health is at risk. But telling an 8 year-old she’s “too fat” is NOT going to help her. Shaming kids, or adults, does not work.
Nowhere in the article or in this post does anyone advocate turning a blind eye to potential (or real) health issues.

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Darwin May 1, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Hello Michelle!

If I understand you correctly (and please let me know if I am in error) you are objecting to a “one size fits all” name-calling/self-fulfilling prophecies cause and effect scenario.

If that is indeed what you are objecting to… I do not believe that was Charlotte’s point.

Charlotte’s point was: Words matter.

And she repeated that sentence often.

Words matter.

Quote: “Your weight has nothing to do with you as a person. You are smart. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are every good thing. And then I wish we could tell the little girls inside us that — and have them believe it.”

This suggests to me creating a healing environment.

Where one can heal from the harsh negativity, and brain washing.

Because words matter.

And Charlotte also mentioned…Quote:

“*What we say to boys also matters too. As a mom of three boys I am deeply aware of the ways they too are told they are less than. I used “girls” in my post because that’s who the study looked at it but we do certainly need to soak kindly to everyone, regardless of age, race or gender!”

So again Charlotte’s point is that people should not be considered “less than” because of their weight, and no one should be considered “less than” and “we do certainly need to speak kindly to everyone, regardless of age, race or gender!”

I am certain that is a sentiment you can get behind.

Because as Charlotte so correctly pointed out: Words matter.

Now, quoting you Michelle: “If a child is overweight at age six, ten, or twelve…chances are, he or she will also be overweight at age 21, 25, and 30.”

That is not a one size fits all either.

Jackie Chan was 12 pounds when he was born.

He is now 160 lbs.

I was almost eight pounds when I was born.

I am now 210.

Jackie Chan was not predisposed to being overweight. And I was not predisposed to being skinny.

(If you go by BMI…I am “obese”. With visible abs.)

To quote you again Michelle. “Chances also are that he or she has overweight parents who model unhealthy lifestyles.”

This is ALSO not a “one size fits all” scenario.

I know chubby kids of scrawny parents.

I know skinny kids of over weight parents.

Thus, I am curious to understand why you feel your “one-size fits all” declarations are better than the one you perhaps perceived (in error) coming from Charlotte.

Quoting you some more Michelle:

“Is there something wrong with a parent noticing that his or her child eats excessively?”

No. And thank-you for pointing that out.

What is wrong is panicked assumptions and not really well thought out words which can be hurtful.

Because words matter.

There reasons for excessive eating which are not a portent of obesity. Patient loving concern is key.

Because words matter.

“Eats out of boredom?” Nothing wrong with a parent noting this. And thank-you for pointing that out. If a parent notes this, a parent can provide options from boredom, and then teach lovingly by precept and example to look for other options.

Because words matter.

“Eats for comfort?” Nothing wrong with a parent noting this either! Again, thanks! If a parent notes this, they can investigate the cause of the discomfort, and again, provide other options in a teaching opportunity for problem solving and share feelings to receive feelings.

Because words matter.

“Is addicted to junk foods?” Another good thing to note! Kudos Michelle! This sometimes tends to overlap into “comfort eating” but teaching balance in a loving manner is always good.

Because words matter.

As for these quote from you Michelle…also excellent points! Again, thank-you! QUOTE:

“Is it wrong for a school nurse to note to a parent that their child’s weight is several pounds over the norm for his/her height and age and suggest they see their pediatrician to determine if there’s a metabolic disorder or if poor diet and lack of exercise is a factor?”

“Is it wrong for a doctor to suggest to a parent that better eating habits and regular exercise should be part of the entire family’s routine in the interest of health?”

In relation to these points I bow to what Azusmom said.

In conclusion Michelle, you seems to be a sincerely concerned person with a watchful eye.

Thank-you.

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I think it’s interesting that you see no middle ground between taking good medical care of a child (including their weight) and shaming a kid with charged commentary about their body. I think you are certainly right to be concerned about kids’ health — a the pediatrician is the perfect person to have that conversation — but there’s a way to do that without making them feel ostracized or ashamed of who they are (at least I hope there’s a way!).
Honestly I’m not trying to ” make this be about name-calling and self-fulfilling prophecies that are fallacies” – like I noted in the post, name-calling is one factor of many that contribute to this issue and is certainly not causative on its own. But I disagree that the study was “meaningless” – I think it shows that if we want to help kids achieve a healthy weight (which is what we all want right?) then fat-shaming them doesn’t accomplish that goal. It doesn’t work. And that’s a very meaningful conclusion.

Lastly, I understand where you’re coming from when you say ” It is NOT okay to accept childhood obesity and the normalization of 70 pound first-graders.” (We should always fight for our children’s health and wellbeing!) but I think it’s important to remember in all of this that we NEED to accept obese, 70-lb first graders – not because of their weight nor in spite of it but because they are still first graders:)

I’m really glad you brought up these points Michelle (and for taking the time to talk about them) because this issue is particularly hard because there are so well-meaning and caring people on all sides. We all want what’s best for our kids!

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Hannah May 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm

I have had body image issues for as long as I can remember but especially in high school. My mom was really good about the ‘are you sure you need to eat that’ type comments that of course just spiraled in my head. I wish I had had a better understanding of nutrition back then. All of our meals were pasta/bread/carb heavy – especially since my mom wasn’t much of a cook.
But for me the big kicker was when I went to the doc for a physical before college and was talking about having access to the gym and swimming for the masters team to keep my fitness up and he said “you know you will never be thin, right?” and talked about my stature and weights bulking me up. I think that was the moment I completely gave up. If I am never going to be thin then F’ it. So I ate whatever crap I wanted while secretly hating myself. This only got worse in college when I gained the freshman 15 every year. I don’t think I realized how much he messed me up saying that until I found myself saying it to my best friend. Luckily she called me out on it and we had an amazing late night talk.

Still working on things and crossfit has definitely helped. Unfortunately due to holidays/injury and sickness right after each other I have regained a bunch of weight. So now I am trying to reset and get back my focus because I am definitely one to fall back into that spiral of feeling fat/ugly and then eating more crap… Finally starting my half ironman training and I need my nutrition to be on target so that I am mentally strong. Been really hard when I was supposed to start training a month ago and am just now starting this week. I’ve got a lot of doubt that I am trying to not let sink me.

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Hannah May 1, 2014 at 12:46 pm

oh and thought of something else (sorry for the long comment!)
I went to a nutritionist in high school – can’t remember what instigated it but I think I only made it twice. It was really hard for me to relate to a super skinny girl telling me to eat a certain way especially as an extremely picky eater with a single working mom who didn’t really cook. I really had no will power and I wonder how much of that was confidence in myself after years of feeling fat and feeling criticized by my mom, friends, other kids, etc. I have now considered taking nutrition classes myself. I’m now much less picky and have even gotten my mom to like brussel sprouts although I still can’t get her to eat anything but white bread! :)

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I love long comments! Actually I love getting to know you guys and your lives – seriously that’s my fave part of doing this blog:) This really stuck out to me: ” I don’t think I realized how much he messed me up saying that until I found myself saying it to my best friend. Luckily she called me out on it and we had an amazing late night talk.” Isn’t it interesting how we accept comments about ourselves that we would never say to anyone else? I’m so glad you have a friend who could point that out to you and help you work through it! And kudos for getting your mom to like Brussels sprouts!!

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Azusmom May 1, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Well, being a bit older, I can say that neither Jared Leto not Luke Perry really did it for me. Until I met Luke Perry, briefly, and he was really nice and very cool and awfully charming. Haven’t met Jared Leto, so the scale isn’t exactly even…
I distinctly remember all the remarks made to me when I was growing up, starting around age 6. I grew up thinking I was huge, and I wasn’t. I was actually quite healthy. (Except for my propensity to Trip Over Things.)
I was taller than most of the other kids in my class. People often said “You could be a model if you lost 20 pounds.” I was 10 years old. I also heard “You’re not fat yet, but you have to be careful.” I watched my brother get seconds and thirds at dinner, while I was restricted to one serving. What I ate and how much I moved was strictly monitored.
One afternoon I went to my grandparents’ house before dance class, and my grandfather was cooking. He let me try a bit of everything. Not too much, just a taste (he was worried I’d cramp up during tap class, lol!). It was a nice time, just the two of us. After class, my dad came to pick me up and was FURIOUS about how “much” I’d eaten, so I wasn’t allowed to have dinner. Message received, loud and clear.
Over time I ended up sneaking food up to my room. My weight seemed to be everybody’s business, and when I hit puberty, even my teachers remarked on it. I still wasn’t overweight, I’d just developed breasts and hips, seemingly overnight. But I was “fat,” according to them.
By the time I was in college, I was bulimic, and by grad school, anorexic.
During my thin times, my worst fear was gaining the weight back. Even at my thinnest, I was never thin enough. And the times I got the most compliments on my body was when I was in the throes of horrible anxiety, having 10-15 panic attacks a day and unable to eat.
So, yes, let’s be very careful about how we speak to people. To anyone, but especially kids.
(BTW, actresses are specifically coached by their agents and managers NOT to talk about how hard it is to achieve and maintain their figures.)

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Charlotte May 1, 2014 at 2:16 pm

That story about your grandpa cooking for you and your dad’s comments made me so so sad for child-you:( I’m glad you were able to hold on to the beauty of the moment with your grandfather though! And this: ” My weight seemed to be everybody’s business, ” is SO true. At first it just seemed true for female celebs. Then it was any woman in the public eye. Then it became all women’s bodies. And now men’s and children’s are open season too:/

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Sarah May 2, 2014 at 1:45 am

Oh my goodness…you are absolutely right. I do not understand why people think others’ weight is any of their business. I recently saw a coworker whom I haven’t seen in a couple of years. I have lost a lot of weight since I saw her last. She proceeded to make many unsolicited comments about how I am too skinny (I’m actually very healthy…I lift weights for the sole purpose of gaining muscle and not losing any weight) and then told me that I needed to eat a cheeseburger. All of this in front of many other coworkers. I was horribly embarrassed. Even today comments still have an effect. How would she like it if I asked her why her behind was so large? Or suggested that she eat LESS cheeseburgers…in front of everyone?! I would never do such a hurtful thing.

I am so sorry that you had to experience this at such a young age. The negative effect that it had on you breaks my heart. I just hurt for you and I totally understand where you are coming from. *hugs*

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Azusmom May 2, 2014 at 8:19 pm

<3

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Alice May 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm

On the opposite end of the spectrum, as a child who grew up with weird scaring on her face, I could have been (and was at times), very self conscious about my appearance. I remember my aunt telling me I was beautiful, and I believed her. I still went through normal teenage periods of feeling pretty ugly, but deep down, under the insecurity, I knew I was really beautiful, because Aunt Lisa had said so.

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joemama May 2, 2014 at 7:23 am

That is wonderful. Bless your aunt Lisa.

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Cavy May 1, 2014 at 5:00 pm

There were two comments I got that really stuck with me. I was a fat kid, really fat. Honestly, I’m amazed I didn’t get teased, but mostly everyone just ignored me. There was this one time, though, where I was at a friend’s house and her dad offered her ice cream, and I asked if I could have some. He looks at me incredulously and asks, “What, your mom hasn’t put you on some diet by now?” I fled the house sobbing.

The worse, though, was something my mom said. We were in a grocery store and I made some comment on how good a cake looked, and she said, “Stop that! No one wants to see some fat kid drooling over sweets! It’s gross!”

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Laura P. May 1, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Oh my gosh. That makes my heart absolutely bleed for you. Bleed. I know that my mom would have been capable of saying the same thing if I was really chubby as a kid. And I would have been beyond devastated. She told me I was getting chubby when I was 9 and I wept and wept by myself in the bathroom for hours. I talked about that experience to my psychologist last month and I started crying….35 years later.

I just want to hug you as a little girl with a pure and innocent heart and tell her she is good and beautiful and smart.

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Lori May 1, 2014 at 6:33 pm

I’m no doctor but I have 2 girls, 11 & 13. Both of them went through a time when they were 8 or 9 when they gained enough weight that their appearance changed, (and seemed more clumsy too) but then went on to have a growth spurt and add 3 or 4 inches to their height. It makes sense that kids gain weight before growing taller–it’s heartbreaking that people worry over something that is normal at such a tender time in childhood and say things that can’t be taken back.

Also, I just saw a co-worker I hadn’t seen in several weeks and she’d obviously lost some weight. I made a comment about how good she looked and immediately felt weird–what was I doing talking about HER body? Even though it was a compliment it struck me that her body is not my business at all and has nothing to do with how much I enjoy her friendship.

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Sabrina May 1, 2014 at 9:42 pm

As the mother of three girls, I think about this a lot. We just went to the doctor yesterday, where they were weighed and measured (and absolutely no mention was made out loud about it, which I really appreciated), and when I got the report, they were all nearly identical in their patterns– somewhere in the 20th percentile for height and upper 45th-ish percentile for height. In other words, short, and heavier than average for their height. They’ve got their dad’s and grandmother’s gymnast bodies, all right! Short and muscular. I see their bodies as so beautiful and I dread the day anybody says anything that makes them see their bodies as anything less than strong and gorgeous.

My middle daughter was wanting to do ballet, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sign her up. I just can’t stomach the idea of her getting into it and then hearing that her body isn’t “right” for it. Lately, after seeing a modern dance show, she want to do that instead, so we may give it a go. But it’s not without trepidation.

I was a “skinny” kid. I was short and scrawny, and yes, given lots of attention for my thin body, and warnings from adult women that it wouldn’t last.

Puberty hit and I grew into an average-sized woman. Average height, and weight in the low-average to average range. From my mid-teens throughout adulthood, I fluctuated in this range of about 20 lbs.

When I hit the higher end of that range (which happened in late high school, again in college, and again a couple of years after having my youngest daughter, to say nothing of the 50 lb weight gain and loss that came with each pregnancy), I freak the heck out. Body image in the toilet. I’ve never dealt with eating disorders, but I most definitely head into negative body image territory. Which only leads to me making more poor choices, overeating and not exercising, and then the proverbial downward spiral.

So many women here talk of being that skinny girl, and feeling that if they don’t have that, they don’t have anything. That definitely rings true for me. I am in nearly every way very, very average. I’m average height, brown-haired and brown-eyed, pretty enough but no beauty; heck, even my show size is the average size for an American woman. But my build is a touch smaller, and for that I received attention. It’s hard to give up that attention.

I somewhat recently lost weight and got very fit. The attention I received for this was unbelievable… And felt very good to me.

After maintaining that low weight for about a year, I gained about 8 lbs, putting me in the low end of my “happy weight” range. I am having an absurdly hard time accepting this (very healthy, objectively still on the lower end) weight.

I want better for my girls. I want them to appreciate what their bodies do for them, without the baggage of body image issues. I want them to celebrate the glory that is them.

My mom gave me the huge gift of sparing me most of the body-shaming she received. I have relatively few issues related to weight and body image (really, a tiny fraction of her own baggage in this area) as a result of her wonderful mothering. I’m hoping to do my part to give my girls the same gift, but to do it even better. Maybe, generation by generation, we can change the culture.

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Sarah May 2, 2014 at 1:53 am

Sabrina, I know I don’t know you…but I can tell from the way you organize your thoughts and your insight that you are anything but “average”. You sound like a smart, successful, witty woman that I would totally be friends with! Do not think of yourself as average just because you think your body is average. I’m willing to bet there are some things about your body that are above average…you just don’t see it. :)

Remember…we are all talking about how we are so much more that what we are on the outside. So are you. The attention you get should be for ho YOU ARE. I love love love that you want your girls to “celebrate the glory that is them.” Beautiful!

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Sabrina May 2, 2014 at 10:46 am

Thank you for your kind words. I know in my head that I am much more than average, and much more than my physical body, but it can be so hard to shut out the voices of our current culture and hear the truth. I work on listening to the truth of my worth every day.

You also sound like an awesome woman I’d love to be friends with! Thanks again for your comment.

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Laura May 1, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I ran cross country in high school. My father came to watch one race, and I remember him commenting to me that the really good runners were all thinner than me. At the time I was probably a 5/6 and at a completely healthy weight for myself. But I heard him call me fat. I started coming home after cross country practice and walking three miles around our block to burn extra calories, and instead of eating regular meals I drank a Coke for breakfast and had orange Tic Tacs for lunch. (Fortunately?) I got mono during cross country season and decided to feed myself to get better, or who knows what might have happened then.

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Monica May 2, 2014 at 12:13 am

I had my first baby at 20, vulnerable as we all are at young age I had no clue how to do anything. Focusing on my baby and neglecting myself I gained 20 lbs within the first year after giving birth – on top of the 30 I’d already gained during pregnancy you could say I had packed on. And I was unaware, totally in the dark about my own body’s transformation.

A friend of my father’s was the one commenting my appearance, a comment that led to me losing 30 lbs in three months eating virtually nothing and this sent me to the basement or below emotionally. Luckily I didn’t get further problems with this, but I didn’t learn anything either; just that one little comment could send me into a rage and hurting so much that I turned my world upside down to get away from it.

Words matter. Even from someone that you don’t really know that well or have much contact with.

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Jen May 2, 2014 at 7:36 am

Okay, 90′s showdown: Eddie Vedder wins. I’m sorry, I know he wasn’t on a TV show, and Jordan Catalano was cute and all, but Eddie had my heart for years. The end. I still swoon when I hear an early-career Pearl Jam song. Moving on….

Oddly, I was more influenced by comments I heard in my early twenties than in my childhood. I worked at a ski lodge after college and had lost around 20 lbs through calorie counting and exercise (which all felt very healthy at the time) and felt really good about myself, but then many of the other young women who worked there, the one the few guys who worked there were interested in, were thinner than me, and I heard one guy mention one particular girl and say she was the only one “worth trying to get,” yet he’d been flirting with me pretty heavily prior to that. It made me feel awful. Eventually I went on to lose probably 20-25 more pounds, but I also lost my sense of self, hated my body, never felt good enough, and developed BED. Win!

Now I feel pretty healthy and normal (other than that being due to have a baby today thing) and am so, so interested in how to keep my about-to-be-here baby girl healthy and happy and whole and unconcerned with what jerky guys say or think about her body. Or what anyone thinks about her body, for that matter! I’m sure it will be a challenge.

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Sabrina May 2, 2014 at 10:53 am

Eddie Vedder totally has my heart, too. Ten has got to be the best album ever, and my heart still flutters when I hear it. (Sometimes I rock out to it in my minivan when I’m in the car without the kids; the hysterical picture I make in my incredibly uncool car rocking out to Pearl Jam makes me crack up, thinking what my 15-year-old self would think!). His voice is still just as good as it was then; I’m glad he made it through the collective drug-induced psychiatric illness of his time and genre to go on to have a long and fruitful career.

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Abby May 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm

It’s interesting. I always wanted an incident like this to look back on to blame for my ED. But the truth is, no one ever told me I was fat or that I needed to lose weight, even though truthfully I did. But I watched my mom have a disordered relationship with food my whole life so I guess it’s not too different.

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Joemama May 3, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Actions are louder than words…That’s something parents forget sometimes.

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Jody - Fit at 56 May 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I could write a book on this to be honest. I had so much that happened in my youth that made me feel insecure & not good enough. Let’s just say that how kids treat you, how adults talk about you when they don’t think you are listening, how having a parent that is not happy with themselves affect you, prejudice in the world affects you – it can really be so many things that make up a person & how the life turns out for them…

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Jonas Mercado - gear-uptofitness May 3, 2014 at 1:19 am

Telling someone is not something you should just blurt out especially when you know that person is extremely shy in front of you. That person most likely to feel offended of the remark. It is better to get them to be persuaded to join you to gym than straight out tell them that they are fat.

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Melanie May 4, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Go Eddie Vedder! Read this post earlier so it’s been on my mind. Tonight my ten year old daughter asked me if eating healthy or exercise is the best way to lose weight. I wanted to freak out and tell her “No!!’ Don’t worry about it-ever!!” I’m just now finally overcoming my own obsessions with food and exercise and am feeling better than I have in years. I am also learning it’s ongoing and I have to kick out those voices that tell me I’m fat and all those things. But with my daughter I stayed calm and we talked-I told her I tried both and learned to be grateful for the body God gave me-that we don’t need to change our bodies.

I want my kids to know their worth is in no way related to physical appearance-that their worth and value is enormous and is there no matter what. I’ve spent too many years obsessing about food/exercise/body image and it can feel pretty amazing to put that energy into other things. It breaks my heart to read how words can have such a negative affect. I just want everyone to know how awesome they are!! Starts with self, cause if I believe it then I can share it.

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Jess May 5, 2014 at 3:37 am

Great but haunting post! Haunting in the sense that I know EDs and all these issues are not past issues and will continue to inflict young women. So sad. I had a really serious ED but I now really feel past it, and have for the last 5 years. I have moments of relapse but generally am grateful to be finished with it. It was a ballet teachers comments (many more than one event) and watching a close female family member continuously and unnecessarily diet that really triggered it. I have daughters and I really really worry about this! They are already bombarded with princesses and think that becoming a princess is the ultimate achievement. The obsession with beauty and image and weight starts way too early.

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Jess May 5, 2014 at 3:38 am

Great but haunting post! Haunting in the sense that I know EDs and all these issues are not past issues and will continue to inflict young women. So sad. I had a really serious ED but I now really feel past it, and have for the last 5 years. I have moments of relapse but generally am grateful to be finished with it. It was a ballet teacher’s comments (many more than one event) and watching a close female family member continuously and unnecessarily diet that really triggered it. I have daughters and I really really worry about this! They are already bombarded with princesses and think that becoming a princess is the ultimate achievement. The obsession with beauty and image and weight starts way too early.

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Jenn May 11, 2014 at 5:42 pm

I can definitely relate. I distinctly remember being called fat or “You’d be so pretty if you were thin” at the ages of 9/10 and 12. I was not fat at the time, but I am definitely considered obese now. The internal dialogue is a huge struggle.

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