I’m not really sure how or where to start this post. And I suppose the answer is to start at the very beginning. At least that’s what I hear Maria von Trapp singing in my ear. But the problem is that I’m not sure where the beginning is.
I mean, at what point, in the course of a girl’s life, does she begin to hate her body. How do you find the day?
As children we can’t stop ourselves from jumping into pictures, making crazy faces, and loving the resulting photos. We are oblivious to the nuances and peculiarities of our bodies, simply happy that they’ll pedal a bicycle, skip down the street, and hang one-handed from the monkey bars.
But all of a sudden, we cross some threshold. We become “aware.” And we begin to shy away from photos, hiding from the cameras, hoping to be put in the back row. We begin inspecting ourselves in the mirror, eyes trailing from head to toe like a dot-to-dot under a magnifying glass, suddenly certain that our hair is too stringy, too curly, too straight, that our nose is too freckled, ears too uneven, chin too pointy, skin too pale, buttocks too round, or perhaps too flat, boobs too big, boobs too small, stomach too flabby, thighs too fat, ankles too thick, toes too long, need I go on?, all the while carrying on an internal dialogue wherein we tell ourselves that we’re not pretty enough, not tall enough, not tan enough, not thin enough, not curvy enough … not. not. not. Enough.
But where is the day that begins? When does it happen?
I have blurry memories.
There was the day in seventh grade that Joel Vierra pointed out that Shannon Schlesman was great at English, and that he was good at math, and that I was good at lots of subjects. “You’re well-rounded,” he said. And then he chuckled, “Get it? Well-rounded.”
There was the day in fifth grade when I didn’t sign up for swim team—not because I didn’t want to. But because I couldn’t bear the thought of putting on the swim suit.
Or the afternoon I’d forgotten my sheer, filmy ballet skirt in my dance bag. And so I pulled on the cotton skirt I’d worn to school that day, fully aware that I needed something to cover my belly. No one had to tell me. I just knew. It wasn’t flat like the other girls’.
Ballet class began, but when my teacher noticed my attire, he stopped class to tell me to take the skirt off—that I would have to dance that day in just my leotard and tights. And I stood there at the bar, my eyes on the floor, everyone else’s on me, heart pounding, ears burning, and told him no. He stood there in silence for a minute and then told me again to take it off. And still, I quietly whispered, “no.”
I had never told an adult, let alone a teacher, “no” before. I’m nothing if not an obedient teacher’s pet. But I was certain, that day, that it was more humiliating to stand in front of everyone wearing only my leotard plastered to every curve of my body than to do disobey.
I was in second grade. Eight years old.
I quit ballet soon after—not because I wasn’t good, and not because I didn’t love it. But because I knew, and was certain everyone else knew, that my body was not a ballerina’s body.
But when did that happen? When did I finally know? And how? When began this seemingly endless battle with my body? How many years have I been looking in the mirror silently telling myself that the reflection looking back is wrong?