the little girl who thought she wasn’t pretty

This is a guest post. When I read it, it sort of hit me over the head.  Thank you, Bethany.  

(source

Recently, I was sitting by the pool with my best friend’s six year old daughter, who happens to be significantly overweight for her age.  There are several medical and genetic explanations for this, but I wasn’t thinking about any of those things when she looked at me and said, quite simply, “I’m not pretty because I have a fat belly.”

In that moment, we were the same.  The twenty six year old woman and the six year old girl were exactly the same, living with an all encompassing inadequacy.

This should never be the case.  I should be both wiser and more jaded.  She should be oblivious and happier.  At this point in my life, I should be full of sassy body positive quotes and affirmations.  And at this point in her life, she shouldn’t even need them.

 

It would have been the perfect moment to impart some wisdom, but I was so startled that I froze.  Not just startled, but sad.  I’ve suffered through a lot of body image issues and drama, but even I got to have those precious early years of being completely unaware.  Of wandering around in my underwear without it even occurring to me that I was mostly naked and people might see me.  Of doing whatever wonderful, random thing that popped into my head without wondering if I was pretty enough to do it or if I would look pretty doing it.  Everyone deserves those years.

The words she said rang so painfully familiar to me.  It’s the exact same thought I’ve had running over and over in my head, with some slight variations, for years:  If only I had super sculpted arms, I would be hot.  If it weren’t for these stretch marks, I’d be hot.  If I didn’t have saddlebags, I’d be happy with my body.

If a woman has one noticeably fat area of her body, she is fat and nothing else.  However, on the flip side, we have to have all of the required parts and measurements to be pretty.  Ugly/fat cancels out pretty/thin.  It doesn’t matter if you have beautiful lips or really like your curly hair and your ass is as hard as rock…you’ve still got those cankles, haven’t you?  Pretty doesn’t have cankles.  Pretty doesn’t have cellulite or flab.  Most of the time, pretty doesn’t even have freckles or tattoos.  There is no room in pretty for us, the ones who are supposed to be it.  Pretty is too exclusive.

I think I managed to say something reassuring and helpful to my friend’s daughter.  I hope so.  Inside, I was scrambling to recover from my shock.  Her total certainty shook me. She wasn’t fishing for compliments or contemplating a new diet or preening in the mirror, the way older girls and women might.  She was just a little kid, sitting by the pool, making a statement, sharing a fact with me.

“I am not pretty because I have a fat belly.”

Since that conversation, I’ve been actively working on undoing some of this damage I’ve done to my self esteem.  I’m working on changing the way I speak to and about myself, changing (not lowering, changing) my expectations and embracing who I am and what I just look like.  I’m slowly edging what I think I should look like or what I want to look like off the table and making more room for reality.  I had my first mini breakthrough the other day.  I thought, to myself and out of nowhere, “Having fat arms doesn’t mean I’m not hot.  It means I have fat arms.”  Sounds kind of dumb, right?  But it was a gem, a real moment for me.

And maybe one day, the reality will be that pretty can in fact have a fat belly.

*  *  *

What do you say, in this sort of situation? I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts. 

Bethany’s Bio: I’m a happily single, full time working mom from Tennessee.  I have one awesome eight year old boy, a cat named Chubbles, and I’m planning on going back to school to become a speech therapist very soon!  I love to write, cook, eat mayonnaise from the jar and I get really emotionally involved in Super Mario Bros.

Unroast:  Today I like my hair.  Because I didn’t get up early to iron and straighten and fry and curl and fuss with it and it just is what it is, you know?  It’s frizzy and nonsensical, curly in some places and pin straight in others.  And I’m cool with that.

55 Comments »

Kate on July 18th 2012 in body, guest post, weight

55 Responses to “the little girl who thought she wasn’t pretty”

  1. Alyssa responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    sad because I barely remember the days when I didn’t criticize my body. It especially started in 6th grade when almost every girl was skinnier than me. I look back at pictures and I wasn’t fat- I just wasn’t rail thin! And that goes for high school pictures too- so I figure if this is a trend- looking back at pictures and realizing my image of my body was way different from my body itself- then right now, at 30, I must not be as fat as I think. That’s helped me out. As for what to say? Maybe “Let’s talk about that more”. Because there’s no 1 thing to say- but there are whole conversations to have, and as older women, we should definitely be having them with younger women and girls. Great post! Thanks x

  2. Kate responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I also think this is a conversation we should be having with younger women and girls. (But six years old! God!)
    I find myself stumbling over my words, though, when I try to have it. Sometimes a 12 year old girl insults her body around me, or over email, and I quickly say, “You are beautiful!” but I hear it ringing hollow. I want to say so much more, and at the same time, say not very much, but the right things. I haven’t figured them out.

  3. Emily responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Amazing post. I can feel the pain of trying to respond to the little girl with something that will help. Maybe instead of just saying that they are beautiful, we to start acknowledging the things that are making them feel that way. I don’t think it’s ever to early to know that there are a lot of different ways to be beautiful, but the media doesn’t highlight them all. Then tell her the ways that she IS beautiful. For me, I always felt like adults were just being nice if they said I was beautiful. Clearly she is picking up on a lot of messages from society. It probably won’t do much until she has some way to understand those messages in a less negative way.

  4. Mandy responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    I have no idea what I would say–like you, I am in shock that a child that young has been wounded by the Body Image Monster.
    But, because of this blog, I am going th think about it very hard, and if the situation ever comes up, hopefully I’ll have an answer then.
    Thank you, for that.

    Book recommendation: Real Gorgeous, by Kaz Cooke

  5. Erika responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    I also loved reading this, and it made me feel a little sad and helpless about the subject. I’m mother of 6- and 8-year old girls with my own body issues. I see shades of this behavior already and don’t know how to deal with it when it hits full-force.

    My younger one hates her hair (it’s too curly) and my older one likes the way she looks, but sometimes sticks out her tummy after she eats a lot and says, “am I fat?” Luckily, I don’t think she associates “fat” with “bad” or “ugly,” but I usually say something like, “your tummy’s really full now!”

    Like both Kate and Emily said, my first reaction is to say, “honey, you’re beautiful!” Even though I think both of them are, that doesn’t solve the problem, and discounts their feelings. I wish I knew a way to build strong body image starting NOW, or at least tools to deflect what’s going to come at them.

  6. Life [Comma] Etc responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    “Of doing whatever wonderful, random thing that popped into my head without wondering if I was pretty enough to do it or if I would look pretty doing it. ”

    Boom.

  7. Kate responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    @Life [comma] Etc
    I know, right?

  8. Kristina responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I never gave one thought to my appearance until the other kids started to comment on my appearance around 4th grade. That is when I started to wonder why my tummy poked out so much. There are so many variables that can be changed to help our youth, including boys, with their body image. I think it can start at home, with the parents, encouraging children to speak kindly to each other and to correct the kids, and the adults (especially adults), when they begin to speak negatively about other peoples’ appearances. I ADMIT I speak negatively about myself infront of our children and also have spoke negatively about others’ appearance infront of the children.

  9. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    It’s hard to know what to say without sounding hollow…because that “feeling” never completely goes away. There are lots of things I’m happy about with regard to my appearance, but my “belly” is an issue. Reminds me, how often do you see a man suck in his gut? Almost never. We do it instinctively…weird, just freaking weird!

  10. Bianca James responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    I was NEVER not aware that I was fat, and therefore not pretty. Which is why I think the whole campaign of fat shaming posters for kids to “fight obesity” is so dangerous. I think some of the more destructive behaviors in my life are closely linked to the fact that at 8 years old, I was already trying to devise diet schemes (and never sticking to them.)

  11. San D responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    To your question of “what do you say”, I would look the little one in the eye and say “why do you say that?”, and her answer would be the beginning of a teachable moment. She might have heard that from her family, she might have heard that from her peers (little ones are always pointing out fat ladies in life), or she might have garnered that from her family’s reaction to thin images on tv and in magazines. When I taught high school (and this would work with little ones too), I always used the car metaphor. I would say we are like cars, some of are round like volkswagen beatles, some of us are streamlined like porsche sports cars, some of us are sturdy like SUV’s, and even some of us are a bit damaged. We come in all different types of models and colors. All of us had no choice on what model we would be when we came down the assembly line. All of us have engines that are raring to go, and are eager to start our individual journeys on the highway of life.

  12. Bethany responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    I think my response was along the lines of, “That’s not true. Everyone is beautiful.” How cheesy is that? But I really did want her to know that…for herself and for the people she will encounter. I’ve always reminded my son that everyone is different and for the same reason…he’s kind of the oddball in a lot of groups and I want him to know that that is perfectly fine. He’s not supposed to be or look like anyone else. And in turn, none of them are either.

    I think that teaching kids to accept each other is also really important in helping them accept themselves. If we allow, or even just ignore, teasing and bullying, we are sending the indirect message that it’s okay to mistreat someone because of their differences. They will at some point in their development turn that upon themselves…I mean, why not? If it’s okay to make fun of that kid because she’s fat, there’s really no reason not to do the same to yourself, right?

  13. Amanda responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    I became aware I was larger than many other girls my age when I went shopping for new school clothes with my mom before first grade. So I too was 6, and knew that size 6X was for “fat girls.” I wish someone would have taken me aside at that age and shown me all the ways that people can be. That just because I was bigger than other girls didn’t make me less intelligent or less pretty. I wish someone had taught me that the worst thing that I could do to myself and the women around me would be to compare myself to them (something I STILL struggle with and a big reason it is hard for me to have close friendships with women). Or that someone would have showed me that if I compare myself to another person I can’t only compare one part (my body size) I have to compare everything.

  14. Hunter responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    As much as, being older and wiser and generally more rad, I would now be able to respond to this girl’s comment in an instructional, reassuring way – I do remember being that little girl.

    That same factual, dismaying frankness about being ugly. Not just feeling it… knowing it. (‘Knowing it’ being used with sarcastic emphasis!)

    It’s not pinpointable, but I’ve always – always- had a concrete notion of my ugliness for specific reasons i could point to. Banished from the Pretty Spectrum since time out of mind!

    Of course it has been inhibiting in several ways, but on the other hand it feels like because I “am ugly” I can do things because i want to, or because they feel correct, without being overly concerned about how others might perceive me. Because I have this very factual notion of my ugliness. This might sound harsh. Even tricky, as I can definitely recognize attractiveness inside or out in nearly every other person.

    All that being said, this sort of shit would not fly with any girlchild of mine! Poor wee lady. It just isn’t true.

    (Though I’d be shocked too, despite knowing exactly where she was coming from.)

  15. Hunter responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    On an irrelevant note I’m a card-carrying member of the Club dei Brutti. Motto: “A person is what he is and not what he looks like.”
    I view membership in this club as a perverse and lovely form of protest.

  16. San D responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    @hunter

    And I belong to the club that says you are more than a number (be it weight, age, SAT scores, wealth, etc)

  17. annabanana responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    As a 15 year old girl who has her own struggles with body image and my beauty or lack thereof, here’s what I’D want to hear from a older woman who I looked up to and respected, although I never have heard it. That beauty is not about how your features add up or how far your tummy sticks out, but about perceiving yourself with confidence and celebrating what makes you special, what makes you pretty. If we succumb to the mold and let our failure to fit inside feel small and cast aside, then we become small and cast aside. The most beautiful women I know, the ones I wish I could become, are not perfect. But they hum with vibrance and life, and are comfortable in their skin. They aren’t in the corner thumbing through the supposed “manual” we as women are “supposed” to follow to see how to sit, what to wear or when to speak. It isn’t really enough for me to realize these things…because I’m still desperately clutching that manual. If you can be the one to set a girl free to love herself, please don’t let the opportunity slip past.

  18. sami responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    Yikes! :(

    I can understand one half of her comment, as kids haven’t got a filter and tend to say exactly what they see- “that man has a beard!”, “why does that lady have only one arm?” etc. That is a-ok as observing and commenting on the world is how they learn. Also, they can be hilariously inappropriate at times and watching adults awkward reactions amuses me.

    What disturbs me is the association she has already made between fat and ugly. That’s depressing, where has she learnt that? It scares me, the prospect of (maybe) having kids one day. How do I send them into the world to explore and learn and play, but shelter them from the crappy adult world? Ban tv? Cover the billboards? Move to the country?

    My childhood was so much fun, and the worst I had to worry about was mum nagging me to put sunscreen on every damn day (good work though mum). I wish all kids could have that experience.

  19. Pam responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Great post Bethany. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Laura responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    I can unfortunately relate to this little girl. I remember this one girl in preschool always making fun of me for being fat and ‘lazy’ (because I was always slow to get up from nap time). And every year after that I was constantly made fun of until about high school. A few years ago I found these cards my parents filled out years ago that provided descriptions of all of their kids in case we were ever kidnapped. It had age, height, favorite food, etc. My brother and sister were both described as ‘thin.’ I was described as ‘heavy’. The card said my age at the time was 4. I look back at pictures from when I was a kid, and I don’t really see any real weight ‘problem’ until around 4th grade. When I see pictures of myself at 4, I don’t see a ‘heavy’ kid. But, I don’t ever remember not feeling like there was something wrong with me and that I wasn’t normal or pretty.

    I think now about what I would have wanted to hear from adults at that time, and it’s really hard to think of an answer. Whenever my mom told me I was beautiful I’d write it off as my mom having to say I’m beautiful because she’s my mom. And, I only really remember her saying it when I was upset about my weight. I think maybe it’s just as important to not only discuss outer beauty but inner as well. We should be talking about all the ways children are beautiful. I notice even now when my 2 year old niece plays dress-up we all oooh and ahhhh and tell her how beautiful she looks in her purple frilly dress. But wouldn’t she still look beautiful in a t-shirt and her diaper? (And the answer is yes, she does!) We’re so trained to teach girls how pretty they are when they dress up and ‘look nice,’ that we don’t seem to focus on how creative they are or how athletic or how smart, etc. By us focusing so much on outer beauty, we teach our kids that that is the most important thing.

  21. Zellie responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    It sounds like people don’t see the harm it does to tell little girls they are beautiful. It used to be they were just kids. Sure, adults noticed, but little kids didn’t. It’s a crime to turn a little child’s attention to his appearance.

  22. Kate responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    @Zellie
    I think we’re talking about what to do when a kid’s attention is ALREADY on her appearance.

  23. Nicole responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    I have had a problem my body since I was around 5. I remember watching a PSA where a girl rips herself apart in front of a mirror, and the model she’s comparing herself to shows her how much work goes into being a model, and all I got from it was…yeah…my thighs ARE too fat. my ears DO stick out too much. It didn’t help that, while both of my parents built me up, and told me that I was beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, etc, that I saw my mother rip herself apart at any given moment. It’s a very difficult thing, to grow up KNOWING that you’re not the “pretty” girl, not wondering if you are, but knowing, without a doubt, that every other girl you’re near is not only prettier than you, but more interesting, smarter, and more desirable. I feel for the little girl, and I hope that she can learn (as I did, eventually) that she would much rather be the girl that people get to know and think…wow, she’s amazing, than the girl who people get to know and think…hmm…I THOUGHT she was cute, but now I know her and, meh.

  24. Jessie responded on 18 Jul 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    I have a 7 year old daughter and I am around a lot of girls of similar age. These girls pick up on what society deems as “beautiful” at astoundingly young ages. I think a lot of it has to do with media and careless comments that adults make that they don’t realize children are picking up on. The way I handle situations with young girls making negative comments about themselves or others is by first reminding them that everyone looks different and that there are all kinds of beauty. I then point out how boring it would be if everyone looked the same. Finally, I ask them to describe something they like about what they have considered “ugly”. It seems to work, at least for a little while, and I hope over time it really takes hold in them that beauty is diverse and different, fat, skinny, tall, short, none of it is the epitome of beauty. I also remind them regularly that their attitude and the way they treat others is far more important than how one looks. It makes me sad when I hear little girls worry so much about how they and others look. I don’t remember ever thinking or worrying about how I looked until I was in middle school.

  25. Danielle @ Collegiate Feminist responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Ah this makes me so, so sad. 6 years old!? Personally, I struggle with my body image every single day. My mom never said anything to me when I was a little girl or criticized her body in front of me, but a couple years later I started feeling more self-conscious.

    But I read something recently in Deepak Chopra’s Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul that really resonated with me. It talked about how our bodies are not an object with an ideal image, but a person. In other words– by condemning ourselves for not reaching “bodily perfection” we are OBJECTIFYING ourselves instead of PERSONIFYING our bodies. Chopra also talks about treating your body like someone you love unconditionally. Now apply that to you. It’s difficult to break the patterns, but I found this overwhelmingly helpful in changing my own personal opinion of myself and being more forgiving and grateful for everything that I am and even what I am not.

  26. JessB responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 12:23 am #

    I tend to get really firm with my cousins or friends who talk like this about themselves. I say ‘Hey, that’s not true! Tell me something you love about you. I think you have great eyes/ hot hair/ beautiful legs/ etc.’ I also like ‘Hey, don’t talk about my friend like that!

    I get really tired of people constantly beating up on themselves. I know that it happens sometimes, and that’s fine, but when people just keep going on and on and on about it? That’s not good for them, or for me. Fuggeddabouddit and have some cake!

  27. Eat the Damn Cake » the ugly woman detective responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 9:03 am #

    [...] cake pic, from Bethany! Send yours [...]

  28. about self-consciousness « Jiminy's Blog responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 10:09 am #

    [...] I remember the forming of self-consciousness about my image somewhere rather late, when I saw pictures taken of me a year before and I thought I looked really fat on them (I haven’t seen them in years so I cannot check if the impression was correct) – and how come I hadn’t realised it at the time (this would happen around 13-14)*. But this is not about body image – or only partially about body. I also remember being very annoyed, during one of the first dancing/aerobics lessons I took part in, at the fact that the movements I saw in the mirror were helplessly stiff, unwavy, inelegant, which completely stifled any desire to do that again – I may have had fun dancing, but it made me look ridiculous – therefore the self-consciousness won. It took a long time (and often many drinks) to dare to step on a dance floor and enjoy the thing I do, ignoring the potentially unflattering effect it has on my image. [...]

  29. Caitlin responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 10:11 am #

    I think something that reinforces the problem is people rushing to reassure others that they are beautiful/pretty/not fat/not ugly/etc.

    I know I’m fat and not very pretty (and knew it from a very young age). When people tell me I’m not fat, or that I’m beautiful, I know they’re doing it to be nice, and that they wouldn’t say it if they didn’t know me. And this sort of behaviour just reinforces that being thin and beautiful are the be all and end all.

    Perhaps instead, we should be responding “So what? Everyone looks different, and your life is composed of a lot more things than just your outward appearance. Who cares if you’re fat?”

  30. Bethany responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Caitlin…so because you think you aren’t pretty, it’s fact?

    What I wanted to express to my friends daughter in that moment is that differences are normal and beautiful. We aren’t supposed to look like each other and all be the same.

    And if we’re embracing differences, there really isn’t any way to say, factually and without any shadow of a doubt, that any one person (including yourself) isn’t beautiful.

    What if someone told you that they really, truly found you absolutely gorgeous? I’m just curious. You can think you’re ugly all day long if you’re okay with it…but that doesn’t mean it’s fact or that other people think the same.

  31. Bethany responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Definition of beautiful: Having qualities that delight the senses, especially the sense of sight.

    I think we’d all agree that our senses are not all the same.

  32. Caitlin responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    My point is that although beauty is subjective, if we look at it statistically, I am not pretty. I know my boyfriend thinks I am and loves looking at me, but if we take a large sample size from strangers who don’t care about my feelings and evaluate my appearance objectively, I’m probably a 4, maybe a 5.

    But let’s leave aside beauty as it is more subjective, and just concentrate on weight.

    I am in the highest classification of obesity. There is no doubt about it – I am fat. I still have people tell me “oh you’re not fat”. This is a blatant lie. They’re trying to make me feel better. But I’d prefer if people said “Yes, you’re fat. But who cares, because you have x, y and z going on in your life right now.” That way, we’re taking away the beauty and diet industries’ power.

    I know fat men. If one of them complains about being fat, the others don’t jump and tell him “oh you’re not fat, you just have big bones, etc etc”. They just ignore it. I think until we can rise above like guys do, we’re always going to have more body insecurities than dudes.

    And going back to the beauty thing for a minute – either we say “everyone is beautiful in their own way” and people keep thinking “I’m not beautiful enough even though that person complimented me”, or we acknowledge that not everyone can be beautiful and concentrate on other areas of our lives, leeching away the power that beauty has over us.

  33. Caitlin responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Oh and I’m not trying to critique your response – obviously we don’t get to sit and think and discuss our response with people in the 10 seconds before responding to a child. I wouldn’t disparage any response given to a child – something is always better than nothing.

  34. Wanderlust responded on 19 Jul 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Wow. This hit me right in the heart. Beautiful writing. This made me feel so sad. My son, age 7, has a learning disability which affects his ability to grasp new reading skills. Sometimes he will just state, matter of fact, “I’m stupid.” It kills me. I’ve tried to reassure him 100 different ways that he is not stupid, but his experience at school, when everyone else is cruising along and he’s struggling, is that he’s stupid.

    Thanks for writing this. Will share.

  35. Bethany responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 7:52 am #

    But the fact that your boyfriend thinks you are pretty means just as much as the fact that you don’t think you are…right?

    And even if you are a 4 or 5 in someone else’s book…why does that, by definition, make you not pretty? But your boyfriends’ opinion that you are doesn’t in turn make you, by definition, pretty? Why do some opinions matter and other don’t?

    I think we have a tendency to believe/hear/see the worst and to place more stock in the negative opinions than the positive.

    My boyfriend gets frustrated with my constant weight loss efforts because he thinks I look great (and I believe that he does). By continuing to try to change and “better” myself, it comes across as if I am disregarding his opinion or that his doesn’t matter as much as strangers who see me on the street and who might, god forbid, classify me as “fat”…were they to ever…take a survey? I mean, I have this real guy, who knows me and sees me, standing in front of me telling me I look good and he loves my body…and I’m still saying, “No, not good enough.” I can’t imagine how frustrating that is.

  36. Caitlin responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 8:29 am #

    I’m saying individual opinions are fine, but that if we look at a larger sample size of opinions, I am not pretty. I’m looking at this objectively, from a scientific perspective – what is the truth when we remove emotion?

  37. Bethany responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I don’t think beauty is a thing that exists factually without emotion, preference and perspective.

    I don’t think there is a science of beauty. There is science that suggests that certain traits, features and body types are more attractive from a biological standpoint, but I see that science over ridden on a very regular basis.

    If you asked ten people to name one thing and one person that was beautiful to them, you would get ten likely very different answers. Are there some answers that are more “right” than others?

    You can’t put pretty on a chart or in a test tube. That’s all I’m saying. Just as easily as you say you aren’t, someone else will say you are.

    I’m all for being objective. I’ve had people tell me things, both good AND bad, that simply weren’t true and I’m smart enough to tell the difference. But there are things that CAN be true or false…and there are things that I don’t think can. No, I do not weigh less than that girl. No, I do not have her muscular legs or thick hair. But is she prettier than me? Well…I don’t know. Depends on who you ask.

  38. Bethany responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Sorry for the comment party, Kate.

  39. Kate responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 11:10 am #

    @Bethany
    Don’t apologize! This is really, really interesting and I’ve been following the conversation with a lot of anticipation!

  40. Linda responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    My girls, 7 and 10, are much taller and wider (large shoulder and rib span in addition to the normal little girl bellies) than the majority, but they have been somewhat protected: we don’t have the usual magazines and advertising in our home, and they don’t go to school. We are an affectionate family and I refer to them in appreciative terms, using words like “beautiful”, “cutie”, “smart”, “strong”. I talk about fat and flesh in a positive, matter-of-fact way, and I obviously like and enjoy and take good care of my body (which is unfashionable by current standards.) I also talk (in a general way) about how cultural lies and myths are perpetuated for the sake of the financial interests of a powerful few.

    So far they are fairly innocent of the general cultural consensus regarding their body type. They lament being too big to carry or hold, as they’ve been for some time, and the difficulty in finding clothing that fits. But they don’t, yet, see that as due to there being something wrong with them. I wonder when it’s going to happen. I’m going to fight it all the way. Is it possible that they will make it through relatively unscathed? It’s one of my greatest hopes, because the anti-body myths I grew up with were for a long time a terribly paralyzing/defeating force in my life.

  41. Linda responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    I love all the comments too, and now that I’ve read through them, am going to have to contribute to the comment party. :)

    First, a tangent: Wanderlust, please consider the possibility that your son does not have a learning disability (in the sense of there being something inherently wrong with him) but that he may just not be developmentally ready for reading *yet*. One major flaw of our current school system is that it assumes that everyone should develop on the same schedule in the same way. Illiteracy is considered an enormous problem in our country right now, and there is an epidemic of so-called learning disorders. Is it possible that the standards are out of sync with the reality of what the human brain is capable of? I think so. I have more to say about it, including real-life experience, but I don’t want to derail the thread too much so if you are interested in talking more about it please email at eaglefalconlark at yahoo dot com. I’d love to talk with you about it.

  42. Linda responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Kristina: “I think it can start at home, with the parents, encouraging children to speak kindly to each other and to correct the kids, and the adults (especially adults), when they begin to speak negatively about other peoples’ appearances.”

    YES. And not just stopping the negative talk, but doing the opposite — pointing out the actual beauty in the not-currently-fashionable. This does take a bit of self-work first for most of us, lest it come off as contrived. But it is absolutely possible.

    Zellie: “It sounds like people don’t see the harm it does to tell little girls they are beautiful.”

    I don’t agree. It depends entirely on how that word is used in your life. The pinks in the sky at sunset are beautiful; so is the blue sky; so is the misty gray on a fall day. A person’s attitude can be beautiful. My fifteen-year-old son is beautiful, and I tell him that. There’s a big difference between that and “fashionable”. And it’s entirely possible to reframe one’s perception of the value of that, too, from a rebel/cynic point of view.

    Bethany: “Definition of beautiful: Having qualities that delight the senses, especially the sense of sight. I think we’d all agree that our senses are not all the same.”

    Yes! That’s one very good definition. And yes, there’s so much natural variation.

    Caitlin: “or we acknowledge that not everyone can be beautiful and concentrate on other areas of our lives, leeching away the power that beauty has over us.”

    I’d rephrase that: “the power that *current fashion dictates* holds over us.” By Bethany’s definition, beauty is sensual delight, and sensual delight is a part of being human and a wonderful thing. Beauty is good, good is beauty. The problem is when we allow ourselves to be convinced ( by those who stand to get rich from our hating ourselves) that beauty is a rare thing and that it is defined very narrowly. That’s a lucrative myth. There is plenty of sensual delight outside of that, and we can choose to concentrate on it and nurture it.

  43. Kate responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    @Linda
    This is so friggin’ thorough. You are amazing.

  44. Virginia responded on 20 Jul 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    @Nicole I remember seeing that same PSA when I was younger – and I remember thinking similar things, as the model even without all of the work (no makeup, casual clothes) was still a tall, skinny, clear-skinned person.

    Makes me also think about some after-school special I was watching with a friend of mine in early middle school. The storyline was about a girl who had developed anorexia. And, I remember my friend commenting, “She doesn’t need to be anorexic, she’s already thin.”

    I worry that media ads that try to combat things like anorexia and feeling bad about yourself for not looking a certain way tend to backfire because they tend to use more photogenic people to depict characters, which generally means “thinner” in today’s culture.

  45. Adrienne responded on 21 Jul 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    I would have told her that you can be pretty and have belly fat. I also would have told her that anyone who says that’s not true, doesn’t deserve her attention or time.

  46. Eat the Damn Cake » what if you’re just average? responded on 14 Aug 2012 at 11:16 am #

    [...] is another piece from Bethany. The woman can’t seem to stop writing fantastic stuff. She called this her [...]

  47. D responded on 12 Sep 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    The sad truth is that roughly 50% of our society – men – only value a woman if she is worthy of a romp in the sack. I very bluntly call it the F-ability factor. If Hillary Clinton says something, it’s laughable because to many men she is no longer sexually interesting to look at or desire. She doesn’t look F-able.

    And many women look at an aging woman like her and cringe at the thought that a maturing and less-attractive face is inevitably in all of our futures. It’s like looking at a corpse – nobody wants to be reminded of our mortality. Aging is the same thing. I think that’s why we don’t like to see aging women, and criticize famous women for “letting themselves go”, because they are a reminder of what’s coming to us.

    As a woman in my mid-40s who has been considered attractive, slim and blonde my whole life, I can now see what it feels like to be on the other side because I no longer hold one of the winning cards: I am no longer young. And if you don’t look young, you can’t be pretty. Just like the fat arms, or bellies. Just like pimples or frizzy hair. It’s a strike against you that ends the whole game.

    I have good self esteem, I am accomplished, with a great marriage and family, and I am happy in my life, but I can tell you first-hand that being young and slim and attractive is more fun. You’re treated better. You’re noticed and admired.

    Children know the power of beauty, and they are realizing it younger and younger now.

    I don’t have an answer to add to all the excellent comments here, except for parents of boys, perhaps there is something you can do to communicate to them that girls are more than just “cute” and “pretty”. Show them that girls are to be valued and respected as people rather than as faces and bodies and blonde hair.

    It’s a small thing but I don’t think it would cause any harm, and it might even make a difference in the world, in 10 or 20 years time.

  48. Mike C. responded on 01 Oct 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I know I am not a girl but I have a story about feeling ugly growing up. I was always fat as far back as I can remember. It was always very emotional to go clothes shopping with my mother. She would always complain about how hard it was to find pants in my size, and she would get pants that were too tight on purpose. She told me many years later that her hope was that if the pants were tight and uncomfortable that it would motivate me to lose weight. It always reminded me how ugly I was because I was fat and not like the normal children. I would be uncomfortable every day because my pants were too tight. I would be embarrassed because many times the button of my pants would pop open or un-snap because they were too tight. I had to devise ways to keep that from happening. I am 42 years old now and I have never forgotten that.

  49. Eat the Damn Cake » the approval of men responded on 19 Oct 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    [...] way we use beauty. Something is wrong with the way we allow it to be taught. We learn it just fine. We learn it so quickly and readily. We memorize it perfectly, and we remember every [...]

  50. Eat the Damn Cake » What is she thinking?! Does she know what she looks like in that? responded on 29 Oct 2012 at 11:15 am #

    [...] consistently provocative, thoughtful Bethany, who recently sent it to me. I’ve also published a piece of hers about a little girl who thought she was too fat, and one about being average-sized. She sometimes writes things that make me think, “Why the [...]

  51. Amy responded on 29 Oct 2012 at 11:44 am #

    I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t overweight. When I was a kid I’d look at pictures of myself at three or four years old when I looked like an average child and I’d ask my mother “Why didn’t I stay normal?”

  52. Mel responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 6:52 am #

    It seems ridiculous, but it’s so easy to be ignorant that other women have body image issues, could ever feel as insecure as I am and they believe every little bit of fat destroys any chance to be ‘pretty’. I don’t know where it’s come from, but this year I’ve become obsessed with my weight and so determined to lose as much of it as I can. At 17, it’s frustrating that I base my self worth on my stomach, my thighs, my arms.
    I’ve stopped myself eating pasta, white rice, bread, cheese, anything sugary and have recently become a vegetarian.
    When I feel full, I feel guilty. When I feel full, I find myself bent over the toilet with my finger down my throat. I do exercise everyday, regardless of weather, regardless of how busy I am, there is always time for exercise. I refuse to give up until I’m thin. I wish it would disappear, I wonder why it happened to me and why I let myself get affected by this. I don’t know if it’s me trying to succumb to society’s ideal of beautiful, or a legitimate desire to be fit. All I really want to do is eat the damn cake and not feel guilty afterwards.

  53. Shane responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    The world is obsessed with body image, unfortunately so. Air brushing makes it impossible to compare with the million mags that you walk past everywhere. I see more and more comments on mens bodies these days too.

    My 7 old daughter has cottoned on to the world too. Asking me lately if she is fat and needs to be on a diet??? Pretty confronting and heartbreaking. I dont know what to do….. More articles on young teen girls suiciding scares the hell out of me.

    I reassure my girl that I am proud of her because she is smart, brave, hardworking at school and most of all kind….I hope this will help to get her thru….

  54. rain responded on 05 Nov 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    Thank you everyone for these incredible comments. I am just slowly beginning to realize how much my entire life has been affected by the teasing that I endured during elementary and middle school because I was “chubby.” I guess it is in the genes in my family that women gain weight right before they reach puberty, and I gained weight in fourth/fifth grade, and I was teased incessantly. I started to isolate myself, a behavior that continued for years. I was really interested by what Hunter said, because it raises the possibility for me that no longer striving to be the “pretty girl” or even on the “spectrum” could bring relief and let me focus on the other parts of me that are mysterious and wonderful. I also wanted to respond to annabanana and say that I was deeply touched by your words and advice and I appreciate it. I remember when I used to give advice to adults about how to treat my age group, and it always made me feel like I owned myself. Thank you for sharing.

  55. The Approval of Men — Everyday Feminism responded on 28 Feb 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    [...] learn it just fine. We learn it so quickly and readily. We memorize it perfectly, and we remember every [...]