The Things People Say

When I was in sixth grade, my boyfriend told me he didn’t care that I was fat. He loved me anyway, just as I was.

It was something along the lines of, “Tom and all those guys say you’re really big, but it doesn’t matter to me.” And instead of hearing the part about his acceptance of me, all I heard was that people thought I was fat. This was absolutely news to me, as I’d never thought about my size, weight, or shape in any way before that moment. Never considered that other people were looking at me and judging me. It was an absolute revelation. And although I give him credit for trying to soften the blow and explain that he could care less, it still changed me. For the worse.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I attended my boyfriend’s senior prom. We double-dated with one of my best friends in the world. When we met up in the hotel lobby, she took one look at me in the orchid-pink satin dress that my mom had made for me and told me I looked “stunning.” To me, that was a word reserved for movie stars, models, princesses … not nerdy little high schoolers like me. And it was an absolute revelation. Just by telling me her perceptions, she opened up a little door inside me. Her belief changed my potential in that one moment, with that one phrase. For the better

Having to be excruciatingly careful with every word you say is a major pain in the ass. I know it is. Nothing makes the steam come pouring out of my ears, Tom & Jerry-style, like having my language policed. But looking back at these two tiny incidents – verbal exchanges that I guarantee neither friend would recollect – shows me the importance of thoughtful, caring language. Especially when it comes to discussing the appearance, shape, size, weight, or beauty of another human being.

Can you recall a single exchange, phrase, or incident that changed how you saw your body for the worse? For the better? Does it aggravate you to mind your p’s and q’s so closely? Do you think it’s worthwhile to do so, regardless?

Image courtesy ellenantill.

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  • GingerR

    This New Year’s I wore a long sweater to a party at a chilly house. I put a big chunky belt on it (big sweater = big belt).

    My friend’s husband says, my, aren’t you looking great!

    I’m 5 pounds up after a rough holiday season. Didn’t matter!

  • One of the backbones of my high school journalism course is that WORDS HAVE POWER. I try to get HS students to realize just how much power. When my daughter (now 24) was in MS, some boys teased her about her porcelein skin and called he Bo Radley from To Kill A Mockingbird. They laughed and laughed at her. She went on a devastating tanning campaign and would sneak off to the tanning salon at times. Their words traumatized her. She still worries today over every little mole and blemish that she might one day end up with skin cancer from this. As a teacher, I try to encourage and uplift the girls because I know that the “radley” boys are lurking around every corner.

  • Ten

    My sister harassed me every day calling me fat. I never heard otherwise from anybody else. I have serious body image and self esteem issues because nobody bothered to say anything nice.

    • Michelle

      There are three comments that have shaped the way I look at myself, whether I’ve been underweight or overweight, even though they were made 20 years ago. And those people who made those comments wouldn’t even recall ever saying them.

      It doesn’t matter that my beautician say I have amazing skin….all I can hear are the ‘craterface’ taunts.
      And now that I can’t run anymore (yay for injuries), I’ve been dealing with the stress of not being able to deal with my thunderthighs and cankles.
      >sigh<

    • Manny O

      I still regret all the mean things I said to you when we were kids because I was so jealous of how beautiful, talented, and sweet-natured you are. I still wish I could be as pretty as you are even today, that even on my best day I’ll never compare to you.

      I am so proud to call you my sister and my best friend. I love you and hope you can forgive me for being so horrible.

  • When I was a sophmore in high school, I was in the school musical Ducktails and Bobbysox (sort of a ripoff of Grease). It was set in the 1950’s and I played one of the girls’ in the Yellow Jacket Gang (like the Pink Ladies, but with yellow jackets). As the “fast girls” we were supposed to wear narrow black skirts, a black belt and a white shirt and black flats. My mom came to opening night and after the show said I was great, but that I should untuck my shirt so that none of my “loncas” would show. That is a Spanish slang term for rolls or love handles. I spent the next 3 nights feeling like such an outsider- the “big” girl who had to look a little different to hide her fat. I know my mom meant well, and to be honest, the girl who picked our outfits was 5’11” and stick thin. Of course what looked good on her would look totally different on me. It made me very self-conscious about the way I wore my clothes, and it still does on occasion.
    Great post Sal!

  • Oh sweet Sal…words matter! Thank you for posting this.

    I wish I had a personal example where my body image changed for the better! (sigh) I, too, have a prom story. It went something like, “Sure, you can have that dress…but you’re really going to have to watch what you eat.” I swear – that may seem harmless enough but it causes me to still have anxiety with eating around other people. It’s gotten significantly better but it took me YEARS to realize that people don’t give a crap what I put on my plate.

    Okay – here’s a good one… on my wedding day, upon reaching my soon-to-be-husband at the end of a long aisle, he told me (in the middle of a church) that I looked “f*cking beautiful.” I love that.

  • janine

    this was a very moving post. thank you for this. i still remember in sixth grade being told, ‘you’re a poster child for kenya. you’re too skinny, and you have chicken legs.’ i didn’t wear shorts again until college. never thought about me being skinny was anything different or bad.
    Otoh, my husband makes me feel sexy and attractive each day, and i feel blessed by it.
    love your site! Have recommended it to so many gfs!

  • I totally remember two of them: Once in 9th grade when a group of boy athletes I totally loved (I was a jock, too) couldn’t believe I weighed what I said I weighed. I had been proud of the number because to me it represented my strength and muscles, but to them it represented HUGENESS (I was also 5’8″ at the time, and I’m almost 6′ now). It was confusing. A few months later I was at a sleepover and looking through fashion magazines when suddenly it hit me – girls were supposed to look like THAT, and I wasn’t even close. Cue many years of trying to look like that!

    Then there was the time, in college, the close family member who told me, after I was joking about the fact I was single, that I would never get a boyfriend because I was “so big and opinionated”. Sigh.

    Language policing is boring, but being thoughtless is just bad manners. I think there’s a difference. Sometimes it’s subtle.

  • Dee

    What a great post! I can think of so many times others have said something to me that really impacted my view of how I feel about myself. Once, I overheard a classmate refer to me as the heavy girl, my mom once said I looked like a mack truck in an outfit, the list goes on…I try so hard to be mindful of things I say because words can really tear a person down or be uplifting and just what someone needs to hear.

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  • When I got engaged for the first time, one of the reasons I did was because he loved me for who i am and when I was with him I felt beautiful. He would tell me why he thought I was beautiful, both physically and personality/character wise. Seeing myself through his eyes, really opened my eyes to who I am inside and out. It made me want to take better care of myself in every way so that I felt beautiful both inside and out. He was a priceless lesson in love in so many ways.

  • I will never forget when my best friend’s older brother told me I was “a dish in a black dress”.

    • You ARE a dish! In any color!

  • spacegeek

    I have a birthmark on my face that has faded over time. When I was 11, an aunt told me to “hide my chocolate spot” in a family photo. 30 years later, that comment still stuns me in its outrageous rudeness. I’ve never forgotten it, and I still am wary around that aunt.

  • A boyfriend once said to me ” you look really great today.” Before I had a chance to be flattered and thank my lucky stars for such a wonderful man, he added “if you lost a bit of weight, you’d look stunning”!! Talk about Indian giving!!
    Suffice to say, he’s not the man I ended up with…;)
    Px

  • lauren

    in 7th grade a boy in my class (named ben) said something about my bow, like “aren’t you a little old to be wearing a bow” or that it looked stupid or something. i had honestly never thought about being mature in 7th grade… but i never wore a bow after that.

  • Jo

    I was actually just thinking about how a few careless words can permanently change the way a person sees him or herself and alter the entire course of a life. I can bring to mind many comments, offhand or otherwise, that have changed the way I see myself, but the example I’m thinking of right now actually concerns a nearly 70-year-old man that I talk to sometimes. This man has cerebral palsy. He has very limited use of his right hand and a bit of a limp, but is an intelligent, fun, wonderful person. Over and over when we are talking he shares a story from when he was in high school. He was talking to a counselor and mentioned a couple of girls that he liked. The counselor told him that girls don’t like men with disabilities. The man took this comment very much to heart. He stopped pursuing any relationships and started isolating himself. He had one girlfriend in his 40s but quickly ended it because he had been alone so long that he couldn’t stand having anyone around that much. He is very lonely, but will not try to interact with others and pushes away almost everyone who tries to be friendly with him. 50+ years later, that counselor’s words (which were probably intended to keep him from getting hurt) are still one of the focal points of this man’s thoughts. It breaks my heart to see how much friendship, love, and even basic human interaction he has missed out on over the course of a lifetime because of a few careless words.

  • nikole

    It’s usually the words from those who are closest to us that do the most damage. My mom called me fat all the time – even though I’m much heavier than I was now – and I still haven’t gotten over it But i have made some piece with accepting my body

  • When I was in college, I hosted a high school student for the night who was considering applying to my school. Apparently she and her mom had imagined what a “Sarah” would look like and had decided I’d be tall, blond, and athletic. “We got 2 of 3 right!” she said when she met me. (I’m not blond.) It was the “athletic” that got me — I’d always *wanted* to be athletic, but had never thought of myself that way. It was a nice eye-opener.

  • I remember looking in the mirror once as my mother walked by and said yes, you are homely. I struggled with that for a long time. Years later, she said she was joking. Hmm…

    I remember my Dad putting his arm around me and saying you’re putting on a bit of weight. Obesity runs in my family. I promptly developed anorexia.

    You don’t forget comments like this. As a parent, I tried not to go there and I’m sure I went other places instead. As you commented, it is hard to say the right thing all the time.

  • Two incidents come to mind:
    1) in 8th grade a boy I liked was walking behind me & told me & everyone who was around him that I had child bearing hips.
    2) for all the years my dad was married to my step mother, she told me how pretty I’d be if I’d just lose weight.

    I have pretty abysmal body image. I cannot remember a time as a child when I was not berated for my weight (I’m 5’8 & the most I’ve ever weighed is 180, but am normally 160, which is where I am now).

    Being the mother of a 16 year old girl, I have spent her entire life being positive & faking confidence for her benefit. She has confidence like you wouldn’t believe! If I tell her she’s beautiful, she says she knows. Sometimes she walks by her reflection & just says “my hair is so beautiful today!” or “I look fantastic!”. And once, when I let it slip (fairly recently) & asked her if the outfit I was wearing was appropriate, my daughter told me, “Mom, don’t talk down to yourself. You look great!”.

  • Katharine

    I was always called “fatty” and worse in school, but I didn’t really think about my fatness that much. But I lost weight through illness and depression when I was thirty, and THOSE comments are the ones I can’t forget. Everyone treated it like it was the only accomplishment I’d ever had. They wanted to know my secret. (Sometimes I would tell them. “Coffee and despair.”) They told me how fantastic I was looking – now. (This when I weighed less than a hundred pounds, and had shaved my head.) Boys I didn’t know – literal boys, in their twenties – came up to me in coffee shops and gave me scribbled phone numbers. (If that kind of thing had happened in high school and university it would have changed my life. As it was, I just wanted to kick them.)

    I still don’t understand it, especially looking back at the few pictures, in which I am definitely haggard -and, as I said – shaved head! But I’ve regained weight now – not to my heaviest weight, but “overweight” by BMI standards, and I cannot forget that I am “fat and ugly” now, and that I have “failed” at the one thing, apparently, I ever did that anybody ever thought was worthwhile.

    • stephani

      People like the ones you refer to are flaming idiots and shallow to boot. Overweight or fat does not equal ugly or even terribly unhealthy, and you are not a failure for regaining some weight and recovering your health. What truly matters is what you think is worthwhile in your life, not what random imbeciles and ignorant coworkers think. I hope, as I’m sure everyone else here does, that you can see that.

  • I was just talking about this stuff with a friend recently. I feel lucky that my self-esteem has always been pretty high; I haven’t dealt with anywhere near the body issues that most women do. And yet I remember every single crack or comment about my body: I remember the time a kid in 6th grade told me I had fat legs; I remember a teenage girl at the roller rink telling me I was really ugly; I remember a kid in junior high making some comment about my “juicy titties” that made me incredibly uncomfortable. Etc. Most of the things I remember happened around middle school. In high school there was still some crap, but my friends and I got into the habit of telling each other we were beautiful or that we looked beautiful. I don’t know who started it, but I highly recommend it.

  • My mom has constantly made comments either telling me flat out that I’m big, or implied it. “I wish I could have some of your weight.” She’s only ~92 pounds. This kind of thing has happened as early as when I was ten! Aboit two years ago, my older son told me that he needed to exercise to lose weight. He’s a little boy who is not chubby (he’s in the background of one of my title bar pics). I know my mom has made comments giving him a complex. I called her on it recently.

    Although we can let such things scar us, especially when it’s something that started in childhood, I refuse to. I’ll still complain about it and remind my mom that I still have my health, but I won’t let it hurt me. Besides, my hubby recently told me that he still finds me attractive–13.5 years and ~30 pounds later.

  • Mel

    Great post! I just have to chime in on this one…

    Back in 1985, when I was about 18 (a size 3 and just a smidge over 100 lbs.), my dad told me that his girlfriend thought I had “too much hair, too much makeup and that my thighs were too big.”

    I don’t know what hurt worse – the fact that she said it, or the snarky smirk my dad had on his face when he told me. I’m 44 now, and it still stings. I haven’t worn shorts in 26 years because of that hurtful remark (plus many others, but that’s another post!)

  • Sal

    Oh my. You ladies are breaking my HEART with these stories.

  • Iris

    I’ve found exactly this issue pretty difficult lately because I’ve taken on a role as a “style consultant” for some of my friends, and I struggle with how to teach them concepts of figure flattery without pointing out negative aspects of their physique. My friends are gorgeous – no really, I think every single one of them is completely beautiful. But we still all have things that work and don’t work… and it’s really difficult to point out how something might not work for someone without it seeming to point to their flaws. On one hand, if I feel like I could teach them something they might find valuable I do want to share that – on the other, I’m scared of feeding complexes or messing with someone’s body image through poorly-chosen adjectives.

    When my apple-shaped friend tells me she’s uncomfortable wearing dresses, can I tell her that an empire waist will emphasize her bust and skim over her stomach – without calling undue attention to her stomach, which really is perfectly fine?

    On a personal level, my father’s way of commenting on my appearance has been something I had difficulty with in the past. I know that he really only meant well when he would start talking about treatments for pimples or saying how gorgeous I would be if I was thinner – but really, it makes you wonder if some people think you don’t have a mirror. Of course I knew my face was pimpled, I didn’t really need him to point it out to me.

    Random compliments from strangers can be really uplifting, as can my friends exclaiming genuine compliments when they see me looking good in some kind of clothes. The generic “I love your dress” is nice, but an “Oh wow, you look GREAT!” as soon as they see you has such an impact because it obviously isn’t calculated or forced. So whenever I see one of my friends looking really good, I try to let them know in a way that shows I’m not just /saying/ they look awesome, I actually mean it.

  • finny

    “Well, you’re not exactly ‘pretty’, are you?”
    Said by a boy I used to have a crush on in university, when we were talking about who was good-looking in our generation. We are still very good friends, and it didn’t really bother me when he said it, but sometimes it makes me think. Not that I’M not pretty (because I look at myself in the mirror and I like what I see), but that guys are not attracted to my kind of prettiness.

  • Iris

    Sorry for the double post, but I just got linked this and funny as it is it made me a little sad. Kind of shows how uncomfortable some people are with compliments:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD_W7zoBqTA

  • Kim

    So many comments, so little time πŸ˜‰ I can’t pinpoint exact ones from peers during childhood but most of them were in regards to my large, early developed chest size or the fact I was rounder than most little girls my age. I never considere myself fat until my father told me one day when I asked to quit the swim team, “you need to swim for exercise, your fat already and if you quit, you’ll get huge). Yeah, that was great for a 9 year olds self esteem. I know where he gets it, from his mother who to this day at almost 90 still manages to make nasty comments. Most recently, I decided to have a breast lift after losing weight and pregnancy. I’m very large on top but still decided to keep the girls the same size because well, they are mine, and I’ve accepted them. I wasn’t sure if I would like myself smaller. Anyhoo, she told me flat out that I should chop them off because they looked horrible on me. Then proceeded to tell me that they’d just grow back anyways!

    It’s no wonder I’ve had body issues, been nearly anorexic, and an exercise-aholic in my past. It’s a constant battle with my husband too who is not vocal about how I look. In fact, on occasion he’s told me things he doesn’t like about my body rather than like. I envy all you ladies who have husbands who tell you they love your body no matter what. It’s pretty sad, when I threatened him he had to tell me I looked good on our wedding day, or he’d see my backside walking the wrong way down the aisle! I mean, he’s a good guy otherwise and his issues also problem stem from how he grew up.

    I think, at 41, I’ve sort of reached a point in my life where I’m happy with myself though. No doubt more praise from my hubby would be appreciated but there are certain things that one has to accept. And I’ve more or less accepted my own shape and his lack of praise. In fact, this morning in the mirror as I looked at myself, I smiled and thought I looked good πŸ™‚

    Great post Sal!

    • Mel

      Kim,

      Your post made me so sad! Usually, when an older person is mean like Grandma, it’s likely that they were once a mean *young* person as well! I’m really glad that you feel good about yourself and you hold your head high!

      A couple more gems from the past: My ex-husband (I divorced him in 2003 – yea!!) used to make oinking and barfing sounds in the next room if he knew I was changing clothes – this was when I was in my 30s and a size 6. I started dressing in the bathroom, with the door locked, crying and thinking I was disgusting looking. He was so fat-phobic that he tried to get me into meth in order to stay as thin as he wanted me to be (funny how I married my critical father, huh?)

      Now I’m happy to say that I’ve been with a loving, supportive partner for 7 1/2 years, who loves me for who I am on the inside as well as the outside!

      I heard recently, through the family grapevine, that my dad “has a hard time looking at me because I am so heavy.” At a healthy size 10/12! Nice. I could say PLENTY of mean, snarky things about those who’ve said them to me, but I wouldn’t dream of it, because that’s not who I am.

      Hugs out to all you lovely ladies who’ve shared your stories!

  • I don’t often get comments about my body, at all. Positive or negative. What I have always gotten, however, are comments that compare me to others, and essentially render unimportant my own opinions about myself. I am constantly told that I am “tiny”, or “wee” or whatever, which is fine, in and of itself (though to be honest, I have NEVER thought of myself as small. I am, in my own perspective, perfectly normal and average, and I’m not super fond of such diminutive words used to describe me). However, when I’m talking to someone about style, or clothes, or body image, any potentially negative thought I have is immediately (and often aggressively and angrily) disregarded, because I’m “so small”.

    I know this is a somewhat different example of what we’re talking about here, but there’s a very real sense that if these people thought about what they were saying, they might realize that those words devalue my own sense of self esteem. I’m not given the independence to have my own ideas about myself, and if I do they are invalid because of my size. Which is effing ridiculous.

    *Sorry for the mini-rant. These kinds of posts are just so interesting, and it’s amazingly eye-opening to see how many people can identify with this kind of thing.

    • Anonymous

      I understand this one! I’ve always been small (& short). After quitting smoking several years ago, I gained weight. To most people it probably didn’t seem like much but on my small frame it was a lot and I felt horrible. When my husband mentioned something about it to his sister (who was obese), her response was something along the lines of, “I guess I’ll start saving my clothes for you.” Just because I wasn’t her size, she made it seem like I didn’t have any right to feel the way I did. I know she didn’t mean it to be hurtful, but it really was.

    • Ten

      I try to be understanding of the fact that other people’s bodies are their bodies and they are obviously going to have parts that they may not like. I will be honest and say it pisses me off sometimes when a thin girl starts complaining about her body – usually specific parts like saying she has a big butt or big thighs, when I’m huge all over. I keep it to myself, though.

  • RebeccaM

    I’ve struggled with weight most of my life, but have usually managed to keep up the confidence by being succeeding in other areas. However, two comments from my parents still stick with me today: from my mom, who always prided herself on her great legs, saw me in shorts and sighed, “Oh, I see you have your father’s legs.” And then from Dad, late high school or early college, noted how funny I was and then commented, “If you lose some weight, the boys will come running.” My parents have been supportive in every other way, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget those remarks.

    On a brighter note, my friends have made up for the little digs by constantly telling me how gorgous I am (even at 5′ 6 and 190 lbs.). A few of the best came from a male (and straight!) friend: “With a body like yours, you’re going to have no trouble finding a date.” And, even though it was hilariously naughty, it made me feel beyond sexy: “It’s a good thing we didn’t know each other in college; we would have had sex ALL the time.”

  • Beth

    I still remember my best friend’s boyfriend in HS telling my that the hair on my arms was so long you could braid it. Ugh, it hurt my feelings SO much, and he was nobody’s idea of gorgeous, believe me! I don’t do anything with my arm hair now, but it has always bothered me. I also recall a time in HS that my mom patted my tummy and said “Boy, I guess those situps your track coach makes you do are really working, your tummy is much flatter!” My parents were constantly on and off of weight loss programs, up and down like yo yos. Actually, to this day they are, and they are in their 60s. “Good” and “bad” foods, “blowing your diet” and “have to get back on program” were always heard in my house. My brother was the one who ended up with bulimia. Have to watch out for those negative messages around boys, too.

  • B

    A guy I was dating in college told me “You’d be really pretty if you got a nose job.” I didn’t date him much longer.

  • Kate K

    I’m 5’10”, close to 200 pounds and every part of me is curvy. I have a large chest and large hips and large thighs and a tummy. I also have a lovely little curve to my waist. I have big lips and a big smile and a big huge voice and laugh and big feet and big hands that I use to make grand gestures as I’m explaining something. I take up a lot of space.

    When I was 20, a male friend in college told me that with my curvy body and my features and personality, I reminded him of a classic Hollywood beauty. When I was 24, a male friend in grad school told me, in response to me saying I was a vegetarian, “But you’re so…. substantial.” These were not men that I was intimately involved with and I haven’t had contact with them in years and yet, I still carry these comments with me whenever I go. On good days, I look in the mirror and see a classic beauty. On bad days, I look in the mirror and I’m shocked at how *much* space I take up in the world and how guilty I feel about that fact.

    One of my favorite musicians, Patty Griffin, wrote a song with the lyric “how hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead?” and it’s worth wondering.

    • Sal

      Kate, I LOVE “Long Ride Home.” My band used to cover it. And that line is so poignant and SO true.

      • Kate K

        Awesome! Patty is just fantastic–she can do no wrong!

  • Grace

    When I was twelve, my youth group went on a fall retreat. We were all gathered around a huge bonfire when my friend said, “Hey, that guy is staring at you.” Before I could even take that in and be happy/surprised/creeped/anything, another girl said, “Well, yeah he is, her boobs are HUGE.” I was so hurt and angry. My friend’s quick reassurance that it was because I was pretty did nothing. I had never even thought that there was something “wrong” with me other than my height, which I hated (I was and am six feet tall), so my already poor posture worsened and I hid inside my clothes. I’m better now, but that comment still stings.

  • My friend was telling me yesterday that she , at 12, asked her mom what obese was and her mom answered ‘you’…. and that has stuck with her since then. the cruelty of that makes me want to cry for here…

  • Christina

    It’s amazing how one flippant comment can shape how we view ourselves forever. When I was about twelve I was completely ignorant about how much attention people paid to physical appearances. I was chubby and unstylish and couldn’t have cared less until that Christmas when the whole family got together. I have two female cousins on that side of the family and my grandmother asked, “If Cousin A is the smart one and Cousin B is the pretty one, what are you?” So, not only did I learn that appearances matter to the people that are supposed to love me but also that I didn’t have what it takes. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve come to understand that my grandmother was simply not a nice person who said mean things to hurt people for her own amusement. Looking at the many people that I know, I’ve learned that a person can be smart and pretty and funny and kind, etc. I wasted a lot of time concentrating on what I wasn’t instead of what I was.

    I’m definitely careful about what I say to other people. I’ve also made a point to give lots of compliments.

    Thanks for the post, this is clearly something that many people have dealt with.

  • when my first boyfriend and first love, [I was 17] broke up with me because I had “let myself go” when I had gained weight (~10 lbs) and he was no longer attracted to me. I don’t think it was careless on his part though, I think he meant every bit of it and knew where to hit me where it hurt. I was devastated.

    • I have so many, from my well meaning (and generally wonderful) Dad mentioning stretch lines on my legs one summer in high school (I was 137lbs and 5’8″, btw, and though we didn’t know it, was developing lymphedema) to kids in middle school calling me thunder thighs (evil children. Can’t we just skip middle school, it’s when so much of the damage to our psyches happens and it takes up until our thirties and beyond to recover from the idiot comments made during that fragile time.)

      If you don’t know about lymphedema, your body doesn’t properly move around the lymphatic fluid in your system, and you retain a LOT of water. Like, a LOT lot. When we first started the treatments (which include binding the legs up in bandages firmly to make them work better) we got over three liters of fluid out of my CALVES. SO you can imagine the rest of me… I still am the same height as high school, but now weigh close to three- 3!!!– hundred pounds. I hate it, and there is no magic pill to use, no exercise I can do to diminish it, no diet that will work. I just get to be bound with bandages like a mummy. Thankfully, I’ve graduated to expensive spandex bodysuits under my clothes now. We call them my supersuits. They make it so I can walk.

      But the point is this:

      It still makes me uncomfortable that my husband thinks I am gorgeous. Drop down, flat out gorgeous. This is NOT a problem, right? To be sexy to my husband of fourteen years, who is bluntly honest in everything else he says, and basically is hardwired to find it impossible to lie (think aspberger’s spectrum) and yet every time he caresses me and tells me how incredibly hot I am, I have a little voice in the back of my head that says I am hideous and disgusting and how in the world could he think that I am beautiful? I see myself in the mirror, and remember how I thought myself fat when I weighted less than 150lbs, and realize that I will not in this life ever see that side of 200 again… and I just have SO much trouble believing him that I could possibly be desireable. but it must be true for him. He really does love and find me extremely sexy, and I doubt it’s because he has some perversion. He loved me little when we married, he’s loved me while sick and sicker, and he still loves me, though he doesn’t like a lot of things about how I can move, my pain level, etc. yet he thinks I am beautiful. ANd yet I cannot psychologically believe him. And that’s my problem, not his.

  • Su

    In 10th grade, I was super shy, and insecure. ne day as I was leaving English class, my teacher remarked that she loved seeing me everyday, because I looked like a princess. It was honestly the first time I ever thought of myself as anything but ugly. I’ll never forget taht teacher as long as I live. I owe her a lot.

  • Kate

    During my Sr. year of high school I went on a Sr. Trip with 6 girl friends to Mexico. When we arrived, we ran to our rooms to change into bathing suits and hit the beach. Upon seeing me in my suit, a friend said, “wow! I had no idea you were so thin.” This was the days of wearing oversized flannel shirts and thrifted jeans from the men’s section, but all I could hear was that she thought I was fat before I took off my clothes. And that everyone else probably did too.

  • In my tweens I went to a fancy department store with a family friend. Two girls coming out of an elevator saw me and called me a poindexter. Decades later, every time I go to that store I feel a bit of irrational terror that I will run into those girls.

  • i’ve definitely been more mindful of what i say about others’ appearance since i started reading your blog – and i already thought i was fairly sensitive about it, but it’s been more of a “why not?” questioning of the rules of what some people should or shouldn’t wear (based on age, size, gender, whatever). so while i don’t necessarily want someone else correcting or reprimanding what i say, a shift in perspective has definitely caused me to think and speak differently. it’s not so much hyper-cautiousness – it’s becoming pretty natural!

  • Jen

    My mom’s boyfriend used to call me Moo Moo and Broomhilda. I think it started around age 8 or so and continued until he died when I was a teenager. My self esteem plummeted to nothing. Add that to worsening social phobia and I spent quite a few years as a loner. It was so bad that when I met my husband and he asked me out I thought for sure he was joking because I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to find me attractive. My self esteem took off that year and people who hadn’t seen me in awhile were shocked at the change.

    I am very careful what I say to my kids as a result but it’s a hard line to figure out.

  • T.

    I went through a chubby period in early adolescence. When I was 10, a friend and I went for a walk, and stopped to chat with an adult male neighbor. He said “Here they are, the fat one and the skinny one.” I was completely shocked. I knew I was a little heavy, but I was so shocked that an adult would point that out. UGH.

    Now I have a 10 year old girl of my own. She is tall and thin (“model” figure), and judging by her father’s side of the family, she probably always will be. I try not to draw attention to this, but my mother, who is short and tends to be heavy, always tells my daughter how “lucky” she is to be “so tall and skinny.” She thinks she’s complimenting her, but having anything about her shape or size pointed out makes me uncomfortable, even when it’s supposed to be positive.

  • Claire

    “Can you recall a single exchange, phrase, or incident that changed how you saw your body for the worse? For the better? Does it aggravate you to mind your p’s and q’s so closely? Do you think it’s worthwhile to do so, regardless?”

    Sal, this post brings up so many ruminations I feel I could write a book, so I reposted your questions help me condense and stay on point πŸ™‚

    On how I saw my body: I could name numerous specifics, but suffice to say I did get some pretty ugly teasing and bullying at school. I also had friends and family whose feedback was either neutral or positive. These things were likely foundational for my strongly developed self-esteem and self-identity: I had different messages that had to be processed, and internal room to wrestle with and tame the feelings inside. This helped me to become more comfortable in my own whole person, whether the external messages were negative or positive.

    On minding p’s and q’s being worthwhile: An incident that surfaces for me is a birthday party I had when I was around 11. Everyone was gathered around the picnic table and I was opening presents. After the party was over, my grandma commented on how every time I opened a present, I would take my time, look the giver in the eye and give them a very specific compliment, regardless of the gift. It was something I did instinctively, and it made me consider the significance words can have when interacting with others. It definitely carried over into how I speak to people (and myself) about their bodies. I still strongly believe it is very worthwhile to respect words in that way. However…

    As adults, our maturity and experience contain tremendous power. We can grow and toughen and gain perspective. We can take responsibility for our own feelings and reactions when it come to the words of others in order to find serenity and equity. When we are children we are so vulnerable and I think that’s why careless words (especially by parents) are so very hurtful. As we grow and learn, we have the capacity to transcend words, positive or negative. To me, thoughtless comments don’t look nearly as powerful when stood next to the struggles of people who have no food and are dying of diseases I was immunized for as a child. This is one way I work to remove power from things in my life that don’t truly deserve it.

    On the one hand, of course words are powerful and worth minding, as are the feelings they evoke in us. Words are a powerful tool, especially for vulnerable and damaged minds, and especially children. On the other hand, as adults there is a constant capacity to grow and evolve and realize that a lot of words in the world are empty and irrelevent. Our mind is a more powerful tool; it can control words and their impact if we work diligently to harness it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe we are tougher than words. πŸ™‚

  • Ana

    I have a small bunny πŸ™‚

    I use to say that there are two way of asking about her…

    “How is she?” and “Is she still alive?”

    They get the same answer, but it’s a whole different way to say it…

    Thanks Sal πŸ™‚

  • 12 years old – my Dad’s friend commented on my pot belly, and that I was getting a little chubby.

    It was the first time I realized I wasn’t “skinny”. After that I always thought of myself as chubby and had serious body issues. I’ve never had anyone else say anything about my body, except that one time. But it affected me terribly. I was on a “diet” from 15 onward.

    Now I’m 30 and working hard to have good body image. Looking back, I’ve always been quite slim, it just took me years to realize it.Over the years I’ve had many comments in regards to my weight such as “you’ll never have anything to worry about” “why on earth would you diet? you’re tiny”. I’ve always had positive comments about my looks also. But all I saw for the last couple of decades was the pot belly my Dad’s friend commented on.

    Its a work in progress, but blogs like yours Sal have helped me incredibly. Now when women say things like “I’m so fat. I look fat” – I try to change the subject (if the person is a repeat offender!) or try to say something upbuilding. I decided a couple of years ago I don’t want to spend my 30’s and 40’s and so-on with bad body image. But to be happy with myself. My weight isn’t who I am. I’m not a number on the scale. And I don’t want to let that number determine my mood for the day. So these days – I rarely if ever weigh myself, and go by how my jeans feel. I try to be upbuilding to other women, and to infuse myself with positive thoughts. I’ve worked hard at being fit – and I if I have a day where I’m feeling a little down on myself I think “Michelle, you’re fitter now than you’ve ever been!” I know what kind of woman I want to be in the next decade. I don’t want to be obsessed with my “pot belly”. I want to be obsessed with being a good/nice person. Be obsessed with hobbies and my friends and family relationships. What I can give to people.

    If only people knew the power of mean-spirited words. My Dad’s friend didn’t mean to be mean to me. But what he said had a major impact on my life. It wasn’t his “fault”, but it definitely sent me into a downhill spiral in terms of body image.

  • Tab

    You ladies made me tear up! I’m absolutely heartbroken over these posts.

    My dad always made fun of me (and still does) for having a small chest, and small bum despite my hourglass figure. I carry my weight like men tend to and not women so that never helped either. I remember girls at church telling me “You might be pretty if you wore makeup.” I remember guys in middle school that didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t hungry (and I really wasn’t! I had just eaten.) and that I must have been 200lbs and I was soo heavy. I stopped eating lunch at school and would go home and binge from hunger because I didn’t usually eat breakfast either.

    I remember my dad telling me I need to lose weight, my dad is quite a bit overweight himself so it made me angry. I remember so many other things that happened since middle school, like being asked for 2 years in HS if I was pregnant. I now work with 8th grade girls and I want to make sure each of them knows how beautiful they are.

    For prom, I never got the dress of my dreams, because they wouldn’t fit. Any girl over a very small size large had that happen to them. Shopping for dresses was horrible. My date was my best friend and when he and my dad saw me all dolled up for the first time ever, they laughed. Later I found out my dad thought I looked great but didn’t know how to cope with it. I was home before 10 p.m., before we went home we went to dairy queen to get ice cream and a woman inside took one look at me and told me I looked absolutely beautiful and I almost cried I was so happy. I’ve lost some weight since those days, and my body redistributed it so I’ve got a great figure and for the first time since I can remember I’m a size 12, but gaining weight scares me to death even though I think plus size women are gorgeous. I enjoy my body, mostly, until I try to shop with friends and go into stores that don’t cater to ladies my size. And my man is well meaning but when he tells me he prefers me to skinny girls he just reminds me I’m not thin.

    I am really encouraged now though to have a shopping outing or slumber party with my girls, and to build them up while we’re there.

    • Katy

      “And my man is well meaning but when he tells me he prefers me to skinny girls he just reminds me I’m not thin.”

      This. My significant other is always telling me that I might not be conventionally beautiful and that most men wouldn’t bother looking twice at me, but he thinks I’m gorgeous nonetheless. I know he means well, but all I hear is “no one -except for me- finds you good-looking”.
      While I appreciate that he tries to pay me a compliment, it always leaves me feeling very unattractive for days at a time.

      • Tab

        I completely understand because he’s not the first guy who’s done that to me. I had an ex tell me I was a “plain” kind of pretty.

        And you know it’s not just about what people say, it’s what they don’t say too. I sat in a car with a couple of my guy friends one day and they were talking about the other girls on our team and how beautiful they were. I was already feeling like a bit of an outcast and that made it worse. I was just quiet, and I think my friend realized it bothered me so he threw out a compliment. At that point I felt like it was just a pity thing. It wasn’t until a year or two later when the same compliment was echoed by someone different that I began believing it.

      • Katy and T- that is horrible. You need to talk to your men. I know mine is somewhat negative in speaking… thankfully not about my weight or I would probably be even more damaged than I am, but about other things. He doens’t always understand when I explain to him the difference between saying “you are beautiful …to me.” and “you are so beautiful.” It’s the difference like saying”I don’t care what everybody else says, I still think you’re pretty.” (slap) or “I love you… but…” etc. Love doesn’t come with a backhanded compliment. And men are so undereducated about the ways their ladies get both the denotation and connotation of their words. Talk to them . If they’re keepers, they will at least try to figure out different ways to say things.

  • stephani

    I agree with what someone said about it being the people we’re closest to, or who should love us the most unconditionally, that can have the biggest negative or positive impact on how we see ourselves. I got whacked from both sides by my family on a regular basis. On the one hand, my mother and grandmother always praised my figure for being so “proportional”–but on the other hand I distinctly remember doing laundry with my mom one day and her catching a glimpse of me from a particular angle and saying something like “Oh my god, is that your belly!?” She’s pear-shaped and I’m more of an hourglass, so she’s always indicated she’s envious of my fuller cups, but I also remember in 5th or 6th grade–I developed early–my grandfather asking if the kids called me “Dolly.” At dinner no less.
    Or the time my grandma hugged me around the waist and said it felt like I was getting a little fatter in that area–luckily I was involved in a relationship at the time that made me feel frickin’ amazing about my body and I promptly said “Well, somebody likes it.” She had no idea what to say. Score for me!
    The problem is partly that family thinks it has the right to make such personal and potentially harmful comments, thinking they’re helpful (pointing out something you had no idea was a problem). If I ever told my mother or my grandmother the parts they played in my body shame growing up, it would probably break their hearts–and frankly I have no desire to cause them that kind of hurt, because despite these kinds of comments and other less-than-positive comments throughout my life, they have largely been supportive of me. I guess that’s the difference.
    But they also helped me develop a very sturdy shield and defense mechanism that works by my not giving a damn anymore what anyone thinks of me–positive (although it’s always nice), or negative. About anything. Because even the people you love and who should love you most unconditionally can’t be trusted not to hurt you sometimes. Sad.

  • Anonymous for this

    My mom used to ask me frequently whether I had on a bra or not. Cue to years of hunching over and large clothing.

    Once when we were thrifting, she complimented a skirt I was trying on, adding that I would need to wear a shirt that covered my pooch. I admit my response to that was to yell at her–“Don’t you think I KNOW that? Do you have to point it out? Don’t you know I’ve been self-conscious about this for YEARS??” So, yes, on the do they think you don’t have a mirror?

    My now-husband and I still laugh at his suggestion when we were just friends and hanging out that, “Maybe you could get more dates if you shaved your toes.” Heh.

  • I have certain comments I cherish.

    Once, after church in high school, I was running to meet a male friend and didn’t bother to change. I pulled into his driveway. He took one look at me and said, “Wow! You look BEAUTIFUL in a white dress and sunglasses.” I felt instantly glamorous and gorgeous, something in short supply in high school.

    Once, a friend of my boyfriend’s saw me and said, “That color is very becoming on you.” I snapped back, insecure, trying to be the funny girl, “Becoming what?” He laughed, and said, “Becoming prettier and prettier all the time. Like you.”

    Once, I was in bed with a guy, and he was staring at my body with a look of… what shall I say? Delighted awe. “You put the lush in luscious,” he said.

    Thinking of these things makes it a lot easier to forget anything negative anyone has ever said to me!

    • Michelle

      I love your comment πŸ™‚

      • me too! I need a tshirt that says “I put the Lush in Luscious.” Or a sign. Or… both!!!!

  • Velma

    I am 5’9″ and have a naturally slim build (and very little up on top!). I was and am very active and athletic, and didn’t get my period until 16.

    When I was 12, we moved to a new school district. I was 5’8″ and 104 pounds, I remember, with a pixie hair cut. My (real) name is exclusively a woman’s name–no chance of a mistake–but when I introduced myself to the class, the teacher said: “[My name]?? Is that a little boy’s name, or a little girl’s name?”

    She was clearly absolutely convinced that I was a boy, despite my name. The entire class howled. It was a horrible first day, and I got into a lot of trouble that year in school–for the first time in my life–when I had been a model student to that point.

    In college, I was once addressed as “sir” WHILE WEARING A BIKINI. I am straight, but I am often mistaken for a lesbian. Lots of gender issues and issues about being a “real woman” (how I hate that phrase!), and “Is that a little boy’s name” was the first inkling of it . . .

  • cm

    The stories in the comments of this post are touching and inspiring. Often, it seems like a blogger is the person who unlatches the door to a flood of incredible stories, thoughts and opinions.

    I try to focus on the good, not the bad. There are many, many hurtful comments about my appearance in the past, but these days I like to focus on the kind, positive comments.

    I spent many years feeling bitter and angry about the things people said to me and the fact that after a time, those comments reinforced a pattern of extreme disordered eating for several years. But (after taking a deep breath) I can accept that those people were only lashing out as a result of their own insecurity.

    My wonderful fiance has done a fabulous job of making me feel great, no matter what. The past five years have been a true blessing for my body image, thanks to him. I’ve found that his loving comments have (over time) lessened the sting of the comments in my past.

  • Cathy

    I can think of a few things.

    As a developing tween I remember a family friend said that I shouldn’t feel embarassed and keep my back straight and stand proud. I was actually confused at the time, but after some processing and figuring out she meant I shouldn’t hide my breasts with bad posture, it was a good comment for me.

    My mom has given me a few backhanded compliments about me dressing well for my figure or size, but nothing intentionally hurtful. The only one that stuck was when I was 20 or so. She patted my high hip/bum area saying “if you could just lose that…”. Sewing for myself has removed the sting. I realized my hips are actually not disproportionately large, I’m not pear shaped, I’m just short. The darts aren’t in the right place, my torso isn’t as long as the figure they are making clothing for so the darts are too long.

    So much of it is in our own heads and how we interpret these words.

  • Katie

    A boy in my PE class defended me once in 8th grade — we’d been divided into teams, and some boys on my team were commiserating when I was selected (I was twiggy and not very athletic then). Andrew said, “Hey, at least she tries” — which instantly inflated my self esteem, and I remember it to this day. It has nothing to do with body image, and everything to do with *action* image; that if you do your best and are always trying to get better, you’ll always be more valued than someone who is capable but apathetic. I totally scored from the 3pt line that day, too. πŸ™‚

    • Sal

      LOVE that, Katie. And the idea of “action image.” I’m putting that in my back pocket for later.

  • I don’t remember specific things that were ever said to me in my childhood, there must have been something other than the taunts of kids at school because i did wear a heavy jacket or woolen jumper throughout 104F summers because i was to embarrassed to be seen without a jumper in the school polo shirts. I also remember that i would always conveniently ‘forget’ my sports uniform because i couldn’t bear the thought of wearing the uniform shorts that sat above my knees. I wore jumpers and baggy shirts and long pants through university until last year when i decided that i was living in a new country and nobody i cared about would hold it against me that they had to see my arms and legs (i am my own worst enemy with self deprecating jokes).
    I guy recently told me i could be really pretty and pixie faced if i lost about 40 pounds, you can try and dismiss it as something as flippant and meaningless but it’s hard to get them out of your head.

    • Elizabeth

      I feel like we need a comeback for these “You’d be really pretty if you lost weight” comments.

      What about:
      – And you’d be downright attractive if you weren’t so judgmental.
      – You’d be a better friend if you stopped saying shit like that.

      Or
      – Luckily I’m not striving to live to your strangely specific ideal.

      Or
      – I can’t imagine why I’d want to do that. Then I’d get hit on by superficial creeps like you.

      • Sal

        YES. These attacks can leave us feeling so helpless and tongue tied. These are stellar comebacks.

      • JRose

        Elizabeth, you’re awesome. I will remember these.

  • Anonymous this time

    I’m ashamed even to put my name on this comment, because the first thing that comes to mind is a time that I did this to someone.

    My sister and her friend traded swimsuits one day, and I said to the friend “Oh, thank you for not looking as good as she does in that!”

    What I meant was that it was interesting to see how differently real people were shaped, and how it helped me to realize that every other girl in the world but me didn’t look just like my stick-thin sister – the only girl I usually had to compare myself to, and I never measured up. And the friend really did look cute – just different. But that’s not how it came out.

    I think I scarred that poor girl for life, and I’ve never stopped being sorry.

  • I remember getting upset about being called flat-chested by a boy in Jr. High. I guess I showed him.

    • I wanted to add that I was upset because I was young and insecure at the time, not because I feel one body type is preferable to another.

  • Trish

    Great post Sal!
    There is this guy I have had a crush on for so long and who I sometimes ride the bus home with after class. Last December he asked me what my best friend is taking because her hips were so big and beautiful that he couldn’t concentrate in class. He then proceeded to tell me to ask her for some tips so that my hips can become bigger because that’s what guys like. I’m very slightly pear-shaped, actually almost straight. The way he said it and all that he said after made it clear that he doesn’t find me attractive, the guys in my class don’t as well and he thinks that generally men will not find me attractive until I get bigger boobs and hips.
    That smarts right in the tush.

    • Cathy

      I realized somewhere in my mid-late 20’s that I don’t agree with all of my friends on who is hot. I like geeky guys, Steve Carell is way more my kind of guy than Brad Pitt. I would have loved to be Agent 99 to Don Adams 86 in Get Smart. I am not a fan of the overly-confident-just-a-little-too-slick kind of guys that some of my friends like.

      If I have different preferences in men, would it not make sense that they do too? There is not one standard of attractive, that fellow in your class may like her hips, but I really doubt that all the men would agree. Reading through the comments, it seems that many people put this single hurtful definition of beauty (i.e. “she’s the smart one and she’s the pretty one” from a grandmother), and I just don’t believe it.

      It’s kind of sad that people can’t see that others do not see the world (and hips) the way they do.

  • JB

    One of the worst for me was at a doctor’s office, of all places. I had gone for my annual gyn appointment, and when I checked in the receptionist asked me if I was still getting periods. I was in my mid-30s at the time. I realize now that they probably ask everyone this as a matter of course, but at the time all I could think was that I must look 20 years older than I really am if they think that I might have gone through menopause already! (Needless to say, I see a different doctor now.)

  • nsv

    Last night my kindergartener said, “Mommy, your legs are so big and fat!” I said, “Yes, they are!” because it’s true. He then said, “Those big legs make it hard to run.” I said “Yes, that’s true,” because it is, although indirectly [omit long medical story here], and added, “but I’m the world’s greatest swimmer!” A slight exaggeration, maybe. I felt really great when my older child chimed in, “Yes, Mommy is an AMAZING swimmer.”

    To me, this dialog was a real victory for all of us. Younger child just said the truth as he saw it, I acknowledged it, not necessarily as a negative, just the way it was, and also added something positive, all of it true. Older child was obviously looking out for my feelings, which makes me sniffle.

    I’m supersize, larger recently due to illness and stress, and it’s a struggle to come to terms with this new body. But if I can’t show my children and other people at least how to act as if it’s all acceptable, I’ll be failing as a mother and a human being. Fake it till you make it right? And always, always respect each other.

  • After reading all these I feel so lucky that I don’t really have any that stick out in my mind… I do remember when I was in art class in high school and we had to do self-portraits, a girl in my class saying my nose would be impossible to draw because it was the weirdest shaped nose ever… the thing is, I love my strange nose!

  • Eliza

    When I first started going through puberty, my female relations all started matchmaking for me- pointing out boys, telling me they thought this boy or that one was looking at me. I think it was a misguided attempt to make me excited about dating and boyfriends, but my body was ahead of my hormones, and I was mortified by their attention. It finally stopped when my mother pointed out to them that she already knew all of them thought I was lovable, so what was the big deal about a boy finding me attractive? That conversation was so important to my body image, because it relieved a lot of the pressure to look a certain way.

    As I was going to class (in college) a friend of a friend once shouted across the lawn “You look gorgeous, darling.” It still makes me smile, particularly since I always admired her style.

  • Kristin D

    When I was about 10, I came skipping into the living room, and my dad says “Let me put this bluntly: You’re Fat.”

    When I was 12 we travelled overseas. My brother and dad were hopping on an airport scale seeing how much they weighed. I got on and didn’t understand Kilos, so I said “Dad, how much do I weigh?”

    “Too Much,” was his reply.

    Those words stung so bad. I don’t think he even realized what he had just done to me. And years later at 14, he wonders why I struggled with an eating disorder. It’s pretty obvious to me. I was unlovable as a chubby child- that was the message he was sending to me. It took years to work through the issues, and I think at this point I am in a pretty healthy place. But I have been all over the map, and thinking about these two sentences above never fail to bring tears to my eyes.

    • i know

      Kristin D, I’m so sorry that you had to hear such hurtful comments from your dad. I wish more parents were mindful of what they were saying to their children.

  • SK

    I was wearing a 2 piece bathing suit and the 12 year old sister of my high school crush put her hands on my shoulders and exclaimed “you are chubby!” in front of all my friends.

  • Elizabeth

    My mother has said weird body-conscious things my whole life. Somehow, although I am aware I am overweight I have never gotten completely worked up over it. It may be because I didn’t really gain significant weight until my 30s, but I think it’s also because I had my wonderful father, who was much more interested in my mind and my heart.
    Only once did he ever say something hurtful about my appearance. I had bad teeth as a preteen. The stuck out straight out you like a jack-o-lantern. He used to call me snaggletooth. To him it was a term of affection. But I didn’t want to think my tooth was that noticeable. Later he made up for it when I had braces. He said “I love how you always have a broad smile – braces and all. Some kids make funny faces to hide their braces, but not you – and your smile is beautiful.”

    Man, I love my dad.

  • Oh, yes. My guy friend told me in high school: “Louise, you’re cute, but not amazing.” Whenever someone calls me cute, I still shudder a little bit. Ooh, I feel a blog post coming on!

  • lawdiva

    When I was a teen, my mom always insisted that I wear makeup because it made me look better. I was so tired of wearing makeup and decided to go to church completely bare faced. A woman at church looked at me and told me that I looked really beautiful. It made my day because it made me realize that you don’t have to be “all done up” to look good.

    After years of feeling awkward/gawky/ugly, I’m lucky that I have people who tell me that I’m beautiful or very pretty often. On the subway a few days ago, an older man tapped me on my shoulder and said, “I’m old enough to be your grandfather and I don’t mean any disrespect, but you are absolutely gorgeous. You should really consider modeling.” He was being sincere, not sketchy. Everyone on the train heard too and started smiling.

    I’m surprised by how much it made my day to hear that.

    • Elizabeth

      To this day I cannot have my photograph taken without wearing makeup. My mother has convinced me that I am too pale with small features and they will disappear. No joke. I can go into public without makeup but the minute someone pulls out a camera I immediately reach for the lipstick (and wish I’d worn mascara.)

  • Amy

    Eep, this post almost made me cry. My mom told me once she “didn’t think I was beautiful” when I was in high school, and what’s worse is that in was in the context of talking about how breathtakingly beautiful she thought one of my friends was. She then tried to explain that I’d be one of those girls who “boys liked for my personality, once they got to know me better.”

    I’ve had people say tons of nice things to me since then, but I’ve never forgotten it. I’m not sure whether my mother has or not, because I fear it would make me too angry to ever bring it up. I told my current boyfriend about it once and cried; it felt like a major confession.

    As for whether or not incidents like these have changed the way I talk to other people, they definitely have. In the same conversation with my boyfriend, I swore to him (and myself) that if I ever have kids, I’ll tell them they are beautiful every single day. It’s something that’s important to me.

  • anya

    Hey. It’s so sad how we are easily influenced by all nonsensical comments. My mom said too i had my dad’s longer but more muscular legs. She has supermodel thin legs, and they are still pretty , even when she gains weight. But I had a superiority complex, and thought myself always as a brain, so it didn’t matter. I actually liked and still like my legs, cause they allow me to bike-a lot( i’m a great biker) and ski and jump.
    One sad story though when my second cousin, aged 7 told me aged 6 that i should diet. I didn’t know the word, but she explained to me, fat people should stop eating too loose weight. It definitely affected my self-image, i wasn’t fat, I never was, but insecure? A lot. In HS I pretended I didn’t care, I let my mom to dress me ( she did a pretty good job, she’s a seamstress for a jon so she knows her ways, but i was still looking a little dated and out of my youth trend. Poor mum, she did try.), and I was solitary by choice, learning reading and generally being cynical. In college, that passed, I met good friends, and was beyond that. But once, a guy I hooked up with told me I was smart and funny and I’d be so much attractive in the classic sense if I’d lost some weight. And that changed me . I become more wary, and my need to be validated by other men grew. I like to thin I’m past that, but sometimes I find myself flirting with the strangers , for no purpose than seeing them interested. I dieted. I love my body. I don’t see flaws in the mirror. But I wonder, In my worst moments, am I pretty to others or is my prettiness an illusion?

  • *hugs for all* I am so, so sorry for all you ladies who had such cruel things said to you. Like the rest of you, I’ve had my fair share of body image struggles over the years caused by offhanded comments and teasing. I could go on an on, about both the positive and the negative, but I’ll try to be brief.

    Once,when I was in my early twenties, when I was sitting in Ruby Tuesday’s, eating a chicken sandwich, a total stranger asked me if I was “eating for two”. I am 5’2, and at the time I wore a size 12 (I’m down to a size 10 now). At first I was honestly stunned, which gave way to hurt. Then, a few years back, when I was teaching English as a Second Language to Mexican Migrant workers, one of my students told me that I was “a little bit fat, but that was okay, I was still beautiful*. I know he meant no harm, in fact, he thought he was giving me a compliment, but it stung, and still does now.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, a few summers ago, I was at the Sterling Renaissance Festival in Sterling, NY (a place I’ve been going my whole life). I bought a book from a vendor who makes all his books by hand, with the aid of a Renaissance era book press. I left the book at the shop to be picked up later. When I stopped by to pick up the book later that day, the owner wasn’t in the shop, but one of his assistants was. He saw me approach the shop, and before I could identify myself, the boy smiled and said “You must be Mistress Lynn” and went to the back to get my book for me. I asked him how he knew who I was, and he said “Stitch ( the shop owner) told me to watch for *a very attractive young woman in a dark green dress* πŸ™‚ *blush!!!!*

    I am also very blessed to have a loving and supportive boyfriend, who tells me I am beautiful every day. He makes me feel like a queen πŸ™‚

    As to being careful with my words, like may of you, it also burns my toast when people try to control what I say. I hate being policed. But I am a firm believer in the ideal that there are nice ways to say pretty much everything. One can be truthful and gentle at the same time…

    Great Post, Sal, thank you πŸ™‚

  • Having read through your post and the many comments I can only conclude how lightly I have got off…. As a now 26 year old I have always had a slim boyish, childish frame. I always get ID checked, which is embarrassing time after time πŸ™
    I have naturally red cheeks, which people delight in telling me, ‘oh it must be chilly outside, your cheeks are so rosy’, thanks, please just remind me of my bad skin again πŸ™
    But these seem very much small potatoes compared to the many heartbreaking stories I have read. I do try to let people know when they are looking good, its important to let them know. But equally I dislike being told I look good when i KNOW that I don’t, it defeats the whole point of compliments, you then don’t believe when others make comments. Great post Sally πŸ™‚

  • Overhearing my mum talking to a friend of hers (I was in Yr 9 and my sister in Yr 6) that my sister was the very intelligent beauty who was going to go far with Uni etc etc and that I was the ummm sporty one (and yes I could hear the question mark in her tone as she said it) It still annoys the cr*p out of me, and the fact that they still think of it like that, even though my sister had 2 goes at Yr 12 to get the high enough marks for her course at Uni and I aced Yr 12 (but there was no money for me to go to Uni as they were saving for my sister) except now due to ill health which has caused weight issues I am now nothing except being someone who supports my kids, an yes she says this to people, in front of me and in front of friends.
    She had created an idea in her head of what labels she attached to us as little kids and nothing that has happened since then has done anything to shift this label.

  • When I was in grade 9 a boy said that I was pear-shaped. This really really bothered me for a long time until I realized that I am pear-shaped and it’s a perfectly good shape because it’s mine! The best compliment was the first time someone told me that I know what works on my body shape and can pull anything off. It made me realize that I can be my own ideal and work with what I have in a way that is creative and is me…

    • Elizabeth

      Perhaps your pear shape would have been appreciated by the classmate of the poster above who told her she needed bigger hips. There’s always somebody who’s going to make you feel bad about your shape. The trick is finding the other ones who will make you feel beautiful.

  • 13 years old: My vain, insecure, appearance-obsessed mother forcibly enrolls me in Weight Watchers. This was back in the 80’s; I’m not sure children are permitted in the program today. In any case, after months of weighing and measuring food, and counting calories and fat grams, I lost about 20 pounds. The amount of positive attention I received from my family was hard to ignore. I went from mostly ignored to unabashedly admired, by both the cousins my own age and my adult relatives. I thus learned that my value was clearly determined based on my weight. It wasn’t long after that I developed anorexia, a disease I only achieved recovery over a year ago.

    We need to be so, so careful about the emphasis we place on appearance to those around us – but especially impressionable children and teenagers.

  • You have some of the most thoughtful posts about body image and self-acceptance, Sal. I always know coming here that I’m going to find something interesting to ponder over.

    For the worse: One of my closest friends in ninth grade told me I didn’t have the body to be a ballerina when I expressed interest in joining her afterschool class. I was crushed.
    For the better: One of my adult advisors in my scout group called me “a fireball” for taking on so much leadership in high school. I felt so confident.

    If only we were all more careful with how we talk to one another …

  • Jennifer S

    About 12-14 years ago, my grandmother told me that my uncle and his boys were talking about how I was “weird for being 25 and not having ever had a boyfriend”. I grew up a very shy kid and preferred the company of adults, which extended to my adult life and made it hard to find a date.

    As a now married woman to a sweet man who loves me no matter what (and I him), I realize that something was lost in the translation from my Polish grandmother who meant it to come out that they “thought it was weird that such a nice young woman didn’t have a boyfriend”. It’s a big difference in words, but I sort of held it against them for a few years when I thought they’d said the former.

    I’m almost 5’10’ and once in junior high was asked by one of the boys in my class if there was a flood coming. I was so proud of those dress pants until that moment. That was probably the moment I decided to learn to sew, so that I could have pants that fit my long legs and covered my ankles when I sit.

    • Sharon

      This is really comforting to read because I, too, have always been shy, preferring the company of adults to people my own age. Also, I’m 22 and have never had a boyfriend. It’s just nice to know that I’m not alone and it gets better.

      • Jennifer S

        I’m glad that I made someone feel “righter” about themselves. Especially after the week I’ve had. Really glad.

        It does get better Sharon, you do have to push yourself outside your boundaries a little sometimes, but it makes you a better person to do so. And one day, you’ll find yourself someone who makes you laugh, like my “zoo cougar” did the first time we met.

        Don’t let other people’s opinions on your singledom sway you from waiting for the right person to share your life with. I’m glad I found my husband when I did, but I would have been just as happy single. It made me the independent person I am, and apparently admired by many people younger than I – not many 23 year old women go out and buy a house by themselves these days. I made nearly $40K when I sold it.

  • Carolyn

    Yes, I remember when I hit puberty and my feet grew before the rest of me until they hit a US women’s size 9. I heard my dad call me big foot and still always feel like I have big ugly feet (especially since I live in Korea now and can’t even find my shoe size here). I remember my cousins used to call me bean pole when I was a teenager because I was thin and unshapely at a time when I wanted to look more like a curvy girl. I remember when I heard through the grapevine that a boy I liked thought I was flat chested. And, I remember my dad joking about me having “gumby arms” because they were so skinny, without muscles and gangly. Ugh. Thanks for the post. You’re right, we need to be more careful what we say. I’m sure all these people have no idea that one careless passing comment has stuck with me and even as a 31-year-old mother of 3, I still remember the shame I felt as I looked down at my body and thought, “they’re right.”

  • Jessica

    To everyone who wants to make their kids (or future kids) feel beautiful and at peace with how they look, this is what my parents did for me, and it worked:

    My parents taught me three big lessons related to beauty and body image. First, both parents taught me that character, morals, and actions are more important than what a person looks like.

    Then Dad gave me the idea of unconditional beauty. Dad saw me as beautiful no matter what I looked like, because he loved me. I read a Swedish proverb the other week that sums this idea up: “Everything is beautiful that is loved.” Simple concept, profound impact on a young girl’s self-image.

    Mom followed this idea up with the practical advice that although a person may be beautiful on the inside, they won’t look so nice on the outside, without a little effort. By effort, Mom meant basic hygiene, such as brushing your teeth and combing your hair, as well as wearing clothes that were clean, well-fitting, and appropriate to the occasion. The big thing was that while Mom affirmed that appearances did matter somewhat, she never pointed out a particular ideal of what a person should look like, other than “clean” (which is achievable by anyone), implying that there are many kinds of physical beauty– perhaps as many kinds as there are people.

  • Rachel W.

    One thing springs to mind: my grandmother randomly told me the summer I was 16 that I should be a model. This scrambled my little highschool brain– I knew I couldn’t even aspire to look like the popular-and-disdainful girls in my class, much less a model! Magazines, peers, TV all told me so, and what did an 80-year-old woman know about how girls these days should look? I’d had years of being told that I was awkward, weird, unstylish, too skinny, too fat, too bookish, and I believed these things fiercely.

    She meant it well, but her insistence was so contrary to everything I knew about my appearance that I started to hope I had potential, while at the same time fearing that people only ever thought charitably of my appearance out of love for me.

    Nowadays, I love to be complimented by strangers– their praise is worth more than that of friends and family, since they’re unbiased. I exasperate my wonderful husband with this a fair bit– “of course you think I’m beautiful! You’re in love with me!”

    Sigh.

  • Amy

    This is so timely! I saw this post this morning before going in to work. When I arrived, two of my coworkers said that they loved my outfit but that I could use a makeover by using makeup and getting contacts! I was so shocked, that I didn’t know what to say! I like my glasses and minimal makeup works for me! Any ideas?

    • Elizabeth

      Advice columnist Carolyn Hax often counsels people who are confronted by random rudeness to respond with a simple “Wow” and then walk away. Leaves the rude one to consider what they just said.

  • rb

    When I was in college, I shopped thrift stores because I was poor and on full scholarship. Most of the students there came from wealthy families and wore the 1980s fashions of the moment. So once, when I was wearing a wool sweater and skirt, tights and pumps, (all from around the 1960s) one of the wealthier students I assumed looked down on me commented, “You always dress so nicely.”

    Then I was able to look at myself through his eyes and realize that even though my clothes were from thrift shops – and this was back before thrifting became so hip – I chose good quality things and wore them in good combinations. The fact that I remember his words ~25 years later is a testament to how much they meant to me, and how much they changed my life.

  • Oh dear, do I remember…back in high school, when maxi skirts were super popular the last time around, I had a guy at church ask if I was pregnant. I was a 14-year-old that hadn’t even had her first kiss! Needless to say, to this day I’m still self-conscious about my normal (if not slim) tummy. Compliments definitely help lift my spirits up, though!

  • Rachel K

    I agree that policing what we say is frustrating at times, but when speaking about someone’s appearance it’s neccessary. I’m 5’4″ and 96 lbs and have been accused of anorexia my whole life – by mean people and well meaning people alike. Being anorexic is so far from the truth, you should see me put away food! My extended family is so rude and hurtful that I will not go to family fuctions anymore, even for Christmas. Just today my dear friend at work said to another co-worker that she’s worried about my weight b/c she never sees me eat – in front of me while I was standing at the microwave warming a huge bowl of beef stew for lunch. I was also dipping some banana pudding that another co-worker treated the office to today. I was so hurt and this is just one example of the comments that others feel they need to make about my body. I turned to her and held up my bowl asnd asked her how she could say such a thing when I’m obvoiusly eating a large portion. It’s none of her business that I usually go home for lunch but my husband needed my truck today (he rides a motorcycle most days, but the weather was bad). Its not her business that most of my 96 lbs is muscle b/c I work out 4 days a week. Or that I take atfer my mother who is only 110 lbs at 55 yrs old. I’ve always been and probably always will be very slim & thin, but I do not understand why anyone feels that it is ok to make these comment (much worse has been said, to my face and in my hearing). Alot of women think that it must br wonderful to be tiny and skinny, but people are just as mean to those of us that are very small as they are to larger women.

    There is not one definig comment that has deeply affected the way I view my body, its been a lifetime of them. But for the last eight years I’ve been married to a wonderful man who tells me almost daily how beautiful I am and how attractive he finds me, small-ish curves and all. I almost actually belive it myself!

  • Ivy

    Oh, wow. This has had me tearing up. The comments that stand out…a girl in high school seeing me wearing shorts and my vitiligo commenting that she’d never wear shorts if her skin was that ugly. I didn’t wear short skirts without tights or shorts after that until…well, I still don’t really. (But now it has more to do with living in the San Francisco area where it’s just not warm enough.) When I straightened my hair, people telling me how much better I looked and how I should do that all the time. Being told by a guy I worked with as a teenager that I should get breast implants.

    It’s hard to find things that made me feel the other way. My friends tell me I’m beautiful, but I always think they’re just saying it because they know I have issues with body image. But I will always remember one time at work. I had gotten changed for a work party, so I put on makeup and something a bit nicer (I work in a jeans and tee shirt kind of office) and I walked out of the bathroom and one of my coworkers was there and his jaw dropped and he was actually speechless. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone look at me like that before (or, sadly, since) and it really made me feel like someone could see something beautiful in me.

    • Bess

      I developed vitiligo in my 20s. It really, really bugs me that a lot of vitiligo support sites tell you to cover your spots, not for protection against the sun, but to make you more “comfortable”. At first, I hated it. Hated when people commented on it. Hated when people were surprised that I dared to display my spotted skin. Now, I don’t really give a damn if someone else has a problem. I refuse to give anyone that much power over my state of mind.

      You should wear shorts. Life is too short to limit yourself based on other people’s opinions.

  • saraspunza

    “You look like a Russian tractor in that dress.” At the time I was 5’10” and 135 pounds. I wear levis 501 that are a 30″ waist and 38″ inseam… It was a close fitting black and white print tank dress.

    • Tab

      Oh my word, can I go and slap that person please? I’m 5’10” and weigh 170 and I’m not huge by any means, which leads me to believe you are/were tiny. What a stupid comment.

      Oh and it would be just at any size, but that just makes me mad!

  • Sharon

    I’ve been fortunate to grow up feeling confident about my appearance. Due to Eastern European ancestry I’m pretty fair with dark thick hair. Thus, my greatest insecurity concerning how I look is my body hair. I remember thinking nothing of this until fourth grade when I wore shorts to school and two girls who tended to pick on me a lot pointed out how hairy I was and then asked me if I wanted to shave. This was also the year my mom introduced me to Jolene hair bleach.

    In seventh grade a boy said “you have a mustache” and “wow, you have hairy arms” to me on different occasions. I was never a bearded lady or anything, but these comments just confirmed that it was definitely noticeable. In eighth grade I started electrolysis treatments.

    It amazes me how insensitive people can be. In my case, I had to deal with classmates, but parents should know better. I’m sorry for those of you who had to deal with that.

    Sal–this is the first post I’ve commented on, though I’ve been a loyal reader for the past year or so. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your thought provoking posts and style tips!

    • sara

      Oh Sharon, I thought I was the only one! I use an epilator for my arms now and tweeze my upper lip (used bleach in high school).. but the comments the kids made in elementary school and in middle school were awful. Fortunately my mother kept me from having body image issues (told me not to shave, not to tweeze, not to bleach, that I was beautiful the way I was.. of course I ended up doing it anyway, but I know that my looks don’t define me). I don’t think of those comments too much now, but the hurt I felt, and how alone I felt when some kid told another boy that my mustache was bigger than his!

    • i know

      Similiar experience – 7th grade PE, wearing shorts, and a guy next to me said, “Wow, I didn’t know that women had such hairy legs!”

      Then, again in 11th grade, someone in class asked, “are Indians hairy?” and then another kid said, “well, why don’t you ask Jane (my name)?”. Ugh.

    • Allie

      I’ve always had a lot of hair and in elementary school it really embarrassed me if people mentioned it. My mom wouldn’t let me shave then, but in middle school I started shaving my arms. I remember while playing soccer, a popular girl mentioned to someone else how I shaved my arms and I was mortified. I stopped at once, but wore sweaters all the time to hide them. It wasn’t until high school that I grew comfortable enough with my hairy arms. Now if someone says, ‘Wow, you have really hairy arms,’ I’m proud of my ability to say, ‘Yeah, I do’ and truly feel fine about it.

      Oddly enough, I became comfortable with my hairy arms my noticing that some of my favorite actresses had hairy arms. I think they dyed theirs blonde (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyssa Milano) but it made me feel way better about my arms. If they had the same thing and still kicked ass, then there was nothing for me to feel ashamed about.

  • JRose

    Sorry for slightly unrelated post–this is what I was thinking as I read these wrenching stories. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” It means that everyone sees beauty differently, right? Yes. But it also means that the less beauty you have in your eyes or in your “vision”, the less beauty you will see around you. Do you know what I mean? People with narrow standards and narrow vision see ugliness in others, or people with wounded vision see ugliness in themselves.
    But I have a secret for you. A secret meant to be shared.
    Girls are pretty.
    Seriously. I’m an artist, and I see beauty–it’s what I do. I’ve never met an ugly girl. We’re beautiful–we’re meant to be that way.

    • stephani

      I see what you’re getting at, and I agree. I’ve always thought that people with such narrow views of beauty and attractiveness are severely limited by them. It means they have very little ability to appreciate or even recognize beauty in its infinite aspects. A tiny flaw in something they would otherwise consider beautiful completely ruins the beauty of the person or object for them, but flaws are beautiful too, because they make a person or an object unique. So why should ugly, shallow comments from people like this be allowed any influence over how we feel about ourselves? They couldn’t see beauty if it walked up and introduced itself.

    • sara

      love this!

  • Hannah

    When I was little, 7 or 8-ish maybe, a few comments were made which made me realize I wasn’t little like some of the “pretty” girls. When I was playing house with 2 girls and 2 boys the boys “didn’t want me to sit on their laps because you are the biggest”. Then in a church musical some of the older boys had to lift us younger girls off of some hay bales (country theme) and swing us to the ground. A high school boy muttered “Definitely not her” and picked the smaller girl next to me.

    Comments like these made me shy and very aware of how people react to what others say. Good and bad?

    I was also blessed with a dad who told me I was beautiful from as early as I can remember. He always looked at me so deeply when he said it that I knew it was true. And I was blessed with a mom who never once said something negative about her looks so was a perfect example.

    Positive comments include the ones above and perfect strangers who say things like “Wow. You’re eyes are so blue. Are they your natural color?” like my eyes are so unique that they could not possibly be normal eyes.

    Such a good topic.

  • Anonymous

    You ladies have inspired me to start a new new year’s resolution– to give at least one compliment a day. As all of your stories have proven, one simple compliment can make a world of difference. A recent comment that sticks in my mind: I was walking home one day and a complete stranger came up to me and said “I just wanted to tell you that you have the most beautiful hair I have ever seen.” I think I walked the rest of the way with a little spring in my step. I recently chopped off about nine inches of my hair and got a very short, stylized haircut. I am loving hearing the (good) gasps I get when people see my new hair.

  • Katrin

    Ninth grade science class. The boy who was my lab-partner that day smiled at me and said “Hi, Humpty Dumpty.” I stared at him incredulously and he graciously explained. “You know, you’re shaped like Humpty Dumpty. Like an egg with legs.” And then he just blithely lit the bunsen burner and proceeded with our lab experiment.

    Meanwhile I’ve spent the next 30-some years acutely aware that if I don’t carefully disguise my shape, everyone who sees me will know that I am actually a big flat-chested egg with a huge belly, sitting in a pants-bowl atop a pair of comically long spindly legs.

    Never mind that I’m not remotely flat-chested anymore, or that I do have a defined waistline, and my hips are proportional to the rest of me. I don’t even know when these things happened, because I was working so hard at concealing my shameful misshapen figure from onlookers lest it offend them with its wrongness.

    I saw the boy at a school reunion a few years ago, and he had the nerve to say hello to me as if nothing had ever happened. I hope I was at least polite to his face, but all I could think was How dare you try to be nice to me? Do you not remember how you scarred me?

    • Ida

      I have very thick legs and a flat chest and I have to say when I see a girl with an “apple” shaped body I’m at least a little envious.

  • marie

    Summer before Grade 8. Tennis courts, Montreal, circa 1980… a boy my age: “I will NEVER got out with you! You’re a _grosse torche_!” Translate: Torche is horrible, despicable insult in French Canadian directed at women, and means ugly, fat and dirty all at once. So not only was I a torche, I was supposed to be a fat one too. Even the sound the word makes when pronounced is hideous.
    What did I do to earn this? All I retained was ” fat”. I wasn’t, but I wasn’t one of those stick thin girls either. Well years of anorexia followed, extending well into adulthood, during which I almost died many times. To this day I won’t completely let myself go and shudder to the thought of being called a “torche”. I would like for this not to be true, but it is, even if the rest of my life is fine now.
    Thank you, boy from the tennis courts.
    Oh, and I don’t play tennis anymore either.

  • I had to come back and post again. This morning, walking down the hall from my office to go to the restroom, the building manager (a somewhat strange, shy, but endearing man) saw me and said that I looked “absolutely stunning”. What a wonderful way to start the morning, and what a difference a kind word can make!

    • jcb

      Compliments from people you don’t know well (or even strangers!) just have a way of making your day, don’t they? I think I am especially flattered by them not only because those people have nothing to gain by complimenting you, but also because it takes guts to comment on the appearance of someone you barely know. I was having dinner with my boyfriend the other night in a casual diner, and an older man sitting across from us said to him, “Very rarely do I see a classic beauty – you are certainly lucky to have her.” I was blushing down to my toes, but as delighted as can be. Especially when my boyfriend beamed and said, “I know.” That’s something I don’t expect to happen again for a while!

  • nmm

    So many careless words over so much time. Weight issues run in my family and even thought I’ve been comparatively lucky in that regard, the careless comments have rung all my life starting with the grade school comment that my tummy stuck out too much, the high school comments about being flat chested ( I was voted the head of the IBTC – Itty, Bitty, T-tty Club), the college comment that I would look really fantastic if I would just cut my hair, get a tan, and lose 5 pounds, the comments from my first husband that I had better watch what I ate so I wouldn’t get fat, the comment from a guy I dated (only once) after my divorce asking me what my dress size was and saying he never dated anyone larger than a size four ….

  • two cents

    I had a very large nose in my teen years and received lots of teasing as a result. I know kids can be cruel, but it was particularly hurtful to hear comments from relatives. One cousin told me that my nose was so large that I looked like a caricature in a comic strip. A stranger told me that I had a big enough nose to fill a football field. I always laughed it off, but would then promptly go to the bathroom and cry.

    After years of feeling so self conscious, I decided to have a rhinoplasty. I certainly don’t advocate plastic surgery for everyone, but it was absolutely the best decision that I ever made (aside from getting married to my wonderful husband). My features are in proportion and balanced, and I’m 200% more confident and happy. Ironically, I don’t spend as much time focusing on my appearance anymore because I don’t worry about it as much. And I have absolutely no desire to have any other surgery done either.

  • Rebecca W.

    Slow to enter the comment pool here…but I can contribute some doozies, too:
    I “blew up” about the time I entered 5th grade (I hit puberty early), and gained a fair bit of weight in advance of growing upward. I got a fair bit of teasing for it, and got the usual round of “fatty”, “blubber”, “whale”, etc, from my classmates.
    This treatment continued through high school. I don’t remember exact times for most of this, but in no particular order:
    I remember being told I was too fat to deserve to live.
    I was told I was too fat to deserve a boyfriend.
    I was told that should anyone date me, that person was going to be beaten up/shoved into lockers until they changed their mind about it.
    I was spit upon
    I remember coming home and raking my fingers through my hair to remove spitballs for weeks on end.
    My sexuality was questioned (erroneously, not that it matters), and found to be “wrong”
    My brother found a posting on the internet (a BBS supported by our high school) that I deserved to die “by being drowned in my own fat”

    These were the low points behind a general backdrop of being told by my peers that I was seen as lacking. I spent most of my time wondering what I did to deserve such treatment, before abandoning the question when I went to college and learned that there are people with larger minds (and hearts) in the world.

    How big was I? I was (and still am, 10+ years later) 5’3″ and a size 14. I weigh at 30 exactly what I did at 15.

    My parents were and are generally supportive, but really didn’t have any good advice for me. I spent a year begging them to move me to a different school, but they refused, advising me to “ignore it and it’ll go away”. I can’t say I would advise my children to do the same thing in that situation.

    I consider myself grateful to whatever higher power is out there that none of this caused me to develop an eating disorder. It did, however, cause me to have no patience for rude or ungracious comments, and very little for ignorant ones. Time and distance have healed a lot of the wounds, as did writing. One of my pieces about bullying was used as a classroom lesson, of which I’ve always been proud. Bellydancing has also healed a lot of wounds as well.

    There have been some other good points, too. My dad is always quick to point out that I am quite muscular for my frame (people who attempt to guess my weight frequently estimate 20-50 lbs. too low). I like that I am strong and able to use that muscle. Some of the nicest things that have been said to me have always been about by rear end (which was one of my classmate’s primary foci of teasing). I’ve had two different men compliment me at the gym on my butt, telling me that “They didn’t care what I did, but please don’t lose that butt”…I also once had a bellydance teacher (who was slim) tell me that she wished she had my butt. I’ve also had more than one (European) person tell me that I look/dress French. I’ll take that as the ultimate in fashion compliments!

    Body-love hugs to all who have posted here. They are some amazing stories!

  • Kate

    When I was 13 I was oblivious to my physical “flaws”. I didn’t realize that acne was ugly until my dad brought home acne treatments. I didn’t realize that my eyebrows needed to be tamed till my mother told me to groom them. I hated the feel of makeup, despised shaving my legs, couldn’t care less about clothes, and I didn’t envy the models in magazines.

    One day my mom mentioned that I shouldn’t worry because my double chin would go away as I got older.

    I became obsessed with it.

    Just a few weeks later I started exercising to lose weight, doing facial exercises, and wearing my hair differently because I had to hide my double chin. Even at my thinnest it was still there. I wouldn’t eat for fear it would get bigger. I tried to make peace with it but I was doomed by genetics and by the time I was 15 I’d had enough. I worked as many jobs as I could over the next four years until I finally FINALLY was able to afford chin liposuction and a chin implant when I turned 20.

    For the first time in my life I felt pretty and confident. I was able to put on weight and I was able to sleep at night. I paid for peace of mind. But would I have ever noticed that “flaw” if it hadn’t been pointed out to me?

  • A positive story from me.

    When I was in a junior high, I was coming back from swimming with my very thin friend and her family. I was the chubbiest girl of our group and I knew it. Her older brother (who was the quarterback player at the highschool and the undisputed coolest guy in the school), stopped for a moment from bringing beach stuff into the house and told me: “You are cool, and don’t let anyone tell you different.” Through the years, especially highschool, when I felt horrible for being fat and feeling like I just took up too much space, those words came back to me and I had to smile. If the most popular guy at school thought I was cool, why was I listening to these other people?

  • jo

    oh god. there is one that will never leave my mind.

    I was at one of my friends’ 18th birthday party. really close friends, small party, his mom hung out with us for a couple of minutes before heading out to let us to our devices. to my mind, she had always been a very cool, laid-back lady. she had always been friendly, not to mention totally kind.

    we had been provided with reasonable amounts of alcohol and told we could smoke as long as we opened the window. i felt perfectly comfortable. the birthday boy grabbed his camera and starting taking pictures. the insecure little mouse that I was, I covered my face and ducked from the camera, joking as I nodded towards the beer that I’d allow him to take pictures later, “so there’d be an excuse for how I look”. I almost fell from the chair when his mother, miss awesome, said “I don’t think there are any more excuses for that”.

  • I’ve just discovered your blog and love, love, love your style and writing!

    In response to your questions, I remember being at girl scout day camp when I was a about 9 and one of the older girls who was leading my group called me “the fat girl” to another of the older girls. That was the first time I remember being referred to as “fat.” My friends didn’t judge me in that way, at that time.

    As an adult, I have curves and strong legs, and am often frustrated by the way it seems that others perceive me. On New Year’s Eve this year, I wore a lovely dress and a beautiful hand-knit shrug. I got many compliments, but one friend’s compliment was accompanied by her saying, “It’s very slimming.” That stung, since what I heard was that from her perspective, I was less than “slim.” (Note: this friend often says things that push my buttons.)

  • Ida

    About 3 weeks ago, while in the shower with my boyfriend, he looked at me and said “Your boobs are starting to get saggy from all the weight you’re losing”, in a matter-of-fact way. Once he reaized I was hurt by this comment he insisted up until yesterday that it was just a joke. Not only does my self esteem have a big gash in it, but my trust for him feels like it will never come back. I haven’t taken my sports bra off since then, only to shower. I feel guilty when I work out, but I work out anyway. My self esteem was pretty good before that.

    Still debating if I want to break up with him. Any advice would be deeply appreciated!