Let’s set the scene.
I’m 9 years old – sitting in the cold, brightly lit doctor’s office in my hospital gown waiting for my annual physical, knowing full well my doctor will be upset by the number she sees on the scale.
I knew exactly what she was going to say when she entered the room.
I was immediately told to cut out juice, sweets, and anything else a normal “healthy” child enjoys.
From that day on, I began comparing myself to my friends, my sister, and any girl with a flat stomach society deems “beautiful.”
Because I – and society – did not see myself as such.
Instead, every day, I felt disgust and embarrassment when I looked in the mirror. I began to wear baggy shirts to cover my stomach. I wouldn’t let anyone take pictures of me. I couldn’t even eat lunch at school without feeling the whole world was staring at me.
But above all, I was shocked by the comments people would throw my way at such a young age, which left me questioning myself and my self-worth.
“You would be prettier if you lost weight.” Am I not pretty?
“It isn’t that hard. Just stop eating so much.” What am I doing wrong?
And my personal favorite: “Here comes the beached whale.” Do I really look that big?
Suddenly, my childhood joy was overshadowed by feelings of helplessness and a constant fear of looking at the number on the scale. Instead of learning how to have a healthy relationship with food, my shame prevented me from consuming what I needed to survive.
This unhealthy relationship with food became so severe that I developed an eating disorder by the time I was 14 without even realizing it – something even the people closest to me didn’t know.
Instead, they applauded the fact that I was losing weight. I didn’t want to disappoint them by telling them their daughter, sister, niece, and friend was terrified of food.
Until today, during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, only a handful of people knew I struggled with an eating disorder and still do to this day.
Because I was already overweight, no one saw the signs of my severe malnutrition – not even me.
According to The National Institute of Mental health, 2.7% of teenagers between 13 and 18 years of age struggle with some form of an eating disorder, whether it be anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.
A big reason why eating disorders are so prevalent among adolescents is the bullying they receive in their youth because they do not fit society’s version of “beautiful,” according to Behavioral Health Specialist Amy Klimek.
According to The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, 50% of teenage girls use unhealthy means to control their weight such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, and other self-destructive behaviors.
Additionally, the center says 25% of college-aged women engage in binging and purging – the first step in developing bulimia – and nearly 91% of female college students use unhealthy dieting mechanisms to control their weight.
It wasn’t until my late teens that I finally started to be comfortable in my own skin – thanks to the help of my childhood best friend’s mother, who also struggled with her weight from a young age.
I will never forget the day she gave me a hug, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I’m fat and I’m happy,” and told me it doesn’t matter what I looked like on the outside. What mattered was how I felt on the inside.
I am happy to say I am in recovery, because those closest to me helped me see my self-worth when I couldn’t. But, not every young girl has the support system they need to be their best selves.
While I have been successful on my journey to self-love – even though I am still a work in progress – there are thousands of young women who still face the same scrutiny and judgment as I did – and still do.
My message to them? You are worth so much more than a number on a scale.
When I look back, I ask myself how a talented, smart, and beautiful child could be so disgusted with herself at such a young age. Because society is so fixated on the idea that women need to be thin in order to be beautiful, even young children are subject to outrageous amounts of judgement and pressure.
I am here to tell you society could not be more wrong.
I am so much more than the number on the scale, and society needs to stop putting so much pressure on young women to be “beautiful” – because we all are.