Monday, April 1, 2013

Who Can Wear Short Shorts?

This is a rambling story about the ill effects of an image obsessed culture and how it affects children. Maybe you can relate.

I like wearing short shorts. And my thighs touch. (Which I’ve kind of always assumed was the normal default body shape for everyone except starving African children, so I was really confused to hear that some men won’t date women whose thighs touch. Are these men gay? I wondered. Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen an attractive person whose don’t. But I digress)

I keenly remember my first instance of body shame happened in the sixth grade when we were first required to dress for gym class on uniform t-shirts and cotton shorts.. All the other 11-year-old girls had skinny, little chicken legs, but I had soft, fleshy thighs. I self-consciously lifted them from the ground when sitting cross-legged so that they wouldn’t flatten and spread so wide.And I'd look around at all the other girls with their skinny, little chicken legs and wonder why mine were so big. I was 11. And I felt bad about my body for looking different.

I wasn’t ever “overweight.” I took dance classes and played soccer and was fairly active for the bookworm that I was (and am). But I was never skinny like we all learned you have to be in order to be pretty. I was terrified to wear short shorts through most of middle and high school and bought matronly knee-length denim shorts instead.

One day I changed into shorter khaki shorts for marching band after school, because this is Texas and it was HOT. They were shorter than my fingertips, but not by much and not tight or showy. As I walked across campus, a couple of older boys called out something to the effect of, “You’re too fat to be dressed like such a hooker.” I tucked my chin down and kept walking.

I learned to be ashamed to show my thighs - in shorts or skirts or swimsuits - because I had more than bones and skin or because I dared to show my body, dared to fail to be properly decorative as defined by the media ideal.

My story isn’t special. It isn’t unique and that is not OK.

  • 51% of 9 and 10 year-old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets, and 82% of their families are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets.
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
  • Time Magazine reports that 80% of all children have been on a diet by the time that they have reached the fourth grade.

And it leads to this:
35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders.
Next time you or someone near you makes comments that moralize about the virtue of food or bodies or dieting, stop them. It matters. We’re in this culture together and no one can survive it alone.

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