Must Be All That Alberta Beef
A compilation by Emily
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the moments in my early teenage hood that shaped the insecurities I still have today (or the ones I’m trying to shed.) About a year ago, I reached out to a bunch of women to ask what negative body-conscious moments in their lives really STUCK. For me, my crush in grade 7 poked my stomach and said “You don’t have abs.” To be clear, I do have abs (and my competitive dancer body had them then, too!)... but I also have a layer of fat over them that I just can’t seem to get rid of. I tried not eating much for an entire year, and although I lost weight, I never did feel thinner or happier. I still felt fat, anxious, and also....hungry.
I’ve used food and exercise obsession to control my anxiety for most of my life, and I (sadly) know that I’m not a unique case. One thing in my research that did shock me was how many women had been ridiculed because of how thin they were. I have lived my entire life thinking that there's no way anyone would ever hate being skinny (because that, to me, was the best possible option.)
I haven't known exactly what to do with the personal stories that these women shared with me. Since we're talking about BODY this week, I decided to cut some little excerpts out and share them here. They're incredibly relatable, and I find comfort in reading them. I hope you will too. :)
- I am, and have always been, really tall. I was the tallest pupil in my class all the way till grade 10. That made me feel very awkward because I literally stuck out in all the line-ups or group photos. And I wanted to be part of the bigger group, not to stick out. I really hated my height, not least because I was convinced that no guy would ever want to date me -- because, you know, guys are supposed to be taller than girls. And I really wanted to go out with boys. I often wished that if only there was some sort of magic to make me shrink 10cm.
- When I was probably 12 or so, my grandma was watching me play in my backyard when she said to my mother, loud enough that I could overhear, "Jen looks like so-and-so's daughter except a lot thicker. Must be all that Alberta beef." ...I'm now a vegetarian.
- I was consistently taller than girls and boys my age growing up. I wasn't overweight, but remember the constant feeling of being "big." I grew up in a very conservative area with strong gender roles (women's main roles were having babies and cooking). I remember my friends and step-sister being complemented and fawned over because they were "small and pretty." I was advanced in school, but these same adult women sneered at it. I made a habit of hanging out with older boys (I was a "tom boy") because I didn't feel so physically awkward and judged standing next to them. When I hung out with boys, I never had adults (especially women) compare me with the group or comment on my body.
- When I was 9 or 10, I remember riding a bus during a summer camp and watching my thighs jiggle. Even though I know now that even muscle jiggles when it's relaxed, it was absolutely mortifying at the time and I've been acutely aware of my thighs since.
- Oh god, I almost have too many of these moments. I hit full-fledged puberty when I was 9 and grew to basically my full size/height by the time I was 12. Suffice to say, I dwarfed most of my peers. That feeling has followed me throughout the rest of my life, despite my peers now catching up to/surpassing me. I've always felt gigantic.
- I heard all of my gorgeous friends pick apart every "flaw" about their face, hair, body. The norm was for one person to say something bad about themselves and then one by one everyone else would try to make her feel better by dismissing her comment and by pointing out and lamenting for their own flaws. I knew that sharing the positive image I had been building would have been social suicide. So in order to fit in and go with the flow I would shred my own image as well, finding ugliness to talk about in the bump on my nose and big ears, my crooked teeth. I was so mean, talking about myself like that, looking myself right in the eyes while I sold myself out to everyone there. It didn't matter if I believed it or not, I heard myself again and again, and so did all the other girls. I wish so much I had taken the risk and said something nice about myself to change the conversation in there instead of contributing to this peer pressured self hatred.
- I was stick-thin scrawny. So was my brother, so were the adults in my family; no one was too concerned. But I remember in 6th grade overhearing one "popular" girl say to her friends, "I wish my parents would starve me so I'd be that skinny," and having no idea how to respond; I've always had a healthy relationship with food, and have always had access to good food. I think about that comment a lot--the way of wrapping an insult into an implied envy which was obviously meant to be overheard. And then in 8th grade, after our p.e. teacher did a BMI test using those little fat pincers that I sincerely hope no teenagers of any body type are subjected to any more, she said, "Well, if you ever want to have babies you better start eating." At no point did anyone ask genuine, compassionate questions about my relationship with food (awesome!), or whether my family struggled to get food on the table (we didn't). I sincerely hope that if a teacher had had a real concern about an eating disorder or nutrition, she would have refrained from these off-handed comments. I don't think it's fair to compare what fat women/girls go through in terms of body-shaming to what's said to skinny women, but I am still horrified at the things acquaintances feel that it's acceptable to say (i.e., I met a friend's sister last summer, and hugged her, and she said "girl, you need a burger!" Um...nice to meet you too?)