Well here I am, back at Fat Heffalump. Tonight I want to talk a bit about the messages we give to young girls about their bodies, and weight. And while I’m at it, you’re going to get to see some photos of me when I was a munchkin.
Let’s start with this one:
I think I’m about 7 years old in this one.
I can remember, from a very early age – about 5 or 6 is my first memory of it, being told by my parents that I was fat. I was called porky, told I had “lead in my arse” because I was “so heavy” and couldn’t run fast, and of course I’ve mentioned earlier my brother’s taunts of “fat heffalump” and “tub of lard”.
I did have a barrel shape (no waist at all), but how many girls before puberty do have waists?
And consequently, I believed it. All my life. I believed it right up until I found the photo above, about six months ago in a box of old photo albums.
Can I ask you something. Is that little girl there fat? Does the child in the photo above look fat to you?
What about this one?
I think I’m about 9 or 10 in this one. Would you say fat there?
Here I am just before puberty hit me:
Age 11. Just before my 12th birthday. Jesus look at those legs. Fat legs? I don’t think so.
So what are people telling girls that look like this, that they’re fat? Why was a girl of this body shape, being led to believe that there was something wrong with her? Maybe it was in jest. Maybe it was a way to “keep her in her place” and not let her get “too many tickets on herself.” But I think it’s a seriously sad reflection on people’s attitudes that anyone could think a girl with this body could be considered fat.
In that last photograph, I was taller than my aunt, who is 5’2″. Very tall for an 11 year old girl. I towered all of my classmates. I stopped growing in height by the time I was 13, and I’m 5’6″ now. I was the tallest girl in my class for a long time, until the others caught up later on in their teens. Consequently, I needed women’s sized clothing, from a very young age, otherwise I’d have been exposing what was at the top of those long legs! If I remember correctly, that school uniform was a women’s size 10 (Australian), a bit loose around the middle and under the arms, yet that’s pretty proportionate for a 5’2″ female body about to sprout boobs and stuff.
Yet I remember my mother complaining in shops that I shouldn’t be in women’s clothing. Girls in school made fun of me because I shopped in the ladies wear section. I was referred to as a “big girl”. However I look at those photos and I don’t think I was big at all. Tall yes, but certainly not big or fat.
But of course, I did get fat. Puberty hit just after my 12th birthday, and boy did it hit hard. Within 12 months of that last photo above, I actually was a fat girl. A fat girl with all sorts of hormonal shit going on (I won’t go into the gory details but let’s just say that I know now that it wasn’t normal). I also had D cup breasts by the time I was 13 and they weren’t just fat. Even in my late teens when I dropped a lot of weight, I still had huge breasts.
Consequently, I don’t have any photos of me in my teens. There is the odd school class photo, but until I turned 18, there really weren’t any photos taken of me. I wouldn’t allow it. And there were huge chunks of my life since then that I wouldn’t allow photos to be taken of me, because I believed I was hideous and didn’t want any record. Those were also the years that I was sticking my fingers down my throat to purge anything I ate.
Nowdays, I relish having my photo taken. I love to have those reminders of the times in my life, the outfits I wear, the laughs that I have. Here I am today (well, ok, a couple of weeks ago, smart arses):
Oh yes, I am a fat lady. By many labels, I am “morbidly obese” – do I look morbid to you? I am probably at the fattest I have ever been (give or take a bit!) but I’m also at the happiest I have ever been, because my worth is no longer measured by the number on a set of scales, the tag on my clothing, or the size of my body.
My worth is measured by the size of my heart, the number of beloved people in my life, the use of my brain, the strength of my laugh and the depth of my respect for others and myself.
We need to think about what we say to our children. Not just the girls, but they do cop the double whammy because of the whole sexualisation thing, as well as body image. Even if they are fatter than their peers, instead of crushing them down with criticisms, we should be building them up with encouragement and strong self esteem. I can’t say I wouldn’t be fat if I hadn’t been criticised so much as a child (remember those hormonal problems I mentioned), but I can say I wouldn’t have done so much damage to my body with crash diets and eating disorders. I can say I wouldn’t have wasted so many years hating myself, and would have achieved so much more in life had I been allowed to believe in myself.