Skinny Like a String Bean
I was a really skinny kid. Skinny as in “string bean” skinny. Skinny as in all arms and legs, like scraggly tree branches on a sad little sapling. During most of elementary and middle school, I was skinny like this, and it was embarrassing. My clothes were always too big, and when I had to get glasses AND braces my self-esteem really plummeted. Kids at school weren’t very nice about my appearance either. I went to a very small Catholic school, and thus had to tolerate teasing from the same kids throughout elementary and middle school. Luckily, we wore uniforms so at least my classmates were only making fun of the size of my clothes instead of my actual fashion (or lack there of, see the picture of me in the sweater vest below). Really it was just the girls who gave me a hard time. The boys didn’t seem to mind me too much because I could run fast and at least hit the baseball during gym class. The girls were pretty mean. I remember seeing the movieMean Girls years later and thinking it was a fairly accurate portrayal of my schooldays. Girls, you see, are just as aggressive as boys, but girls tend to be relationally aggressive (think gossiping, name calling, starting rumors, and holding grudges), where as boys use physical aggression (beating each other up). Sometimes I look back, especially when I see young girls getting teased or bullied because of their weight today, and I think about what got me through those awful years. If I really had to sum it up, two things jump out in my mind: my parents and sports.
Luisa, 4th Grade
Don’t get me wrong, my parents floundered at first. No parent likes to endure day after day of a crying child begging to skip school “just this one time” because she’s tired of being teased. Initially, my parents did what they thought would be helpful; they pushed food on me. My dad used to make me drink protein shakes with “weight gainer” powder, and my mom was always encouraging me to put extra butter on everything. None of that really helped, as no child is agreeable to being forced to eat things he or she doesn’t like. What did finally help was seeing a nutritionist. The nutritionist worked collaboratively with my parents and me, but she gave me the control to chose my foods and establish my own food journal. I was in charge and I liked that. She also worked with my parents, provided them with education, and supported them in normalizing my weight issues so they stopped being so controlling and worried.
Towards the end of middle school, I started running. Running made me feel calm and free. It made me feel proud of myself too, because I knew I was fast. Freshman year of high school, I joined the cross country team, and my life started to change for the better. Sure, I still weighed 80 pounds, but I was a star runner. And little by little, puberty took effect and I began to fill out, but I never forgot. I never forgot what it’s like to be teased and ridiculed because of your weight. Some people think it’s not as bad to be teased for being skinny versus teased for being fat. I can’t tell you which is worse because I haven’t experienced the fat kind of teasing, but I will tell you being teased because you are skinny is shaming and hurtful.
Today when I work with kids who have weight issues and low self-esteem, I often share my story. I meet with parents and help them empower their child. I teach them how to play to their child’s strengths instead forcing food or solutions that don’t work. And I work with groups of girls to help them gain awareness of how relational aggression can cut to the core. I hope it’s working, and in my heart, I think it is.