How Body Image Was Defined on the School Playground

Words. They can have so much power over us and we don’t even realize it. Where were you when you first heard someone say something about your body? What words were said? How old were you?

I was on the playground, participating in track and field day, in the spring of the fifth grade. I had already gone through puberty about a year prior and had a very budding chest. Maybe I wasn’t wearing the most supportive bra on the planet. Or maybe I was. Those details are in the shadows compared to what was said. Although it’s much quieter than it once was, what was said sticks with me to this day. It even out shadows the ribbon I won for kicking the ball the farthest that day.

“Here comes Tick Tock Titty,” the boys hollered as I came up to kick the ball on the kickball field. All the boys laughed and a few girls too.

I was devastated. I wanted to crawl in a hole at that very instant. No one had teased me about my body up to that point that I could remember.

And here were two boys that I had a crush on calling me names due to my budding chest. The name would stick for the rest of fifth grade and into the last year of my elementary school days in the sixth grade.

By the seventh grade, I would go on my first diet. Those words said on the playground a year and a half prior were still haunting me. Add in the fact that I was at a bigger school, with even more kids, all trying to manage the transition to junior high school, puberty and acne at once. In elementary school we played in the gym or outside in the clothes we wore to school for physical ed time. In junior high, things were more “serious” with physical ed. It was it’s own full hour-long period in the day. It was all about old-fashion physical activity and endurance – many times with an audience watching you attempt to do at least one pull up on the steel bar hanging in the corner of the gym. How humiliating it was when you could barely do it.

There was no such thing as yoga or meditation taught in gym back then. Each day, we had to change into a gym uniform in front of the others right there at our locker. In those instances, I began to really see my body as different. My body was different from the others girls – the popular girls, the girls in the magazines, on TV, in the “Sweet Valley High” books I had once read, on billboards. Somehow, I felt different. I felt ashamed of my own body. And I was only in the seventh grade!

I would only come to fully understand the impact those five words spoken on the playground in the fifth grade had on shaping my own body image and sense of self years later when I was in therapy for an eating disorder diagnosis in middle age. When I hear the words today they no longer define me or cause me as much pain. I don’t know where those two boys are today as 48 year old men, and yet I have forgiven them in my own way to allow myself to heal. My hope is that if they have daughters or wives or partners that they treat them with the utmost respect because no person, young, old or in between, deserves to be taunted or treated differently because of their body size or shape.

Today, I am focusing on loving my body no matter its size or shape. I no longer wish my thighs were smaller or I could fit into a smaller size. Gone are the days of dieting and trying so hard to change the shape or size of my body. My body has endured much for me and is a vessel for me in this life on earth. For that reason alone, I am practicing being my best self yet, in all ways, to my body.

Photo by Andre Furtado on

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