Health & Fitness

Does Size Really Matter? Real Talk on Body Image

When I was 12, I read the book “Trim Kids.” It was full of tips for eating and living healthfully, and it wasn’t a diet book, necessarily, but it came pretty close. I wasn’t overweight, nor was anyone in my immediate family. I also wasn’t skinny, and this bothered me.

In junior high, I  remember being keenly aware of the fact that my best friend was thinner than I was and wishing that I looked more like her. I went on a vacation with my family when I was 13, and can still recall the pride I felt when she looked at one of the pictures from my trip and remarked, “You look really skinny in this!”

It was glaringly obvious to me from this young age that being thin was a prerequisite for popularity, male attention, and overall happiness.

In high school, I felt awkward changing in the locker rooms before field hockey and lacrosse practices. So many of the other girls, devoid of any semblance of body fat, whipped off their polo shirts and walked around confidently in their sports bras. I changed quickly, covertly, shielded by a row of lockers.

As my senior year of high school drew to a close, I was convinced that I had to lose 10-15 pounds before I left for college. I needed to be a skinnier, new and improved version of myself, I had determined, in order to truly enjoy college.

“Nothing tastes as good as thin feels,” is a mantra I became accustomed to. It recalls the age-old question of instant versus delayed gratification (a voice in my head would typically retort: “But thin won’t happen for a few months, if ever, whereas this would taste good now!”)

I was ultimately satisfied, though not thrilled, with my pre-college weight. And then, from the fall of my freshman year to the fall of my sophomore year, I gained at least 15 pounds. I didn’t successfully lose this weight until the summer after my junior year, although I gained a few of these pounds back during the spring of my senior year of college.  I lost those regained pounds (and a few more) the summer after I graduated, then gained about five of those pounds back after I moved to LA.

Maintaining a consistent weight for a sustained period of time seems to elude me – it seems as if I’m always gaining weight (somewhat quickly) or losing weight (VERY slowly).

My weight is often in the back of my mind, running parallel to my fluctuating self-confidence and insecurities. That number on the scale elicits a sense of personal success or failure that seeps into other areas of my life.

I don’t think I’m alone in this!

I could count on one hand the number of female friends whom I haven’t heard occasionally, if not frequently, lament their eating habits or current weight. For some, this is an opportunity to be reassured and flattered by their friends. For others, their body image is truly a source of self-doubt, if not self-loathing.

I prefer to internalize such thoughts rather than verbalize them. Acknowledging the apparent futility of maintaining a stable weight feels tantamount to admitting failure, which of course is prohibited under any circumstances for the Type A crowd.

Over the last year or so, I’ve become better at accepting myself and my body, and putting less stock in the day-to-day fluctuations of the scale. I’m not a size zero, and won’t ever be. I still try to eat well (most of the time) and I see exercise as valuable for stress release rather than simply as a means to a weight-loss end.

I love biking and don’t really mind going to the gym, but it’s zumba that makes me feel most uninhibited. The philosophy is pretty simple: have fun and burn a bunch of calories while you’re doing it.

“If you’re smiling, you’re doing it right,” my first zumba instructor announced at the beginning of every class.

My advice to anyone struggling with body image? Try not to let your weight be tied to your sense of self-worth. Eat well and exercise because you want to be healthy, not because you’re chasing a number on a scale.

If you’re smiling, you’re doing it right.

By Kathleen Toohill

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