I don’t remember exactly what age I began feeling self conscious of my body, but I know it was early on. Back in the 90s, you could find me hiding behind my swimsuit as a child in an oversized t-shirt. While my friends were wearing fun cut out one pieces (remember those?) or sporting some adorable two piece bathing suits, I was trying to deflect any attention of my body. I was one of those “early bloomers” who sadly was wearing a real bra much earlier than any young girl should. My body was going through the hormonal changes, but in my mind I was still such a little girl. It was certainly a tough time of trying to balance being a child in a teen’s body.
My family recently took a short vacation on the coast and spent lots of time at the pool. My boys were having a blast in the pool, and there were lots of kiddos playing and having a great time. There was a group of young girls giggling and having a fun time until a group of boys of similar age came over to them. I couldn’t hear what happened, but I could tell by their demeanor they were upset. The giggles disappeared, and one of the girls rushed over to her mom.
I was sitting near one of the girls’ mothers. One of the precious young girls came by in tears telling her mom that some boys told her that she and her friends were too fat to be wearing their bathing suits. My heart sunk. It was so hard to overhear. The mom comforted her and told her to just ignore the boys and that she looked adorable in her two piece suit.
I wanted to tell the little girl that she was gorgeous, smart and nice. I felt a strong need to build her up while these young boys were pulling her down just based off her weight. Who doesn’t feel vulnerable in a bathing suit exposing that much skin? I felt like I witnessed her losing part of her innocence.
I still feel uncomfortable in a bathing suit at a public pool or beach in front of strangers, and I don’t know when I will ever feel at ease taking off my cover up to swim with my kids. But I hope that this young girl never loses sight that she is beautiful and strong no matter what size! As a mother of two young boys, I haven’t had the need to talk about body image yet. However, I do explain to them that everyone comes in different colors, shapes and sizes and that there isn’t one way that everyone should look.
So to the young girl at the pool, I see you. I don’t see you for what size you are. I see your beautiful smile and the happiness you exude from playing with your friends and those funny giggles. Keep on rockin’ that two piece bathing suit despite what those boys say. You look great!
This breaks my heart. Shame on those boys for telling those girls what they did. I, like you, have always been self-conscious about my body, so I know what those girls were feeling. I am also mother to two young boys and I hope they never talk to anyone that way.
You are teaching your sons right and apparently someone else didn’t teach their children. I often wonder if it’s not what they see at home though. For example if the boys see their father say something similar to their mother because kids learn from example. You can tell them that size doesn’t matter, but if you don’t show it, it does no good, no matter what the age!
I was also an early bloomer and my body was the topic of conversation as a kid–sometimes to my face and sometimes not! It has given me a lifelong problem with self esteem and I have had to fight hard against negative self-talk. I belong to the JCC and go to the pool almost every evening during the summers. I always notice the pre-teen and early teens and it is SO heartbreaking how boys are so comfortable and girls are so very uncomfortable with themselves…a lot less girls on the diving board and a lot more of them with slumped shoulders and downward gazes. I have a little boy that I also talk about gender, body image, sexuality, and discrimination with (at 7.5) and sometimes I feel that it’s hard for him to take me at my words when all of mainstream culture is advertising a totally different message. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!”