I can only remember being thinonce in my life - at age six. To be honest, I only "remember" becauseI've seen pictures. Never in my life have I felt proud of my body, but throughoutelementary school it never mattered that I was big. I had the cutest boys asboyfriends despite the fact that I wore a junior size nine in the fifth grade andweighed 105 pounds. In those days, the boys didn't have sex on their minds andstill appreciated personalities.
My situation didn't change much inmiddle school. Although I no longer was the one they wanted as a girlfriend, boysstill liked me, and I was friends with almost everyone. High school changedeverything, except my self-perception. Popular culture, expectations in my danceclasses, and especially social situations continued to put pressure on me tochange my body - to be thin.
I don't doubt that the media is partiallyresponsible for the eight million people (male and female) in the United Stateswho develop eating disorders each year. I see models in magazines and wonder whyI can't manage to look like them, but it is when I walk into a clothing storethat I feel most alienated. Not only do I get to see pictures of thin girlswearing midriff shirts and low-rise pants on the tags of size 13 pants, but alltoo often I try on pair after pair of pants that do not fit over my legs, beyondmy butt, or around my waist.
If I gained weight, I would move up to asize 15. This means I would be a "plus size." No longer would I be ableto find pants in teen-specific and department stores that were anywhere in theneighborhood of fitting. I would like to know - does "plus size" meanyou're a proper size plus some? I continue to feel that stereotyping by size issociety's way of showing me I don't fit in because I don't fit thin.
Ihave danced for 13 years, and for the first ten, I never witnessed the pressureto be thin they show in many movies and publications. When I joined a dance teamsophomore year, my coach told me I was getting injured so much because"extra weight puts pressure on joints and muscles. That's why dancers arelight." She suggested I try eating less. I nodded out of pure shock andwaited until later to cry.
Since then, I have seen more than ever thatthin is in. I see the smaller dancers leaping high in the air and the girls mysize staying closer to the ground. While the thin girls revel in choosing skimpy,sexy outfits, the rest of us are uncomfortable and grumble that there is no waywe'll fit into certain costumes. Again, my self-esteem takes a dive.
Thistime, it is not because the sizes are telling me that I'm larger than I shouldbe. Rather, my fellow dancers are making me feel that I am too large to be adancer, because dancers (apparently) wear costumes that barely cover theirbodies. Though I know my team means no harm, the deed has been done. I cover my(fully-clothed) stomach during breaks while I try to avoid comparing myself to mybest friend (who is wearing a sports bra and shorts, displaying perfectly tonedabs and legs). Yes, in joining the dance team, I accepted that I would be exposedto flesh more often than most, and that I would have to be up-close and personalwith my own body every day. I did not, however, agree to flaunt the fact that mymetabolism doesn't provide for a body devoid of superfluous fat, or to be made tofeel ashamed because I don't wear a "regular" size. Why can't I justfit thin?
I try to be confident, though my poor body image tends toinhibit me in certain situations. At parties or get-togethers, I feel as if I'mbeing compared to other girls (many of whom are my friends), and it makes meextremely uncomfortable. I rarely flirt with guys for fear that I will later be ajoke - the "fat one" he talks about with friends. To put myself in theposition of "friend," where chubby girls are not taboo, I'll chat aboutcars or other typically male topics with whomever is around to distract him fromthe idea that I should be "sized up" for dating.
Gone areelementary school days when the coolest girls were fun to hang out with. Thesedays the "best" girls are those who would look the "best"naked. It seems many men (young and old) think that only women of a certain sizeare worthy of physical and emotional intimacy. It is sad that many intelligentand interesting women are neglected because they do not fit thin.
The teenyears have enough stress with academic pressure from parents and teachers to goto college; socially from friends to stay away from or get involved with alcohol,cigarettes and other drugs; and athletically from coaches to eat, sleep and livefor a sport.
Why must society also ask that all teenagers be labeled witha stereotypical tag - a size tag? Like millions of others, my tag has long beenmy master, but I won't let it be any longer. As an intelligent and capable youngwoman - size 13 - I will succeed in working to shatter the misconceptionssurrounding "larger" people.
As a designer, I will produceclothing for teenagers to fit and flatter all shapes and sizes. As a successfulexecutive, I will promote participation in the performing arts by all young menand women who are interested, regardless of size. As a woman, I intend to provethat "bigger" only means there is more to love.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.