My recent blog post about my experience of body-shaming was viewed over 200,000 times worldwide. Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed by thousands of messages of support from all over the globe. The messages that pluck most insistently at my conscience are those I receive from girls as young as 12.
Dear Maria, Dear Hayley, Dear Fatima, Asli, Beatriz, Cassandra, Meagan, and Katelyn.
Dear Macie. Dear Phoebe. Dear Ava.
Dear all of you.
First of all, thank you so much for emailing me. It’s a brave thing, to confide to a stranger that you’re confused, or lonely, or unhappy.
In case you didn’t know, I am in no way qualified to dispense advice to anyone. However, you took the time to write to me so I will respond. Let’s just imagine we’re chatting in a park, or at a bus stop, or at a birthday party. If you really need to talk to someone who knows how to help you if you need it, I’ve included some contacts at the end.
Each of you ladies has written to me because you think you’re “not normal.” Because you find it hard to make friends, or because you’ve never had a boyfriend and fear you never will because (exclusively because) of the way you look. You’ve written because you’re afraid to take swimming lessons because of the bathing suits. And you’ve asked me for advice on how to “make [your] body the kind that will attract boys.”
You’re writing to me (I think) because when a man tried to make me feel bad about my body, I responded with what you refer to as a “mic-drop” moment.
I told him off for imposing his views about my body upon me uninvited. I told him what it means when a man criticizes a woman’s weight—it substantiates the fear that every girl has (something that, sadly, your letters have confirmed): that it doesn’t matter how funny you are, how clever, how kind, how loyal, how determined or adventurous or vibrant—if you’re overweight, no one will ever be attracted to you.
I am overweight. While this isn’t ideal because it means I’m not at my best health-wise, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Your body should never, ever be a source of shame. Darling girls, tuck these words into a pocket in your mind so that you can pull them out and reread them whenever you may need to:
Your body should never, ever be a source of shame.
You can decide you want to change your body for the better, as I have (I’ve lost 20 pounds by dramatically improving my diet and plan to lose 20 more). But taking care of your body doesn’t mean you have to hurt it. It doesn’t mean starving it, wearing it out, gorging that beautiful brain which you should be filling with books and art and driving lessons on identical, dead-eyed, alien images that insist that being white and skinny and never smiling is the only way for any woman to be of any worth.
Absolutely no good comes from hating your body. You must train yourself to love it. It is not an object, nor a commodity, nor is it a burden. It is not someone else’s trophy. It’s the only thing in this world that is yours and yours alone, and you only get one.
FFS, girls (yes, I know the middle one means a swear word), love your body.
Now, girls, I think I am going to give you a little advice, if I may. Find something you love, and keep doing it. The world has so many beautiful, smart, enriching things to fill your head and your heart with: books and art and films, and activities like dancing, cooking, hiking, competitive spear fishing…
Try everything. Start a band. Take photographs. Write a blog. Find out what you like and keep doing it.
In doing this, you’ll meet people who share your passions. Some of those people will become your friends. A few may become something more, if that’s what you both want. (I didn’t have an actual boyfriend until I was 19—I know there’s no point in me saying, “Don’t worry about it,” but please, don’t worry about it.)
Be smart and be kind, respect yourself and others, trust yourself, and take care of yourself, you clever, courageous girls.
Oh, and one more thing: Absolutely no online dating until you’re at least 25. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, call 800-273-8255 or click here to find help near you.
Visit EDreferral.com for a database of anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorder treatment resources in your area.