“How old were you the first time you thought something negative about your body? Do you remember what you were doing that prompted it?”
So the first memory that came to me is not an exact answer to your question- it wasn’t exactly a negative thought about my body but it was a moment of awareness that felt profound.
I was 8 years old and my parents were separated at the time. My father was living in a run-down, propped-up shack in Spartanburg, South Carolina on a vast expanse of land. There were two creeks that merged by the shack house and so we called the place “Twin Creeks.” My brother and I would go stay with my father for a few days at a time and would spend hours playing in the woods and in the creek.
This particular time my brother wasn’t with me, it was just me and my dad. I remember I hadn’t seen him in a while and it felt a little awkward being around him. He had just bought me a toy boat at Big Lots.
A lot of the times spent stomping in the creek with my brother were spent in unofficial bathing suits- we would mostly just be in underwear. Even when we’d gone to the beach I’d been around my dad and my brothers with barely any clothes on. I don’t know, it’s a European family thing; kids are expected to be naked around bodies of water and it’s not a big deal.
At Twin Creeks that day my dad said something to the extent of “Ok, take your clothes off and go swim.” Don’t worry- it wasn’t in a weird sexualized way. However, the weird part was that I paused and for the first time felt shy and like there was something wrong about being naked in front of my father. I don’t remember any story or image or experience that suddenly prompted this thought- all I know is that somewhere along the way I had learned that I was a girl and that it meant something about my body. Specifically, it meant something about my body in relation to men. I find it curious in retrospect. My first moment of “gender” awareness was also a moment of body awareness and some unspoken understanding about sex.
I know that’s not exactly a negative body image story- I didn’t feel that there was something wrong with my body physically. It was the first realization of shame; a somewhat more vague but still sexual shame that came from being a girl in front of a man.
I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for. Honestly, my first negative body image things happened later, predictably, during high school.
My mom was body positive in a subtle way, so I grew up with a good role model. I was the only girl and my brothers and dad never commented much about women’s bodies or mine. But even in high school it wasn’t so much about my body as my style. A brief relationship ended with the dude saying “she could be hot if she tried” and his asshole friends making statements that I would never “Be like Her” in reference to my biology partner, who was a very standard blonde-preppy-make-up-wearer. I personally didn’t see what the big deal was. My mother had always told me I was naturally pretty and didn’t push makeup or beauty products in the home. I was also naturally tomboy-ish, having grown up with brothers.
All those comments did hurt my feelings and once again it was about gender and sex and definitions of beauty.
I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot but I’m trying to work through the time line. My first actual body negativity I experienced wasn’t until college.
At 18, my hips and ass were naturally filling out thanks to my Slavic genetics. And, I found alcohol. I had never been concerned with eating- I had always eaten relatively healthy, but hearty meals without much effect on my weight. Adulthood and alcohol changed that and I started to notice unwanted growths on my body I had never dealt with before.
It as also my first time around so many women at once- being in the dorm rooms, you were always being engaged in “Fat Talk.” At first I didn’t get it and I found it boring- why the hell were all my female peers so obsessed with diets and shit? But it became standard practice- the focus on beauty and body for college-aged women is pretty intense. Essentially, I learned to view myself more negatively by hearing how negatively all these beautiful women around me felt about themselves. Isn’t that sad? It’s so sad when I see it written down.