By Claire Trainor
On the first warm day of 7th grade, everyone wore shorts to school. All the girls couldn't wait to show off their new spring outfits, colored shorts and tank tops with cardigans to cover our shoulders, per dress code requirements.
Everything was going well throughout the day until my friend showed me the texts his friends had been sending during the day: "Did you see Claire's legs?" "Yeah, someone should tell her dimples are for your cheeks, not the backs of your thighs."
Every time I remember it, I can feel my cheeks flush, my smile fade and my eyes well up.
In seventh grade I wasn't fat, but I was developed. I had the body of a 19-year-old by the time I was 13 (and I can say that without a doubt because I still wear the same jeans, dresses, and T-shirts.) But to the eyes of 13-year-old boys, fat and developed are synonyms.
And so beginning in elementary school and for most of middle school, I was teased for my weight and my body. And because the popular boys in my grade were teasing me, the not-so-popular boys didn't want to talk to me, either. All of my friends, my tiny, barely-developed friends, had crushes, went on dates and flirted with boys. I did not.
But the thing is, middle school students often don't know where to draw the line between bullying for weight and bullying for character. Like so much of our society, they believe that how your body looks dictates who you are as a person. Fat girls are less attractive, less worthy, more obnoxious and more unwanted. Skinny girls are the opposite: pretty, worthy, smart and desirable. And because they thought I was fat... well, the rest fell into place, too. I became the girl no one, even the other girls in my grade, wanted to be friends with.
Although by the time I started high school, most people were more developed than they had been and although most of my friends were sophomores or juniors (whose bodies, I now realize, looked strikingly like mine), I couldn't shake the feeling that my body was something to be ashamed of. It was this feeling, combined with the swirl of anxiety, depression, self-doubt, family problems, and academics that caused me to start restricting in April of my freshman year. By May, it was a full-fledged eating disorder.
Luckily, my friends had the foresight to find a way to inform my parents. Then, I began the two-year process of therapy, re-feeding, treatment, recovery, relapses, treatment, re-feeding, more relapses, more treatment and finally recovery (which has lasted now for two years). No one has said anything negative about my body to me since middle school. I'm in an incredible place in my recovery; I eat what my body wants and exercise when it tells me I should. I'm happy.
Still, I spend 20 minutes in front of the mirror trying to make sure there's nothing in the way I look that would prompt teasing. In my early teen years, I integrated other people's beliefs into my own thought patterns. The parts of my body I'm most unhappy with are the ones that provoked the most teasing: my stomach, lower back, and legs (although that may be in part to the fact that those are the areas diets target, as well.) Rarely do I have problems with anywhere else.
Beyond the body image problems, I struggle with believing that people are honest about liking me. Throughout middle school, people pretended to be my friends and bullied me behind my back. Now, five years later, I still worry about what people think and say about me when I'm not there. I worry that my friends put on a front but dislike me when I leave. Learning to believe that people could truly like me has been one of the hardest journeys of my life, but I'm getting there.
What most people forget about bullying is that it echoes throughout a lifetime and that it can be very easy to absorb other's voices into one's own. And as a result, we have a generation of bullied kids who don't know how to love themselves in the way they should. I have since forgiven the people who made my life miserable for years by realizing that their assessments of who I am as a person are entirely wrong.
I've taught myself to rely on the voices of people I trust and adore: my parents, sister, friends, and boyfriend, who never fail to support me on days I feel down. But regardless of the fact that I'm in a great place in my life, bullying had an indelible impact on my self-esteem that has taken, and will continue to take, years to unravel.
Originally published on Proud2BMe.Org
About this blogger: Claire Trainor is a freshman at DePaul University majoring in Creative Writing and Psychology. In steady recovery from an eating disorder, she wants to educate, support, and inspire those struggling in anyway. She likes her dogs, hot chocolate, and books. Claire currently runs a personal recovery blog.
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Are you struggling with an eating disorder or do you know someone who is? Call the National Eating Disorders Association's toll-free helpline for support: (800)-931-2237.
This story was originally published on Teen Voices