I was in third grade when I was bullied about my weight for the first time. My mom had just bought me a brand new faux sheepskin vest from the Gap that matched with a pinstriped long-sleeved shirt to go underneath. I thought I looked super cute in my new, powder blue ensemble. I wore it to school with pride.
Later that day — as I worked on an assignment with a friend — I heard a boy in my class start to make animal noises. “MOO!” he yelled.
I turned around in confusion. He was looking right at me. Was he making those noises at me? He continued, “BAA! You look like a farm animal, Katie. You’re definitely the same size as one. MOO!”
With my heart in my stomach, I turned back around slowly. My cheeks turned dark red. Sweat started to pool on my brow. The tears were already flowing. He was talking about me. I looked down at my vest with utter embarrassment. How could I think this was something cool to wear? Quiet giggles fell over the classroom. I looked at my friend who was working on the assignment with me. Her arms did look smaller than mine. And her stomach didn’t fall over her pants like mine did. She definitely didn’t look like a cow. Was I fat? Was I the cow? I scurried from the room and cried in a bathroom stall until my teacher came and convinced me to come back to class.
When I got home from school that day, I flew up the stairs to get a good look at myself in my bedroom mirror. Turning from side to side, sucking in my stomach, lifting my chin to make sure I only had one; I began to scrutinize myself. At eight years old, I was hating myself. I was hating my body. That was a hate I would carry inside for years to come.
The bullying about my weight did not stop for many years. In junior high, a boy in my grade frequently stole my lunch because I “didn’t need it.” And yes, the mooing also continued. Except this time the mooing occurred as I walked by lunch tables for the entire grade to hear and laugh at my expense. These hurtful moments have been stuck to my heart like Gorilla Glue since then. So much so that even as I write this I cannot help but feel uneasy and angry and so sad for this past version of myself.
Looking back now at photographs from that time, I look totally and completely normal for a girl that age. I just happened to be a little bit bigger than all of my friends. So I stood out as “the fat girl” — and I believed it too. I was coming of age during the days of skeletal Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan on the cover of US Weekly. The era of “fat” Jessica Simpson and Special K cereal. Skinny was in, and I was definitely not that. Pop culture and the media liked to rub that in.
For years, I continued to be obsessed with my weight. Even when I married my husband, I was wondering what others were thinking of me compared to women he had dated in the past. This paranoia was exacerbated (or maybe proven) when a family member at our rehearsal dinner talked about the “supermodels” my soon-to-be husband used to date, how bad they were for him despite how beautiful they were, and how he should be more realistic about his dating choices. “And then he met Katie…” the family member said.
Once again, there I was — 15 years later — crying in the bathroom about my weight. Body image and insecurities about my appearance have loomed over me since that day in third grade, but as the years went on, I truly started caring less and less about what others thought about me and my body — whatever size it was that year. I was in my thirties, happily married to a man who thought I was beautiful, and raising my own little girl.
My daughter is now three years old, and the pressure of how to properly raise her with a healthy body image overwhelms me at times. I know I cannot protect her from the harsh words of kids at school, but I can guide her on how to handle it. I have vowed to take certain measures to make sure I am doing everything I can to help my little girl love her body and be confident in who she is.
First, I will never comment on my own body in front of her. Even on the days when I’m bloated, cranky, and truly feeling like that 8-year-old little girl, I will never say anything negative about my body. 5 to 8 year olds who think their moms are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own, according to a report by Common Sense Media. If she overhears me constantly criticizing or expressing frustration and dislike about my appearance, all I am doing is sending a message to her that bodies are to be judged and forced to conform to societal beauty standards rather than be accepted and loved.
I will also instill in her that we do not comment on other people’s bodies. All bodies are good and beautiful no matter their shape or size. It’s a gift to have a body that moves and helps us live our life.
Lastly, food is neutral in our house. There is no “junk food.” Nothing she eats will be considered “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Some days we have “fun” foods like ice cream and french fries, and other days we’re making vegetable soup in the Crockpot. Either way, we’ll express gratitude for having a full belly.
Living as a young girl in this world and working to maintain a healthy body image is no easy feat, but I will do everything in my power to instill confidence in my daughter’s heart and security in who she is — no matter her size.
Katie is a contributing Scary Mommy writer covering parenting, celebrity, and viral moments.
She has written content for Distractify and Cuteness as well as personal essays for Thought Catalog and Clean Plates. She has a degree in English from North Central College.
In her free time, she’s hanging with her 3-year-old and husband, planning their next family trip, and watching restocking videos on TikTok.