14 People Remember The First Time They Were Body-Shamed

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Whatever we used to say to our bullies about rubber and glue, the truth is, words can hurt, and they can stick with us for a really, really long time: especially those that make us feel bad about our appearance. According to a recent survey of 1,000 Refinery29 readers, more than half of us were shamed for our bodies by age 14. And those early weight-related comments can have profound, long-lasting effects, experts say: Even critiques that seem inconsequential or come from a "good place" can do damage that stays with us for decades.
"We live in a society that is structured to privilege and elevate thinner bodies over heavier ones," says Jeffrey Hunger, PhD, a researcher who specializes in the health effects of stigma at UCLA. "When someone is living in this anti-fat society and told that they’re fat, of course there are going to be long-term consequences — what they’re hearing is that they're going to be marginalized, looked down on, and discriminated against simply because of their body."
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Hearing these critiques at an early age is especially intense. "For people entering adolescence who are just figuring out who they are, comments about appearance can be particularly influential," says David Frederick, PhD, an assistant professor of health psychology at Chapman University. "We care because we know that how we're viewed can have a big impact on our lives."
One factor that can make body-shaming more significant is who it's coming from, Dr. Hunger says. In particular, research suggests that negative comments from close friends or family members — a common occurrence, our survey responses indicate — tend to be much more impactful than those from strangers (although those are no good, either). That's because, under normal circumstances, your family is supposed to be the people you can turn to at any time for social support. "But if those are the people telling you that you could 'stand to lose a few pounds,' you're not only losing a source of social support, you're also getting these negative experiences," Dr. Hunger says. "It's a double whammy."
So is there anything we can do to help the young people in our lives have better relationships with their bodies? Absolutely — and it starts with modeling our own healthy attitudes towards our bodies. "As parents or people interacting with children, if we ourselves can get to a place where we’re comfortable in our own skin, we show kids that is possible," Dr. Hunger says.
On top of that, we can do our best to leave weight out of health-related discussions. "We can talk about eating well, staying active, and getting good sleep and not once do we have to mention the word 'weight,'" Dr. Hunger says. Part of that is also focusing on the way our bodies feel and what they do rather than the way they look, Dr. Frederick adds. For instance, checking in with your strength, agility, or stamina rather than routinely monitoring how you look to the outside world can help foster a healthy satisfaction with our bodies.
To see some examples of the effects of weight-shaming in childhood, continue on to read a selection of the anonymous responses we received from the R29 community.
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1 of 14

I was made to feel shame simply because I was a growing, maturing, and changing person.

"I think it was when my grandmother and I were shopping for school clothes and she made a comment about how much I had grown. I was okay with being taller because that meant I was one step closer to being an adult, but when the waist size on my jeans had to go up once again she said I shouldn't be sneaking so many cookies and I felt crushed. Here I was, a child who was so grateful to have a body that could run and play, then suddenly I was made to feel shame simply because I was a growing, maturing, and changing person."
2 of 14

It's like people only think of me as an alien or a strange creature.

"My family and my friends always called me 'fatty.' Guys in my school said I'm 'too big and too tall to be a girl.' It made me very sad — it's like [I don't] fit into society and people only think of me as an alien or a strange creature."
3 of 14

It really hurt me because it was my own father who said this.

"My father: 'You should start working out more because you have been getting big lately.' It really hurt me because it was my own father who said this. [He] does not look very fit himself, yet he criticizes me anyway."
4 of 14

I was scary underweight because of one dumb comment from a guy I thought I liked.


"[They said] something like 'Wow, you really have an appetite,' and it felt really, really bad. I went to an all-girls high school, so my high school years were pretty body-positive. But the person who said it was a guy at college. It made me feel so self-conscious. And I wanted so badly to seem attractive that I stopped eating for a while and lost the 'freshman 20' instead of gaining the 'freshman 15.' I was scary underweight because of one dumb comment from a guy I thought I liked."
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5 of 14

I am still frequently praised for avoiding food.

"My mom, who is half my size, used to force me to go for long walks with her because she thought I was too big. She would always tell me what to eat and how much to exercise. I am still frequently praised for avoiding food."
6 of 14

I don't think I realized until I was an adult how much that shaped my ideas around my body.

"I think I was 13 when I was first told I should wear Spanx because my tummy jiggled. At the time, it made me extremely self-conscious. But I don't think I ever realized until I was an adult how much that shaped my ideas around my body and how it should relate to fashion."
7 of 14

I never forgot my first pediatrician.

"I was feeling ill, so I went to the doctor. He said that my issues were caused by being overweight. According to him, everything was caused by me being overweight. My mom eventually took me to another doctor, but I never forgot my first pediatrician. He made me feel like being fat wasn't just socially unacceptable, but that my body was punishing me for it whenever I got sick."
8 of 14

We hadn't seen each other in months and those were the first words out of his mouth.

"My dad saw me at a track meet after not seeing each other for a while. After my race, I went to say hi to him, and the first words he said to me were, 'You. Got. Fat.' I was hurt because we hadn't seen each other in months, and those were the first words out of his mouth."
9 of 14

It made me feel isolated — like crap, honestly.

"I have a big bottom and someone made a comment about how I 'just didn't have the right body type.' I was 12 years old. My father would always comment about how big I was, [he would say that] I was big boned or I wasn't skinny like other girls. He would tell me what to eat and what not to eat. My brother was an all-star football player, and he would always call me names and tell me I was fat etc. It made me feel isolated — like crap, honestly. I am still trying to deal with a lot of the things [they] said 20 years later!"
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10 of 14

I still struggle with accepting how others perceive me.

"I distinctly remember another girl in my class calling me 'chubby.' She pointed to another classmate and said, 'You're not fat like her, but you're chubby.' It was the first time I had ever thought about my body in that context or even realized that other people would be thinking about my body shape/size. It started a total shift in my thinking. It's been 20 years since that happened, and it still makes me sad and upset to think about. And I still struggle with accepting how others perceive me."
11 of 14

It definitely made me feel crappy!

"[My aunt asked my cousin,] 'Is she okay with that picture?' in reference to a group photo of us girls at the beach. It definitely made me feel crappy!"
12 of 14

I [felt] as though I was a bad person or that I let her down.

"My mother told me I was fat, and I think it just went downhill from there. I [felt] as though I was a bad person or that I let her down — that I had failed her."
13 of 14

I still remember and I am almost 40.

"My mom said, 'Oh my god, my daughter is so fat, what happened?' I still remember and I am almost 40. It made me self-conscious."
14 of 14

It made me feel terrible — guilty, worthless, resentful.

"A teacher and then an uncle tried to incentivize me to lose weight with cash and gifts. My mother (who has her own weight battles) would point out women heavier than her and make fun of them in front of me as I struggled with my own weight due to family issues at a young age. It made me feel terrible — guilty, worthless, resentful. Sometimes I'd try to intentionally eat more to 'show' them."
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