What Childhood Bullying Does To Your Body Image Later In Life

Guest article for Mind, Body, Green.

If you ask most adults if they were bullied as a child and their answer is yes, they can usually tell you their earliest bullying memory in great detail. They can pinpoint the exact day, time, location and who was there.

Why? Because it was a traumatic experience.

For many people, these earliest experiences with bullying typically occur around the 5th grade. Socially, this is the time when boys and girl start to form cliques, become competitive and begin showing interest in the opposite sex. However, this is also the time when many physical changes occur.

Kids get braces, glasses, acne, start developing faster or slower than everyone else in class … anyone can be a prime target for bullying for any reason.

Unfortunately, the effects of bullying can carry over to adulthood. We hold on to labels, to the names we were called. We can play the bullying scenarios over and over in our heads, so much so that we may start believing them again. By adulthood, perfectly proportioned women think they’re too big, too tall, too skinny. This is where body dysmorphia can begin.

Body dysmorphia is a type of chronic mental illness where you can’t stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. Your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone.

Body dysmorphia and memories of teasing and/or bullying can go hand-in-hand. If the bullying experience was traumatic and you were never able to process it and let it go, the effects can linger for years. For example, if you were teased as a child for being “chubby,” those ugly nicknames have a tendency to stick around even though you know you’re not overweight today.

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Megan: Stuck in Neutral. (A girl’s struggle w/ depression and anorexia)

An excerpt from my book, Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image

I see self-esteem as how I perceive myself in relation to others and if I see myself as pretty or fat or smart. It has to do with whether I’m confident or not.

For me, my biggest issue is weight. I was obese, clinically. I also struggled with depression and went to a therapist who gave me medication. It didn’t help that I was teased throughout school. Like in sixth grade this guy I thought was my friend asked me out, but then on the bus he told everybody it was a big joke. He told them that he thought it was funny I said yes. Can you imagine how much that crushed me? You don’t just get over something like that.

I lost like 40 pounds the summer between eighth and ninth grade. I started swimming and ate healthier, but then I began to exhibit all the textbook symptoms of anorexia. I mostly ate trail mix. I would eat those all-natural bars – Think Thin bars – but I would eat them as a whole meal. For dinner I would have an apple with peanut butter. I would count calories and keep a food journal. At the end of the day I’d look through it and be like, “Oh, I had too many of this.”

I don’t do that anymore. I know I can’t go back there, but I think about it every time I eat. Can you imagine struggling every single time you’re hungry? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – wanting food so badly, but not wanting it at the same time? Now I have healthy eating patterns, but people have to talk to me or distract me so I don’t know how much I’m taking in. The hard part is as I gain the weight back, I see myself as I was before. Even though I’m a healthy weight now, when I look in the mirror I feel like I’m obese compared to where I was when I was anorexic.

I think about body image a lot subconsciously, and I shouldn’t. Hopefully when I get older I won’t be surrounded by people who talk about stuff like that all the time. I feel like if they wouldn’t talk about it then I wouldn’t fixate on it so much.

When I think of what makes me happy, eating is the first thing that comes to mind. Isn’t that sad? In fact, during this whole conversation, the mention of food is the only thing that will make me smile.

Literally.

Unfortunately, I’m the person who loves food but it doesn’t love me. Then I have no choice but to hate it back. Food helped me through some difficult times though. When I was younger, I would “eat my feelings” if I was sad. Now instead of eating a lot I just have like a spoonful and dip it in ice cream, just to taste it. But there’s still this fat child within me that has that feeling, that longing. It’s the fat child that just ate and ate whenever her parents fought.

My mom and I are close but I don’t have a relationship with my dad at all. He leaves early for work, gets home late and eats dinner in a separate room. We just never really had a good relationship.

I guess he never really cared.

I don’t know.

I just accept it now.

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