Conversations with tween-aged girls never really turn out like you think they would. I won’t tell you everything that they told me, but that line, about feeling ugly, it really stuck with me. Maybe because I know that feeling ugly is ageless - that insecurity can seep into your bones and even lay dormant for years.
At this age, even before high school, when their bodies are changing - they’re already molding their self-image. Their bodies are constantly growing, but somehow in the flick of a switch, it’s all of a sudden the most important thing in their lives. Some of us walk through fire before adulthood, some get lucky and stay under the radar. Wherever you were under the spectrum of puberty, every woman has a story of their journey with their bodies.
The tween years is short and comes with a different set of challenges to having teenagers. I don’t have children of my own, yet a big part of my life has been spent raising soon to be women of my community. These are just some words from a girl you know, doing their best to survive the playground.
As adults we sometimes forget what that’s like, or maybe we remember too well and we try to forget. Our issues with our bodies, they don’t really go away with time, they just morph or manifest into other areas of our lives. By listening to these girls I found courage to start addressing long held-beliefs and labels, and just as they took a long time to stick, it too will take some time to heal.
Before my hips grew into the woman I am now
When people think of Asian women, they often speak of petite, graceful figures that need to be handled with care. I used to joke that my Spanish heritage gave me these hips and molded with chocolate and junk food. Because I had my foot in two opposing cultures, there was a lot of ‘conventional thinking’ that I rebelled against. One of them is what people see as the ‘ideal’ body shape.
Growing up, the shape of my body was never really a concern for me, though there were many women in my life (especially in my teenage years) who insisted that it should be. I felt their projected insecurities searing - my weight has fluctuated over the years yet one thing remained, my curvy hips. I don’t think it’s vain to feel OK about my body, do you?
Certainly in my limited dating experience in my young adult years, I never met a man who rejected me because of my body. Is the insecurity about our bodies (and self-image) something that we learn from the women around us? I refuse to believe that to feel insecure is a matter of nature.
Resist being molded from
the cookie cutter
We’re all a little weird, a bit crazy, a bit more imperfect than we want to admit. I’m no cookie cutter creation, and I don’t think anyone else is either. Somewhere down the road we get convinced to drink the kool-aid and want to be ‘just like everybody else’. I’m seeing some of that in these girls already, and though they try to resist it, there’s a part of them that will be worn down and either partially or begrudgingly to conform.
It’s certainly confusing times for them, on one hand they’re told that being unique is beautiful, yet on the other, they’re bombarded by society’s often cookie cutter standards of beauty. At a time when their bodies are changing, shouldn’t we be teaching them how to feed their bodies with good fuel instead of the latest trend in make-up?
As a woman who deals a lot of with girls who are growing into women, I try my best to help them understand that the changes in their bodies isn’t something gross or to be feared. That whatever shape their thighs are, it’s just fine. Your worth as a person isn’t about how fleek your eyebrows are. It’s like that logical part of their brains is simply overwhelmed by hormones for a few years. We’ve all been there.
Be the friend that you want
to be friends with
One of my dancers told me once that some kids didn’t want to play with her because they think she’s ‘too bossy’. The kid’s like 11. So I told her to be the friend that she wants to be friends with. She had a confused look on her face so I asked her if she really want to play with those kids, or was she just scared of missing out?
I like her because she’s not scared to be alone, which means she’s not easily swayed with peer pressure. I asked her to think about what she liked about herself, and to think about those things when kids don’t want to play with her. By thinking of those positives, her vibe will attract the tribe that she actually wants to be with.
Even at such a young age she already understands rejection and that life won’t always be fair. It doesn’t mean we need to harden our hearts either - that will shut everyone out by default. If people reject us, we can push back or see it as a gift that it will leave space for better people to come along.