My first ever encounter with the word ‘diet‘ was when I was around 9 or 10 years old. Definitely not more than twelve, and I am sure I was still studying in Primary School.
One of my school friend was a child model. She was so pretty, and obviously because she was exposed to modelling world, she was ahead of us in this body image industry. Sometimes I wonder if she is still doing this for a living, but at that time it was just cool to be seen around with someone who’s supposed to be popular.
I was nothing like her though. Compared to her, and our other friends, who had been slowly transitioned to teenage-hood, I was just a child. While everyone has started wearing their training bra, and experienced their first period… I was blissfully unaware of it all. Good times.
So, obviously, I never heard of diet either. But that did not last long because my friend would make sure of that.
I was eating my second helping of lunch, when my friend decided to have a talk with me. She asked me if I had my period yet. Now if I think about it, it was a bit weird because nobody would ask such a personal question. But I know she meant well… I was her friend, and that was how she had my back.
She continued on telling me that when I had my first period, my body will change. She told me that the lunch I had been having all that time would have to change, because after I have my period the same lunch will make me fat.
I did not know that fat was bad. But since that day I did not eat two helpings of lunch at school anymore.
Here’s the reality. I grew up in a culture where women are expected to fit to a certain image. Feminine, dainty, pretty, and well groomed. While I was never been considered as overweight all this time, I was never the feminine and dainty type.
My grandfather enrolled me and my sisters to a professional tennis club for children where we were given a lot of exercises. We grew up having this more athletic build than the slender and feminine one. As we were involved in more athletic activities, we had more muscle than our peers at that time, so it s not a surprise if we are heavier than them during the weigh-in days at school.
However, my young mind never understood that. Nobody taught us about muscle mass in primary school. Nobody said anything about the measurements. All we cared about at that time was the number in our scale. And, mine was bad.
That sort of thoughts stayed with me for a very long time. Like a lot of women my age, I have tried different kind of diets. I have starved myself. I even tried to purge. I never thought of the health side of this activities, because all I knew was the fact I wasn’t happy with the number on the scale.
I understand now what I did not understand back then. The fact that the weight loss obsession, especially when it is not backed with a proper knowledge about our own body can easily lead us to eating disorder. It affects our mental health, to stress and anxiety, to low self esteem.
Things would not change for a very long time for me. Since my culture actually condone this kind of mental self flagellation. My parents would support whatever diet ideas I spouted. My mother went as far as juicing carrots and tomatoes in the morning to replace solid breakfast. Nobody asked me to have lunch.
In fact, only my grandmother objected this ‘let’s starve to lose weight’ program. My grandmother was and is still the best cook I have ever known. She found joy feeding people, and she is the reason I want to be a chef. She would make me my favourite food so that I eat something else than an apple a day.
At that time, it felt like a sabotage attempt. Now I know it is just pure love.
Not that I am saying my parents did not love me. They did. And they still do, obviously. They’re just as clueless as I was at that time about nutrients and about eating healthy. And in the 90’s information about healthy eating was not as easily obtained like it is today. We can easily be a victim of a dangerous fad diets.
I wish I knew then what I know now, that the number is not the problem, but it is a symptoms of a problem. I wish I could tell that 10 year old girl to ignore her friends, and keep enjoying the food and keep going to that tennis club. But I couldn’t do that.
What I could, though… is sharing my experience here.
Have you ever experienced something like that when you were young? Do you experience stress or anxiety because of your body image? Please share 🙂