Why Girls ‘Learn’ to Hate Their Bodies — One Young Woman’s Story

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: I was on a plane (the only place where I get to catch up on all my fave magazines — beginning with PEOPLE and ending with Vanity Fair) … Anyway, featured in PEOPLE was an incredible organization founded by two 20-something year old women, who had recovered from eating disorders, and started an organization called Project HEAL. I immediately contacted them and said: PLEASE WRITE FOR GIRLilla Warfare. Here, Christina Zapata, the co-founder of the New Jersey Chapter tells her story. Love This Girl! Pass this piece on to your daughters … it is a Must-Read. xoxo LB


By Christina Zapata 

Body image. No matter how young, old, what race you are, gender, hair color, height, weight — it affects us all. Some more than others. My name is Christina Zapata, I am 20 years old, a student studying psychology and journalism, the Co-Founder of Project HEAL New Jersey Chapter (a non-profit organization to raise money for people in need to receive a scholarship for treatment for their eating disorder that they otherwise could not afford and insurance will not cover), and I recovered from Anorexia Nervosa. I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa when I was 14 years old, but the behaviors and self-destructive thoughts began much earlier.

I grew up in a nice area, your typical American, upper-middle class suburb in New Jersey, where you were considered strange if you didn’t have a Coach purse by the third grade and jean size was always a hot topic — even amongst the second graders.

It is safe to say that I have had an unhealthy and exceptionally negative view of my body for about as long as I can remember.

And until I was hospitalized when I was 14, I believed this ‘thought process’ was not just normal, but the way it was supposed to be.

Of course I do not believe in any way that an eating disorder is caused purely by negative body image or by the way that it is discussed in society. There are many underlying issues and triggers, but body image is definitely important.

I remember sitting in a therapy session once in treatment and it finally dawned on me that it is not normal to hate your body for as long as I did, and from such a young age. I am rather perplexed by it now actually.

How does a four-year-old girl grow up thinking it is completely normal to hate herself so much so that it consumes her? Sadly, I know I am not alone.

I know there are so many little girls out there right now thinking the same way. It breaks my heart, and it needs to be stopped. The truth is, girls ‘learn’ to hate themselves, their bodies for whatever reason through different channels. For some of us it is a judgmental mother, a critical father, a competitive sibling, the list goes on and on. As for me, my “hate your body” teachers came from both the media and girls in school. I will never forget this one particular girl who shall remain nameless that I was “friends” with in elementary school.

Blonde, skinny, seemingly harmless — but not so. She was like the little girl at the beginning of a bad horror film who has an adorable glow in her eye and then ends up killing all the main characters. I had every class with her in the first, second and third grades — including recess.

Oh, Recess — it is supposed to be such a wonderful time, right? Every child’s favorite ‘class”. Not for me — thanks to this girl and her band of Merry “Mean Girls” —  it is where I learned most of my body hating lessons.

There was this shiny red slide, that everyone wanted to go on. We all stared in awe of it, as if it were the winning door on “The Price is Right.” As we all know, children usually have a hard time sharing and deciding who gets to go down the slide first — which usually turns into a fight to the death. Not in this case, Blondie had a brilliant idea — there were five of us who were “friends” … so she thought it would be great to have us go down this slide in order of thinnest to fattest. Guess who was always first? You got it! Blondie. And guess who always was told to go last? Yup, that would be me.

“Little Christina” allowed this girl to tell her to go down that slide last, due to her weight for three years straight, and I didn’t realize just how much that would follow me and my body image. For years and years to come I would compare myself to others in any room: “Oh my gosh, I am the fattest one here.” I continued to let people to tell me “I had to be the last one to go down the slide.” I continued to allow different versions of this girl tell me that I wasn’t good enough. I talked about this girl in therapy so many times I have lost count.

That Girl was a symbol; she was one of my body hatred teachers. She reinforced how I already felt about myself. This is just one small example of how much we can be affected by our peers — so why do we do this to each other?

There are so many versions of this girl everywhere, but the bigger question is why are we so mean to one another? I hear women all the time criticizing other women and themselves. We need to learn that this is not normal behavior and we need to stop it.

It also makes me wonder where this first grade girl got the idea in the first place to tell us to go down that slide in order from thinnest to fattest? I suspect it came straight from home — her mother and sister were strong influences on “perfection” and being skinny.

Children hear and learn a lot more from older women than you might think. I am not a mother, but I have been a nanny for a few families, and I have noticed just how much children, even from the young age of three, pick up on the things that you Moms say and do.

So let’s be more careful. Let’s stop criticizing each other, ourselves, and our daughters.

As I said, I in no way believe that eating disorders are caused strictly by views on body image. There is so much more pain beneath the surface, but it all does contribute to self-loathing.

Moms: Begin to take action by loving yourself. Be a role model for your children and other kids regarding body image and the messages YOU put out there. Let’s not raise another generation of children who hate their bodies, and girls who make fun of others to feel better about themselves.

Lead by example — girls are always listening and watching even when you don’t think they are. Ask yourself on a daily basis: What are you going to teach them? How do you want this generation to feel about their own bodies?

Together, let’s stop all the negativity.

LB:  Project HEAL was founded in 2008 by Liana Rosenman and Kristina Saffran. It is a not-for-profit organization that raises funds for those in need to be able to receive a scholarship for treatment for their eating disorder that they otherwise could not afford. Project HEAL also raises awareness about eating disorders and promotes positive body image.

To learn more:
Website: http://theprojectheal.org/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Project-HEAL/168349076519864?fref=ts
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheProjectHEAL


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