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She covers herself as the massage chair in the shopping centre does its thing. She hides the softness of her stomach as it jiggles. I dare not smile or watch her too long for fear she thinks I’m laughing at her. I’m not, I’m smiling a smile of recognition. I’ve been there.

I notice the brown eyes and freckles scattered across her nose. She probably wishes her brown eyes were green or her skin was porcelain. That she was taller or didn’t have thick hair straining the elastic on her ponytail. At this stage she’d probably take anything over what she actually is.

I was her. Or the her I imagine her to be. Who taught her that? I couldn’t help but think.

Who taught ME that?

When does the hiding and the shame about your body begin? Is it watching and observing. Is it at school or in groups… At swimming club? When does being who we are stop being enough and we start wishing we were different? Whenever and wherever it starts it does. I work now so that the next generation will be easier in their bodies. But maybe we lost them already. Man I hope that’s not true.

Quietly I continue to watch as the girl’s mother approaches. The mother smiles and asks if the massage feels good. I search her voice for the reason behind this little girl’s shame. I automatically assume it come from her, I’m waiting for the moment when she says to get up and stop exposing herself in such a way.

But the opposite happens and the girl begins to relax in her mother’s presence. Lays her arms on the rests and smile gently towards the ceiling as her eyes flutter shut. The very presence of her mother assures this girl and I chastise myself for having thought otherwise. My own mother had the same effect on me.

The massage chair stops abruptly and delivers the girl into an upright position. She springs out of the seat, grabs her Mum’s hand and they walked back towards me. I start to move on, aware now of how long I have been watching the scene unfold. I smile at them as I pass and the girl grins back. Maybe she sees me too? All of me. Right back to the beginning. Or maybe she’s just happy. But I wonder.

As a woman now into her thirties I was able to walk past with my head held high, comfortable with who and what I am. I watch the people as I walk by them. Watching their reactions to me, the way they are with themselves and the people around them. I smile inwardly proud of where I have come from.

I’m okay here now. Comfortable and confident with myself and I want to pass that on to that girl. I want to save her the years, maybe decades, of angst. It occurs to me that her mother has probably had the same thought somewhere along the way. Maybe it was the very moment she had a daughter. Maybe she is as desperate as I am to cause change for these girls. Starting with her girl.

I have a way to do something, even if I am too late. I have a space here. I have a chance and a reason and a motive. I write because I want to say these things to not just the women I know and their daughters but all daughters. Scribbling notes on the page, clacking the keys or sharing a photo where my hair isn’t done and the my face looks weird. Whatever it takes.

The girl I was deserves at least that. Every girl deserves that. Let’s show her the way.

  • Emily Furlong

    And this is exactly why I tagged you in my photo!!!!! Real, relatable and you MEAN it! No lip service! This was soooooo well written xxx

  • kp

    <3 this lady, because you didn't just write it, you mean it …KUDOS to you xx

  • Cindy15905

    such a great piece of writing today- I felt like I was standing next to you, watching the young girl in the same moment. Very powerful. Great job 🙂

    • Thank you Cindy. Trying to dust off my writing skills lately, more time into considering my words rather than poring over million sof photos of myself. It’s been a nice change.

  • Mel Watson

    Beautifully written Mel. I loved this piece. =)

  • Amy

    My five year old son yesterday commented that his belly was too big, and he wished that it was small like Mr Incredible- and proceeded to suck in his tiny bit of baby fat and puff up his chest. My heart launched into my throat while I proceed to tell him that he has a perfect stomach, and he’s strong and handsome and damn perfect just the way he is right now. Seriously- body issues at 5??? Where does that even come from??

    • Where indeed? We forget that boys are as affected sometimes. They have just as much pressure to be something that very few could possibly achieve as girls do. I write this for the boys too. I just have never been one or raised one so I feel a little unqualified. You know?

  • Mahina Hathaway

    I got teased when I was young for being ‘too skinny’, for being ‘flat enough to surf on’ and taller than everyone else to boot. My body shame started then. I grew hips and thighs and an almighty butt! I had no idea how to feel about my new body. My body shame continued. I dressed weird so that people would make fun of my clothes instead of my body. My Mum always told me I was beautiful and yet she could never see how beautiful she is. Dad was never good with compliments. He was never mean and he still has a hard time saying, “you look nice”. I went from a size 10 to when I am now (about 18-20) and I thought I was fat at every step of the way, regardless of what size I was or what I weighed. The problem was in my head, not in the mirror.
    Now I am learning how awesome my body is. I hiked in the Caribbean, I swum from the boat to the shore for the first time in my life, and a 16 year old girl told me that I was inspiring because I was the same size as her and I had an awesome life, and an awesome boyfriend and she thought I was beautiful. That really hit home for me. It came at a time where I was massively out of my comfort zone and the challenges I faced meant that I focused on my body shame less, because I needed the energy to tackle so many new experiences. I realised the many awesome things that my body (of which I was previously so ashamed of) had done, and I felt really proud of myself.
    Like you said, I think that when you realise you have so much to be proud of, the journey away from body shame begins. And we need to practise what we preach if we want the younger generation to catch on. I love that you totally practise what you preach!

    • Yes. Yes and yes! Great comment Mahina and an excellent addition to the conversation. We do indeed need to practice what we preach. Lead by example. And stop being so critical of ourselves and others. We have no idea who is watching.

  • Emma Hinchliff

    I think we want that for these girls because we know what it was like. Almost every day since grade 1 I was the tallest girl in school and because I stood out for being tall, the shorter girls would call me fat. I don’t want that for my daughter and I know she will be tall because of her parents. Girls just have to stop hating on each other and start pulling together. I hate what my sister went through in high school also, she was bullied by a friend after she came out as a lesbian. It’s not just body shaming, it’s shaming in every sense of being a person and it has to stop.

    • It’s shaming in every sense… and it has to stop. Love it. You’re so right. If I wasn’t too tall {like you} or too big there would have been something else. Too blonde, too smart, too loud. Love this, thanks for sharing. x

  • Justine

    As a child I was teased for things I had no power to change at all. Eg my lips (which people actually want now!!) and a birthmark on my leg. Swimming was the worst, I hated the changing rooms and would cover up all the time.
    Funnily enough I never got anything about my weight from other kids. That came from my mother. She would always make comments about my weight or thighs and going through that during my teens has still left scars today. She would say she was doing it to help but I know better now.
    For the most part I am fine with how I am, it appears to be others who have the problem and they think saying “just lose some weight” will solve all of the worlds problems. Not true.

    • I always find it hard to hear from people who have suffered at the hands of their parents, in whatever way. It’s such a devastating thing, it affects the way you {they} see SO many things in life. So many. Glad hear you’re doing well now. You need to live for yourself first, I think, when it comes to the opinions and comments of others. Then the unwelcomed comments and opinions seem to slide off easier. Thanks for joining in the conversation. x

  • Treesarebrownlove

    Sugar this is a really well written piece, I was right there with you. For those that haven’t yet heard about Taryn’s journey to embrace oneself please check her out; http://bodyimagemovement.com.au or Facebook – body image movement.
    We can all contribute to spreading this message of pure self acceptance no matter what body shape or size.
    #ihaveembraced

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  • leashyann

    I honestly did not have body issues until I spent 24 hours in a car with my step-step-grandmother (my stepfather’s stepmother), in which she talked about nothing except to convince me that my then-11-year-old self would never be like my then-16-year-old cousin and get a boyfriend, because I was too fat. I was 11 and was still fitting in children’s clothes sizes, but apparently I was too fat. She literally killed any chance of me having self confidence as a teenager in those two 12 hour car rides. My mother was furious when I told her what happened. Haven’t seen her, though – she hasn’t been allowed at my parent’s house since.

    • Ugh, such an impressionable age. If only people would realise what effect they could have on young people. The short version of all of this is I’m sorry that happened. It’s the crappiest of crap situations. It made me think of this post I wrote about Joan Collins and a hopeful feeling I have that there is a changing of the guard happening. I went and found the link just for you. x

      http://sugercoatit.com/changing-of-the-guard/

  • Maria Griffin

    Mel, I’ve seen this post twice and it took a lot of strength to read it. I had terrible self esteem about my body and a lot of it stems from comments from my Mum and other adults in my life. I recall a primary school class where the teacher weighed us publicly and then we had to put the weights in order on the blackboard from smallest to biggest. Such a humiliating experience…Still, I was a competitive swimmer and whilst my body was bigger than other kids, it was curvy and muscular which I’d love to have today. Now, I’m starting to love my body, loving its strengths and making sure it is healthier. It’s a long process but one day I will be able to say that I love all of me.

    • I had a similar experience in my final year of primary school, so somewhere between 11 and 12 years old. Like you I was a competitive swimmer and almost my full adult height. I felt like SUCH a giant compared to the other kids. Wow, school back in those days, huh?

      I hope for that for you too. And it really does take a lot of back and forward, one step forward two steps back. You never really get there and stay put. But one day out of nowhere you’ll just be like WOW. Lovely. I love it here.

      • Maria Griffin

        I’ll get there, there’s bits I like and am starting to love . Your challenges and your posts have really helped me, so thank you xx

        • I’m sure you will. Thank you so much. I’m really proud, ridiculously proud in fact, to be doing my bit. 🙂