As I came downstairs to brew some coffee before taking kids to school, I saw my daughter with a measuring cup. She was measuring the amount of cereal to put into her bowl. Then I saw her measuring the amount of milk that went into her bowl – it was very little.As I sat there drinking my coffee, I watched my daughter eat a small bowl of cereal, and I kept thinking it was strange. This was my most active daughter who knew the importance of eating and was working out for 2-3 hours a day playing soccer. I continued seeing her measure her food and eat very little portions for a few weeks. Then finally she came home crying and confided in me that she was getting fat shamed by boys at school.
This was not the first time my daughter was fat shamed. Ever since my daughter started playing competitive soccer at an early age and developed a muscular build, she would get fat shamed. In the sixth grade,when she started beating boys at running or whatever sport or activity they played in P.E., she told us the boys were calling her fat. She did have an athletic build from playing soccer, but she was not fat. At that time, she was working out 5 to 6 days of the week playing soccer, but she was a young girl too, and it crushed her to be called fat. My daughter talked to her teachers, but ultimately they only reassured her that the boys were merely reacting to her athletic talent and that she was not fat. As a parent, I was disappointed in the school. I wanted my daughter to make fun of the scrawny boys or use physical force to put them in their place, but eventually she ignored the boys and it stopped. Or at least as time went on, my daughter complained less and from my perspective, seemed to have a more confident image of herself. But I later learned that was not the case.
When seventh grade started, my entire family started noticingdrastic changes. My daughter was far more irritable and even pickier when it came to eating, which she told us was because she wastrying to eat healthier – we just attributed it to her being a teenager. We noticed that my daughter wasmore self-conscious, was constantly looking at herself in the mirror and got excited when her clothes became too loose and she fit into her younger sister’s clothes. She also became obsessed with working out and told us that we needed to support her because she was simply doing more to help her as an athlete. After coming home from soccer practice, she would do sit-ups in the living room. She also started running in the morning before school. And she wouldn’t just run a mile or so, she would run several miles. When my younger daughter shared her concerns about her sister, we confronted my daughter and learned that she was being fat shamed again on a regular basis from the same boys at school.
My daughter’s school is one of the toughest schools in the nation. However, she has managed to remain in the top 5% of her class for the last few years and to play for the best soccer team in the State. She has had enough on her plate to worry about, but somehow she was letting these boys consume her.My daughter was being fat shamed by a bunch of intelligent, yet under-developed boys who hadn’t progressed through puberty yet. None of the boys were athletic, and they did not spend hours each week exercising like my daughter. My daughter was a target for them because she ran circles around them in the gym and was better at any sport or activity that they engaged in. But these were the boys causing havoc and unnecessary stress in my daughter’s life. These were the boys impacting our family.
By the end of seventh grade, my daughter had lost over 10 pounds. She was eating less, getting migraines on a regular basis and having severe stomach pains. She was a mess. The bones on her body, especially her face, were very pronounced. She developed a distorted self-image that we could not change. We had her meet with a doctor and others with a background in nutrition and fitness so that she understood what her body needed and the damage she was causing. However, it took her coach telling her that she was getting too small for the soccer field and her doctor attributing her migraines and stomach pains to her diet that she snapped out of the fog that she was in. She finally agreed that she was burning more calories than she was consuming. Her doctor seemed to get through to her and got her to commit to eating 6 times a day. It has taken a lot of protein shakes and assurance to get my daughter comfortable with eating again.
I never thought my daughter would be bullied at school, especially for being fit. She has always been a beast on the soccer field, and it was shocking to see my tough child break down and struggle with this. It is not always the most vulnerable that become victims to bullying. In today’s society we seem to be promoting a more positive image for girls, and we need to build on the message to young girls that stronger is the new pretty or the new healthy. However, it starts with our sons, we cannot tolerate them teasing girls for being bigger than them and they need to accept that it is okay to get beat in P.E. class by a girl. In the end, I think the way to empower our daughters is by building up our sons to embrace the competitiveness and physical strength that girls possess these days.