Body shaming 101

I was 12 and so was he.

I was a scrawny, scrappy, happy, athletic kid.

My body was strong and it felt powerful when I ran or swam or played. I was not at all self-conscious about it.

Puberty was on the horizon, but not yet a reality.

I was at my friend's lake cabin for the week and we - along with a bunch of other kids our age - were piled into sleeping bags in the main living area to sleep each night. 

It was summer and the evenings were warm.

One night I woke up sweaty so I slipped off my long-sleeved shirt to change into a tank top.  Everyone else was asleep. I didn't think anyone saw me make this quick change.

I was wrong.

The next morning we were all gathered around the kitchen table eating pancakes. We were laughing and enjoying the morning and the fact that another summer day stretched out long in front of us.

Suddenly, my world shifted forever.

One of the boys with us - the one I had a crush on - said:

"Pancakes are the perfect breakfast for you, Alice."

I bet you really like PANCAKES.

I think from now on, that will be your nickname - I will just call you 'pancake.'"

All the other boys snickered at this, laughing at me, sharing an inside joke.

The room grew silent.

My face grew hot. My stomach dropped. The pancake I was previously enjoying turned to gravel in my mouth. I felt tears well up. 

I now know that what I was feeling was a deep, deep level of shame I had never experienced before.

I learned some of the cruelest lessons of girlhood that day:

My body was an object for boys to criticize publicly.

My body was available for public comment.

My body, formerly a source of childlike joy, could be a source of shame and embarrassment.

This prepubescent boy thought it was ok, funny even, to announce that he had seen my equally prepubescent body when I changed my shirt the night before. 

And he pronounced my body lacking.

Not up to his standards.

Worthy of a good laugh in front of my peers.

Pancake was my nickname the rest of my time at the lake.

I was 12.

I will never forget the shame of that day.

Next, I will write about how this experience influenced how I parented my two daughters.