Do Not Fear the Donut
The summer I turned 13, I started reading teen magazines. I saw it as a rite of passage. My mom saw it as four dollars I didn’t have and she didn’t need to spend. I’d go grocery shopping with her just so I could have 30 minutes and 12 aisles to convince her I really needed the latest issue of whatever magazine Britney Spears was on. One day, I was laying out by my best friend’s pool, stack of magazines by my side and a sack of potato chips between us, reading one of the issues I’d talked my way into owning. In the health section, next to some facts about PMS and a particularly embarrassing period story, was an “Eat This, Not That” headline. Until that day, I’d never really thought about the food I ate, only that I loved chocolate chip cookies more than my own dog and could down more hot dogs that my big brother. This was a fact that made me proud, not embarrassed.
Next time you find yourself at McDonald’s, the magazine told me, order the side salad, hold the dressing, instead of fries. You’ll save a whopping 200 calories, it added, with two exclamation points. Instead of sipping a whole glass of whole milk, it continued, drink a juice glass of skim. Though I was always vaguely aware that an apple was healthier than a brownie, it was the first time I’d thought of certain foods as “better” than others. I’d never considered the concept of good vs. bad, at least not when it came to something as innocent as food—a thing I had to put into my body if I wanted to grow taller and not freak out my friends by how loudly my stomach was growling.
And even though that half-page article in a silly teen magazine didn’t outright say it, the implications were clear. Eat this—and definitely not that—if you want to lose weight and/or don’t want to instantly gain five pounds. Even though I loved McDonald’s french fries, I started to feel scared (irrationally, of course, but I know I’m not alone) of what could happen if I did eat them instead of that innocent side salad. Teen magazines shied away from using the word “fat,” but just because they never spelled out the three-letter word doesn’t mean they didn’t instill fear into millions of girls like me.
“Millions” might sound like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t: Two in three 13-year-old girls fear gaining pounds, and one in three say they’re unhappy with their current weight. And it’s not just teens. 80% of 10-year-olds are afraid of the word fat, and girls as young as three—an age too young to count to 20, let alone understand numbers on a scale—are aware of the “thin ideal.” Being unhappy with your body typically leads to being unhappy, period; it can also cause an obsession with exercise, a preoccupation with food, and, increasingly, eating disorders.
But just like you can choose to eat the french fries—french fries are delicious!—you can also choose not to be unhappy. “The important measure in caring for our bodies is how we feel and not how we look,” said Rosie Molinary, Dove Self-Esteem Educator and author ofBeautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance. “If you are adopting or maintaining healthy habits, start by choosing practices that are well-rounded. As you do things to take care of yourself, use how you feel as the measure rather than whether or not your body looks different. What feels good to you? What makes you feel nurtured? You know what makes you feel good and you are capable of giving yourself those things.”
Eating fries and doing yoga feels good to me; now go figure out what feels good to you.
This story is in partnership with our pals at Dove.