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I was nine (nine!) when one of my older cousins told me that I should be careful not to gain any more weight, as I was bordering on “too curvy.” I took her advice to heart and for the next two decades, I worried about my weight constantly. In the sixth grade, I jumped rope 1,000 times a day because I heard a celebrity credit it for her weight loss. Ditto for Britney Spears’ infamous ab workout two years later. (She reportedly did up to 1,000 crunches daily during her “Slave 4 U” era.) It wasn’t until my early 30s (after a health scare, a marathon and a lot of deep conversations with my mother) that I actually started appreciating my body for what it did for me, rather than the way it looked.
Looking back, I feel sad thinking about my childhood and tween relationship with beauty standards. This awareness starts so early, which is why my best friend, who has two stepdaughters in middle school, is careful about the ways she talks to them. Even seemingly positive comments like, “You look so pretty,” can imprint value judgements that stick. My editor, who has a six-year-old daughter, agrees. “It’s so hard to navigate young girls’ relationships with their looks. On the one hand, you never want to tie beauty to their self-worth. On the other, no matter how many coding classes you sign them up for, there comes an age (at least in my experience) when many just start caring about it. My daughter is obsessed with a play lipstick tube she got in a goodie bag. Am I supposed to ban her from playing with it? No, seriously, I’m asking.”