I was only 9 years old when puberty barreled its way into my world. I wore glasses, begrudgingly carried around big boobs and measured in at 5' 3" (which was equivalent to an ogre when you're in fourth grade). It was a nightmare.
Boys snapped my bra straps and mean girls teased me for being so big. I was aware of my body in a way I hadn't been before. For the first time I realized that people would determine my worth by my weight and beauty rather than my intelligence or ability. There was a clear distinction between "good" bodies (petite and skinny) and "bad" bodies (anything other than petite and skinny). And if you didn't have a "good" body, well, your stock -- and self-worth -- plummeted.
Now, at 24 years old, I rarely feel self-conscious about my body (thanks to a decade of playing sports and a healthy dose of feminism). But that defining realization of feeling "bad" about my body will never go away.
We're not born knowing appearance matters, that a big size is a "bad" one and that only certain types of curves are "good." But at some point in every woman's childhood, that changes in an instant.
Many women have this moment or sometimes a series of moments that alter the way they look at their bodies forever. We asked our readers when was the first time they remember feeling "bad" or self conscious about their bodies. We received over 200 powerful responses from women. Here are 28 of them:
"She looked in the mirror, tears rolling down her face and said while trying to pinch her stomach, 'There's always room for improvement.'"
The first time someone shamed my body, made me feel less than perfect was my mother, who suffered with her own eating disorder. She wanted me to zip up her black dressed and the size she had bought it in didn't fit, at first she thought I wasn't trying hard enough to zip it up but she soon had to admit defeat that the dress didn't fit. She looked in the mirror, tears rolling down her face and said while trying to pinch her stomach, "There's always room for improvement" and then pinched my 9-year-old stomach and said "You too, Veronica..." -- Veronica
"At 13, I had a boyfriend. He always made fun of my arms."
When I was 11 years old I could always do more pull-ups than the boys. If I had a super power it was Upper Body Strength. At 13, I had a boyfriend. He always made fun of my arms. For the first time I felt embarrassed about being strong. He shamed my power. I still don't know if I've forgiven him for that. -- Emma
"At my 10th birthday party, which was a pool party, I can remember telling myself to suck in my stomach as I leaned over my birthday cake to blow out the candles."
At my 10th birthday party, which was a pool party, I can remember telling myself to suck in my stomach as I leaned over my birthday cake to blow out the candles because I was self-conscious about wearing a two-piece for the first time. Only two years later I would develop an eating disorder that would plague me for the next 10 plus years. -- Julia
"My first memory of being self conscious of my body was when I was 10 years old, in fourth grade."
My first memory of being self conscious of my body was when I was 10 years old, in fourth grade. My dad, who is actually a very kind person, unwittingly became my first memory of body consciousness. He had always called me klutzy and "big ears" for listening in on everyone's conversations. Those comments never bothered me. But this one day he made a comment about my "thunder thighs." I didn't even know what that meant but I figured it out... I have been self conscious about my thighs ever since and I'm now 34 years old. My husband tells me I'm beautiful almost every day. But my self consciousness about my thighs remains. I love my dad. I honestly think he had no clue what a comment like that would mean to a young girl. -- Kimberly, 34
"My dad said, 'You better watch what you eat or it will catch up with you someday.'"
It was spring during my junior year in high school. It was soccer season, so practice and games were making my body ravenous for calories. I was pouring a bowl of cereal at night before bed, and my dad said, "You better watch what you eat or it will catch up with you someday." -- Sarah
"I walked into my room and my mother had left a book on my bed titled 'Thin Thighs In 30 Days.'"
My mother and I always had very different bodies, mine muscular and athletic like my father and hers more petite and birdlike. The first time I remember feeling confused or bad about my body was when I was 11 years old. I walked into my room and my mother had left a book on my bed titled "Thin Thighs In 30 Days." I remember even trying a few of the exercises because all I ever wanted to do was please my mother. -- Tina
"The teacher told my mom, in front of me, that I was too big for gymnastics"
When I was in first or second grade, I was a bit overweight and my mom signed me up for a gymnastics class hoping it would be a physical activity I enjoyed. Instead of encouraging me to enjoy physical activity, the teacher told my mom, in front of me, that I was too big for gymnastics and really needed to lose weight to succeed as a gymnast. Now 34 and a Jazzercise instructor, I will ensure that no one says words like that to my children. It was a definite turning point for me in how I viewed my body. -- Erin
"After 20 years I have never, ever been able to forget that short, catchy, and very hurtful rhyme my peers made up about me."
It was either in third or fourth grade and attended an elite, small private school. My class of about 20 students was waiting outside of the building to enter the music class, when somewhere down the line of students I overheard about three people singing and chanting a song that went: "Hey Lizzy, she is so fat, hey Lizzy," from the front to the back. Singing, and smiling, over and over again. I immediately felt so ashamed, embarrassed, and hurt, that I started crying, fleeing the scene. And after 20 years I have never, ever been able to forget that short, catchy, and very hurtful rhyme my peers made up about me, and it is now forever burned into my memory. -- Lizzy
"I was in the seventh grade when I began skipping meals in order to lose weight."
I was in the seventh grade when I began skipping meals in order to lose weight. I'm a Filipina-American and envied my female classmates who had blonde hair and blue eyes. I couldn't change that part of my physical appearance but realized I could make myself skinny like them. -- Camelia
"My (ex) best friend told me that if she was a guy, she would never go for girls who are as thin as me."
The earliest memory I can remember is when I was 16 years old and my (ex) best friend told me that if she was a guy, she would never go for girls who are as thin as me. That she would want, "A girl with meat on her bones" and "To have something to hold." -- Jaileen
"When I was about 10 years old a neighborhood boy started calling me thunder thighs."
When I was about 10 years old a neighborhood boy started calling me thunder thighs. He would never speak my name. Just started calling me that. Shouting it out across the street and laughing with the other boys. Still hurts today. I am 58 years old. I have lived with weight issues all of my life. -- Nancy
"My grandfather said, 'Yeah but their legs are fair. Yours are dark.'"
I was not even 10 when I had learned and believed that there was something wrong with the way I was. It was when my grandfather told me to not wear skirts. I asked him why since my friends would wear knee length skirts. My grandfather said, "Yeah but their legs are fair. Yours are dark." -- Surabhi
"I'm 29 years old now and I've been 'sucking it in' ever since."
I was around 10 years old, it was the summer, and I was wearing a bikini in my back yard. My mom made some comment about how flabby my stomach was, and my grandmother said, "She just needs to suck it in." I'm 29 years old now and I've been "sucking it in" ever since. -- Heather
"I was 15 years old and a male friend of mine yelled "big tittie hoe" across the outdoor lunch area of my high school."
I was 15 years old and a male friend of mine yelled "big tittie hoe" across the outdoor lunch area of my high school in front of hundreds of other students. I was 5' 4" and 125 pounds with DD breasts at the time. I played sports and was very active so having big breasts got in the way and made me a target for such teasing. Needless to say after two years in high school, I had a breast reduction. -- Hannah
"One day his friend and him were talking to me and told me, 'You're cute for a black girl.'"
When I was a freshman in high school I had such a big crush on this one boy in my gym class. He was funny and seemed very sweet, I even thought he like me too. One day his friend and him were talking to me and told me, "You're cute for a black girl," "You'd probably be cuter as a boy," and "Why don't you wear short-shorts, like the other girls?" It was at that moment that I looked at myself and things I did differently. But I didn't let their words change me. But what did change was my interest in guys that talked to me like that. -- LaNeysha
"At that age I only thought you had to worry about being big. I didn't know there could be something wrong with a body part as trivial as my back."
I was about 9 or 10 at the time, sitting curled up on my best friends bed. She took her finger and ran it down my back, laughed and said my spine stuck out so much that I looked like a stegosaurus. At that age I only thought you had to worry about being big. I didn't know there could be something wrong with a body part as trivial as my back. It opened my eyes to a world of insecurities. -- Emily
"Eating dinner at my best friend's house one night, her parents portioned my meal on my plate."
All throughout my life I was always a little "chubbier" than other girls my age, but as a fun loving 11-year-old I never really noticed. Eating dinner at my best friend's house one night, her parents portioned my meal on my plate. When I was finished, I wanted just a scoop more of potatoes -- to which the parents proceeded to tell me I had eaten enough and took my plate away. It didn't hit me until I went home that night that they had taken my confidence away. I'll never forget the look of disgust on their face as they scowled at me. -- Molly
"A boy in my class made fun of my hairy Italian legs."
When I was in elementary school, I was quite the tomboy. One day in third grade, I wore a skirt to school. A boy in my class made fun of my hairy Italian legs, and I just couldn't shake it. I begged my mom to let me shave my legs. A year later, at 9 years old, she finally relented. It's been a long 20 years. -- Gabrielle
"I went from being a girl who loved to feel the wind race against her skin, to a girl who adamantly refused to run."
I was 6 feet tall at 12 years old. I remember being outside on the playground, right outside our apartment door, and running like monsters were chasing me. I was free… until I heard my mother say to her friend (while laughing), “She runs like a sick giraffe." In that second, I went from being a girl who loved to feel the wind race against her skin, to a girl who adamantly refused to run. I was deeply ashamed of my height and the ungainly way that my body moved, issues that haunted me until my 30s. -- Jayme
"I was called a 'chink' for the first time and told my skin was 'yellow.'"
I grew up in Memphis, TN in the '70s and '80s. My father was Chinese, and my mother is white; I identify as biracial. When I was in fifth grade, my family moved from midtown Memphis to the suburbs of Memphis. I left a somewhat diverse school where I felt comfortable to attend an school where at least 95 percent of the students were white, wealthy, and Jewish. It was there where I was called a "chink" for the first time and told my skin was "yellow." It was at this point I started to feel bad about the body I had to live in. -- Susan
"I remember the weather, the lights, all the people and how she laughed."
Sixth grade concert. My mother said to her boyfriend I eat so much because I like my thighs to touch. I remember the weather, the lights, all the people and how she laughed. -- Jamie
"That night was the first time I looked in the mirror and saw a fat person."
In grade school, there was an overweight girl in my swim class that everyone called "the fat girl." I didn't make fun of her but didn't stand up for her either. One day after class, my mom called me over and said, "You know that girl they call fat?" I prepared for a lecture about doing the right thing, but instead she followed up with, "You're the same size as her." That night was the first time I looked in the mirror and saw a fat person. -- Anonymous
"He decided he 'didn't like girls with mustaches.'"
When I was in sixth grade a boy that I liked, who had recently told me he liked me back, told me he didn't like me anymore because he decided he, "Didn't like girls with mustaches" and told me I should shave. My mother told me I couldn't shave my mustache area so I just went to school everyday trying to hide or angle my face so my peach fuzz wouldn't catch the light. It had never occurred to me to even look for facial hair and now it was what I saw whenever I looked in the mirror. -- Mackenzie
"She didn't mean harm, but somehow hearing it from a family member made something click in my head."
"You look horrible; like a stick insect," were the words my mother used when I was 17 years old. She didn't mean harm, but somehow hearing it from a family member made something click in my head, and after that, I noticed every single comment made about my body size -- "There's nothing of you," "You need to put some meat on those bones," "I'm pretty sure I could fax you," "What boobs?" For three years, I force-fed myself in a desperate attempt to put weight on and increase my bra size, which was a horrible experience. Because I did that, food now repulses me, and for the past two years I have struggled to eat properly -- I am lucky if I can manage more than one meal a day, and my portion sizes are small and often go half uneaten. -- Anonymous
"My childhood was filled with comments like: 'You look sick' and 'You need to eat more.'"
I grew up in a Caribbean household. Caribbean women, as well as black women in general, have always celebrated curvier figures. I was always incredibly skinny up until I turned 20. My childhood was filled with comments like: "You look sick," "You need to eat more," or the best one, "You look bulimic/anorexic." I never felt pretty, sexy, or right. Even at 25, I still struggle with body image issues. -- Christine
"By 11 years old I quit going to practice, started losing weight and gave up my dream of being a champion because my own mother made me self conscious about my muscles."
When I was about 9 years old I started gaining big muscles in my legs from years of gymnastics. My mom started calling me thunder thighs and he-man which led to my older brothers and their friends doing the same. By 11 years old I quit going to practice, started losing weight and gave up my dream of being a champion because my own mother made me self conscious about my muscles. -- Danielle
"She pinched the chub on my waist, jiggled it and told me that girls built like me 'weren't made to dance.'"
The first time I felt badly about my body was the summer I was 8 years old. I told my grandmother that I wanted to take dance and become a famous ballerina, she pinched the chub on my waist, jiggled it and told me that girls built like me "weren't made to dance." I was heartbroken for months. -- Anonymous
These accounts have been edited and condensed.
Also on HuffPost: