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The First Time I Was Body Shamed


I am eight-years-old and trying not to spill my hot chocolate as I carry it from the kitchen to the dining room table at my friend’s house. I take a seat and look out the window towards the sea.

I’m startled as a door behind me slams and a boy, my friend’s age, appears – she is seven years older than me. I wonder what to say and where my friend has gone. I’m too young to understand why, but I do know she’s not allowed to have boys visit without her parents being present.

He says, “Hello,” and takes a seat. He has kind eyes and asks me questions. Something he says makes me giggle – and this is the moment when my friend reappears.

Her face frightens me. It’s red and twisted and it takes me a moment to comprehend that she’s angry with me. “YOU… GET UP!” she screams and then violently jerks me from my chair. I start to cry. She forces me to stand. Before I can stop her, she’s pulled my t-shirt up to expose my small, budding breasts – I’m grateful when the boy looks away.

Then she grabs the flesh on my stomach between her two hands. She holds it so tight that later, bruises will appear. She shouts, “You’re fat! You’re fat! You’re fat!”

I am eight-years-old, and in a matter of seconds, I’ve gone from being happily unconscious of my body to experiencing intense shame for the way it looks.

Decades later the summer of 2016 draws to a close. I decide the next step of this healing journey I’m on is to return to my earliest memory of body shame. I feel that in order to move forward, I need to step back. Over the course of a week, I captured every detail I could recall in my daily journaling practice. Writing about it was intensely painful, but it also made me aware of how a false, childhood story had deeply affected my entire relationship with my body and food.

I’d absorbed my friend’s words, and I made them my own. Daily I’d repeated those exact words to myself. I believed them without question.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

I also found it incredibly healing to re-write my own ending to this painful story. Only this time my eight-year-old self was brave and courageous and stood up for herself. She refused to take another person’s words and make them her own.

Now I’m the only person who gets to decide what I am and what I am not. I re-wrote my past, but I’m also writing a new story for my future: I tell myself I’m fit, healthy and strong. I repeat those words to myself several times a day and find that my actions do, in fact, begin to reflect my new narrative.

As I’ve worked with multiple coaches and therapists in the past, I felt equipped to work through this memory on my own and to re-write the ending. However, there is more work to be done. I share my experience in the hope it helps you. The Pro-Body Project is published fortnightly. You can read the first entry here or the next entry, “There’s A Problem With The Body Acceptance Movement” here.  



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Esther Zimmer is an Australian writer, lifestyle coach and personal stylist based in London. She believes everyone has a calling, and it’s not necessarily just one thing. The home she shares with her husband, David, is filled with art and books, and her favorite pastime is packing a bag and heading somewhere new. Esther writes about life, relationships, body image and travel and can be found at

10 thoughts on “The First Time I Was Body Shamed”

  1. Oh. My. Word! And at the base of it all was that insecure older girl’s jealousy! What a tragedy!
    Inspiring to hear and read how your are finally working through it!

    • Thanks for your comment, Diane. I can’t quite explain yet what a positive shift working through this memory and sharing it here as caused, but until I find the words, what I can say for now is that I already know this story has a happy ending! Esther xx

  2. Oh Esther, it’s devastating how as adult women, we carry around all of the shame and guilt of being little girls. What a wonderful gift to yourself to re-write your story. xo

    • Hi Jen and thanks for your comment. What’s really devastating is that we’re often aware of these memories and we know they’re damaging – but until we consciously look at them and are willing to do the work to let them go – we cannot see just how much of a hold they have over us, and thus our behavior. Onwards from here! Esther xx

  3. Such a powerful story, Esther. I know there are many women in this community who can identify with your journey through body shame low self-worth. And I know you will be an inspiration to every woman whose life is filled with painful memories.

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging and kind words, Susan. I know I’m not alone with this, which is why I wanted to share my story and the lessons I learn as I go deeper into the healing process. Esther xx

  4. A powerful story, and bravo for sharing it. Why are women/girls our own worst enemy? Why? I can remember, as a teen, being told by a “friend” that I was ugly (not anywhere near what you went through) and how it took me years just to work through that.

    • Hello Alana, thank you so much for your encouraging comment. I’m so sorry to read about your experience, one of my dearest friends went through the very same thing and it’s affected her ever since. I’m not sure that one experience is worse than the other, pain is pain and especially when you’re just a girl (or boy) and don’t understand how to determine spiteful words from the truth. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. Esther xx

  5. One of my girlfriends in high school used to jab me by calling me Brenda Big Butt because I’d gained 20 pounds between my junior and senior year of high school. If she’d thought about it, she would have connected my difficult home life with my weight gain, but she didn’t. It hurt terribly, especially coming from her. Our friendship fell away, and I vowed the next time I saw her, things would be different, and they were. At our first high school reunion, I wore a fabulous white dress that showed off my slim figure, and I brought a tall, devastatingly handsome man–my first husband. We all drove into the parking lot at the same time, and she watched us get out of a silver Porsche. To this day, I’ve stayed slim because of her. Girls, especially, can be cruel to one another. I sense you’ve had an ah-ha moment about what happened to you, and I hope it brings you comfort and healing. Girls like that are jealous, plain and simple. xoxox, Brenda

    • Wow, that is some story, Brenda! What a vision you must have been, but I’m sorry you had to experience your friend’s unkind words to begin with. I often hear women – including mature women – making cruel comments about friends who have changed appearance, which is obviously linked to health or personal issues. Or even when they see that their friend is in a happy, loving relationship and no longer frighteningly thin. Why do we continually feel the need to put one another down? And yes, I definitely had an ah-ha moment, this story is going to have a happy ending. Essie xx

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