At What Age do Girls Learn to Hate Themselves?

Too depressed to get dressed, she threw on a pair of dirty yoga pants and kept the tank top on that she slept in, which she had also worn the day before. As she rubbed a raging headache, leftover from the marital spat the night before, she felt like just another failing, frumpy mom-wife with a bloated mid-section. Flicking the light on in the bathroom, she glanced at her toothbrush and the stick of deodorant next to it. Her creased eyes squinted at the mirror. What’s the point?

“Chime chicken up,” she softly whispered in her seven-year-old’s sleeping ear. One morning she had told Eve that it was time to get up. Eve said it sounded like her mother had said ‘chime chicken up.’ They had laughed so much, connected from birth like E.T. and Elliot, that it stuck ever since.

As she was standing in the doorway of the pantry deciding what to pack for Eve’s school lunch, she heard the sweet voice behind her say, “I like the way your body is shaped.”

She turned around surprised, “What?”

“I like the way your body is shaped,” Eve repeated, glowing in the pureness of a second-grader. When translated, it meant that a little girl was curious about becoming a woman. That she looked up to her mom. That there was no reason for her not to think her own mother was beautiful, because in her eyes, it didn’t matter what her mother’s stomach looked like when she sat down.

Quickly transitioning into good-mom mode, instead of disgusted-with-herself mode, she responded with modeling behavior, “Well thank you. I do, too.”

Despite the blatant lie, she instantly realized the power behind it. For a fleeting moment, she felt the freedom of what it could feel like if she sincerely liked the way her body was shaped. It occurred to her that if she can lie to her daughter for the sake of her daughter’s own self-acceptance, perhaps she can start believing her own lie, too, for the sake of her own self-acceptance. 

If she were present in her moments, she would have noticed that when Eve looked in the mirror at herself, she complimented herself. At what age do girls learn to hate themselves; to replace confidence with an expectation to be humble and self-loathing for the sake of what others will think if she actually likes herself?

Eve’s innocent voice had once asked her mother, “Why are you putting on make-up? You look pretty without it;” and had once declared in a department store dressing room, “Mom, you look wow!” in that bathing suit. She purchased that one, because what would she be teaching her daughter if she didn’t?

These happen to also be things her husband tells her, but she doesn’t believe a word he says. The fight that had silenced them at bedtime, their opposites pulling against their stubborn attraction, had apparently been forgotten by morning as he energetically entered the room groping at her yoga pants, lusting, “You look like you’re getting younger.”

She thought it must be a conspiracy. “What is wrong with you? Did you and Eve have a make-mom-feel-better meeting this morning?”

“No,” he said, throwing up his hands in his irritated way when she can’t take a compliment.

“Chime chicken up,” she gently whispers in her now 12-year-old’s sleeping ear. Eve silently flicks on the light in the bathroom. Staring in the mirror. Berating herself.

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