Today I read this hearbreaking post by Amy. (It's short--just go read it. I'll wait right here.)
It got me thinking about self-image, and how far I've come. See, I was the "fat girl" at school. (Even though I wasn't fat when the name calling started in kindergarten.) I grew to be really, really heavy as a young child, but stretched out of it some as I neared twelve. Most of the fatty-name-calling had tapered off by then, but I remained the brunt of plenty of jokes and insults. Despite decreased frequency, the severity and pain inflicted by each had grown to more than make up the difference as my classmates grew older and more cruel.
Thanks to a rock-solid faith and support from adults around me, I managed to stay out of the eating disorder snare . . . but just barely. Supremely insecure in my own appearance, I focused on other things (academics, reading, my own interests). Going to college did a world of good for me, as it was a fresh start, and nobody knew my history or assigned layer in the public school social strata. I could be whoever I wanted to be, liberating me to some extent. This addage held true, though:
I had been married for nearly six years to a man who literally brainwashed me into believing I was beautiful no matter what the scale read before I realized I was free from most of the self-deprecating baggage garnered as a child. I'll never forget that moment: looking through a Title 9 catalog shortly after I gave birth to baby #3, I realized I identified with those healthy, lithe, slender women. I no longer felt the alienation and outsider-ness that used to accompany seeing those kinds of images. I knew I would one day feel that healthy, move with that much freedom, and feel that kind of liberation inside my own skin.
Vern has loved me from a thin 150 (when you're 5' 7", 150 is pretty skinny!), to an about-to-pop-pregnant 230, and all of the post-partum stages in between. I still find myself feeling dissatisfied with my appearance . . . but it's always underpinned by a reasonable self-confidence. The love of another person worked miracles in my life.
So parents, be vigilant. Don't pass off lightly the ridicule your child experiences at school . . . or, worse yet, might be inflicting on someone else. My experiences along these lines are some of the largest reasons I chose homeschooling. Vern went through similar (and some far worse) things during his elementary & junior high sentences. Odds were our children had no chance . . . and we just couldn't see putting them at risk that way when, once they cleared graduation, none of it would matter anyway.
Talking with one of my best friends, Mark, shortly after MrC was born, homeschooling came up. Mark's experience in school had been like mine, but his achilles heel had been severe astigmatism and the thick glasses that accompanied it. Contact lenses helped him escape ostracization, along with progressing to a monstrous high school where the pond grew large enough to afford him some liberty.
"But what about socialization?" he asked, honestly concerned.
I looked at him for a second, and answered: "Name one kind of socialization you experienced at school that you want your children to go through."
He looked at me for a second, and simply said: "Yeah. I see what you mean."