It is 1987 and I am 11 years old. Today is my sister’s 8th grade graduation and my family is dressed up for the occasion. I am chubby and the uncomfortable rub of clothing on my body makes me want to peel off my skin. Still, I insist on wearing a white dress, just like my sister, and my hair in a bun, just like my sister, but nothing looks right. I threw a tantrum this morning while I was getting dressed because the feelings inside of my body, the sense of all-wrongness, have no other way out besides crying and stomping my feet. Why don’t I look like my siblings, who are all lean limbs and straight lines?
I don’t know that my weight gain is a normal part of my body’s early stages of puberty. I have no idea that it is natural for some kids’ bodies to grow out before they grow up. While I consider myself an 11-year-old expert on puberty, able to recite the book “What’s Happening to Me?” bestowed on me by mom, weight gain is not something I connect to puberty. Being overweight covers me in shame, a sensation that crawls across my neck like an army of red ants.
This stage in my life only lasted a year, but it has stayed with me for the 30 years since. There is a part of me that will always be the girl in this photo, regardless of what I actually look like. That piece of me, the one that still hurts a little, also drives me forward. I think that 11 year old girl I see in the picture inspired me to start Dynamo Girl. I think she fortifies me when I start to worry about my own kids’ weight gain. I think she gives me empathy when I coach a girl who is not yet comfortable in her own skin. I think she offers me insight when I talk to worried parents about their daughters’ journeys into puberty. I want kids to know that who they are at 11 is not who they will always be, but to understand that their 11 year old selves will inform who they become in both difficult and beautiful ways.