If I hear the word “cute” one more time, I’m going to scream.
As a woman under 5 feet tall, I hear it a lot.
“Aww, you’re just so cute and tiny!”
“You’re so cute and little I could just fit you in my pocket!”
On their own, these comments aren’t so bad. Repeatedly hearing them over and over again, however, is a different story. Although well meaning, the underlying messages of the comments on how itty-bitty I am have negatively affected how I view myself.
For one, I receive indirect (and occasionally direct) messages that I am weak.
I’ve lived my whole life being handed pillows on move-in day, always getting degrading comments like “wow, someone’s strong!” when I lift anything over 20 pounds. I’ve always hated when so much less was expected of me than of others. It never seemed fair.
More so than just being made to feel weak and small, the constant praise I received as a child for being thin and little put a lot of pressure on me to stay that way. “Small” became a key part of my identity.
As I got older and my body started to change, I remember being in a panic. I was scared I wouldn’t stay small. I was worried I wouldn’t stay “just so cute and tiny.” And if I wasn’t cute and tiny, what would I be?
In addition, I was hoping to pursue a career in professional ballet. Standing in front of a mirror all day in leotard and tights didn’t help anything.
This began what I know will be a life-long battle with disordered eating patterns. When I was in 8th grade, I became obsessed with health and nutrition. I watched a documentary about a man who went on a juice cleanse and lost nearly 200 pounds. A juicer immediately became the first thing on my Christmas list. At the time, I didn’t even weigh 100 pounds, but I wanted a juicer to make sure I stayed that way.
Ballet is notorious for producing eating disorders in young girls. I began over working out and intentionally under eating. I downloaded an app on my phone to track how many calories I was putting in and how many calories I was burning, always aiming to eat less than 1,500 a day and always hoping to burn at least 3,500 a day.
Through therapy and abandoning ballet, I have gotten a lot less obsessive about food and health. I enjoy cooking and I don’t track calories. But every time I eat a burger, a big pasta dish or a slice of cake, I have to fight my mind to not give into guilt and fear.
Some short jokes I can take. Some short jokes are funny. Romanticizing my size is what drives me crazy and is the most damaging, to me and to others.
All people are more than their size, no matter their size. As we live in a society that focuses on size, we need to be careful. We never know what well-meaning comments can send underlying messages that negatively contribute to someone’s mental health.