I had my first boyfriend in 6th grade. I still remember how impressed all the girls seemed, how envious, that one of the popular boys had decided I was cute.
He had decided. That’s how it felt. As if now that he had uttered it, it had become so.
That is How Boys Impact Body Image
My next boyfriend was in 7th grade at a new school. I enjoyed the attention, the admiration, the attraction. It was a quick addiction. I never thought twice about whether or not I wanted a boyfriend, whether or not I knew anything about this boy or what a boyfriend actually meant. I was an object of desire and the envy of my peers. Of course, I wanted a boyfriend. To be without one would render me invisible.
More boyfriends in 8th grade, again with no forethought or decision making. If he was interested in my, of course, I would accept and enjoy his attention.
Then came 9th grade. Another new school, and so many more girls for the boys to choose from. I went through an awkward phase and plumped up a bit. I didn’t know any boys and they didn’t seem to notice me. I became invisible.
In those first few innocent-enough relationships, that’s where my body image definition shifted once again. Not only was it shaped by the opinions of girls my age, but suddenly, having a boy decide that he found you attractive became a seal of approval. You could officially feel pretty, know that you were actually beautiful because a member of the opposite sex had claimed it was so.
And if no one found you attractive? If no one asked you out or had a crush on you or flirted with you? Well, the only answer could be you were not pretty, not beautiful, not enough. Physical attractiveness to the opposite sex became a barometer by which we measured our worth.
Most girls didn’t need every boy to want her or even more than one boy. But for the most part, those are the years you add “attractive” or “unattractive” to your self-description, so having a boy show interest was important for your sense of worth, your identity, the way you saw yourself in the mirror.
I slimmed out again in 11th & 12th grade, and again, boys seemed to notice me. I had spent two long years feeling discarded and passed over. I was hungry for the attention and flattery of romantic relationships. I had two semi-serious relationships, and one that lasted after graduation into college.
I was at my thinnest and prettiest according to my peers and the adults in my life and had the most enviable boyfriend to date. This cemented a new portion of my body image identity: 12th grade Marie was the pinnacle for which I should forever strive.
CHALLENGE: How did the attention you received or didn’t receive from boys in high school impact your view of yourself? How did it impact your conversations with your peers or parents? Do you still view yourself as a “cool girl” or “wallflower” based on how boys perceived you in those years?