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From Radiance Spring 1999

teen scene!

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Just as Radiance invites women of all sizes into its pages, we invite women of all ages, also. We put out a call to teens for essays about their lives: their feelings, ideas, and experiences with body image and size discrimination.  We wanted to give them the opportunity to express their opinions and share their stories: we wanted to hear their young voices.

Seven young women responded with writing that will make you nod your head in recognition of common experiences and rejoice in the freshness and hope that the younger generation is bringing to its evolving definition of beauty and self.

Blythe Nelson
Blythe Nelson
just fat, not stupid

By Blythe Nelson

All through my childhood, I was taunted about my weight. Classmates would yell things, like, "Wide load!" or "Cow!," or they would make mooing or oinking sounds as I passed. I wonder if they knew how much it hurt me.

I learned at a very young age not to judge people by how they look but by their hearts. I come from a long line of big women with large busts, waists, and hips. I just happened to carry on the tradition. When these children poked fun at me, I felt that they were also hurting my family.

My mother has never had a Barbie doll figure. Along with her big body, she has the biggest heart I've ever known. My little sister and I (I have two sisters; I'm the middle one) have always needed more support and encouragement in the area of self-esteem than our older sister, who is smaller. Whenever we have a problem, we can always go to Mom. I feel that our society, and my generation in particular, is obsessed with being thin. At my high school, you can go into the rest rooms at any hour and find a young woman with her finger down her throat, trying to get thin. Just look at all the magazine models, cover girls, and movie stars: how many of them are anorexic or bulimic?

One of my friends once said, "I am proud of who I am and how I am, and if anybody says anything, who cares?" I'm so grateful to her; her self-esteem helped me to build my own.

i
am
the world

Michelle Areton
Michele Areton

By Michelle Areton

Me? I am the world.
Full, rounded.
I am not, nor am I going to be,
straight and small
like a shooting star;
for they only last a second.
Everyone may marvel
at their beauty,
but after they are gone,
they are forgotten
like all the others.
I am earth.
I bring life and joy.
I only take up
a small part of space,
but you can't
walk around me in a day.

MICHELLE ARETON loves to sing all kinds of music and hopes someday to be a singer who writes her own lyrics. She is now fifteen years old and attends San Anselmo High School in San Anselmo, California.

My mother said to me, "You can live your life laughing, crying, smiling, and having fun-or you can live your life worrying about the next bite you put in your mouth."

One of my best summers was spent at camp with a kind, sweet, and caring camp director who was "overweight." I still remember how she would wrap her big, soft, warm arms around us kids and tell us how special we were.

With the help and support of my mother, that camp director, and some friends, I finally started to accept how I am.

I don't think it is fair that people discriminate against others just because of their race, their gender, or their weight. If this society is so up for freedom of expression, then let us express ourselves as big women with big values! That is why I like Radiance magazine: it shows that big is beautiful and lets people express themselves.

One woman whom I really admire is Delta Burke. She is a successful actress and designer. I have my own dream of owning and running a classy shop where I can sell really nice clothes and help people choose what they look good in. I know that it is hard to find nice but sensible clothes for reasonable prices in plus sizes.

My message is this: Don't let others get you down. Accept who you really are. You can either let things happen or you can make them happen. Fulfill your dreams and don't let others discourage you because you're different.

I have learned to accept myself for who I am and how I am, regardless of all the models, cover girls, and movie stars who want everyone to be thin and beautiful. You know what? Big women can be just as beautiful as thin women.

BLYTHE NELSON is fifteen years old and is in the tenth grade at Willits High School in Willits, California.


big big beautiful

By Jessica Yager

Jessica Yager
Jessica Yager

"Did you see how much she ate at dinner? No wonder that girl is so fat," Erin said.

I was lying in bed, completely awake, with my eyes still open. The "big girls," daughters of close family friends, were sleeping over. I knew that Erin and Jenn were going to talk only after they knew I was asleep. Long before Jenn ever arrived, I assured Erin that I often slept with my eyes half-open (or so I had been told). I knew I would never be able to keep my eyes shut, and I didn't want to miss out on any juicy secrets or giddy gossip. Instead, I was hearing two girls talk about me! This was not at all what I'd had in mind. Erin, who said, "That girl is so cute" about me when my mother and I could hear her, was saying, "That girl is so fat" in a disgusted, cruel tone. It was an insult and I wasn't even able to defend myself, because I was "asleep."

I was in the second grade, and I didn't know that I was round. I was just my mother's beautiful little girl, and that was all that mattered. We never had a lot of money, so I wore hand-me-down clothes: Jenn's hand-me-downs. By the time I saw them, though, my mother had altered them with the sewing machine, hemming the pants and dresses, taking up the sleeves of long-sleeved shirts. I knew that I was different from some of my classmates: they were popular and I wasn't. It took years for me to think that it might be because I was "too big."

By fourth grade, I had become acutely aware that I was not like some of "the other girls": the ones who were mean, who made fun of me because I was round or because I still sucked my thumb. The other girls had new clothes and spending money, and, most of all, were considered pretty because they were skinny and wore makeup. I had none of these, but it didn't keep me from being happy-or smart or loyal or creative.

When I was in sixth grade, I had to stop playing sports because of an injury. For about a year, I was on crutches and, mainly confined to couches and chairs, I gained even more weight. With the frequent doctors' appointments,I could see myself move quickly up the weight chart, closer and closer to being out of the "healthy-but-large" range for my height and into the "danger zone." My mom saw this, too, but never once said anything about it. I could see her wince when she glanced at the dot in the pale pink region, above the darker curve. I could see the numbers increasing by as much as ten pounds in two weeks, and after a while it hurt. It hurt so much that when she offered to go buy new clothes for once, I refused. I didn't want them. I knew that I needed them because I was "too big." I saw the other girls in my grade getting skinnier as they grew taller, and myself getting rounder. I hated my body for what it was doing. All my life I'd been chubby. Now I was getting truly fat. At eleven years of age, I wore a women's size 16.

I was hard on myself then. I didn't like making my parents unhappy or worried. I hated not being able to play sports with the other kids. I justified sitting around by working on homework and art. During those months when I missed so much school for medical reasons, I made my already honor-role grades go up. It was an attempt to make my mom proud of me, and an attempt to like myself for who I was. Gradually, I was able to accept being big and started to develop my own styles of dress because I didn't fit into popular clothing. Accepting your size and enjoying your size are two different things. I knew that I was "overweight" and that was just something I was going to have to deal with. I looked around at the skinny girls and wondered why they thought they were fat. Couldn't they look at me and see that they were twigs? That they were about to blow away in the wind? I just wanted to be normal, to fit in. I was terrified of eating disorders and was not able to stick to any diet I set for myself. But I was also afraid that dieting would turn me into "one of those stupid anorexic bitches" as my best friend and I used to call "the other girls."

By the summer of eighth grade, I was still curvy and round. With the biggest hips and thighs in school and a few belly rolls, I went on my first summer trip without my family. I was finally able to say that I was proud to be who I was, proud to be big. I stopped trying to lose weight and started trying to be me. It was somewhere during this time that I stopped seeing myself as Jesi the fat girl and started seeing Jesi the artist, the writer, the musician. Jesi the good student, the student leader, the good friend. Jesi the big big beautiful.

Now I attend a girls' boarding school. Here, too, sizeism is alive and well. I find myself looking around occasionally and wondering why I don't look like "them." But then I shrug and smile and tell myself, If I looked like them, I wouldn't be me. I'll just have to stay an individual and make the world a better place. Then I go on my way, enjoying my size.

JESSICA YAGER is sixteen years old and attends Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school, in Pennsylvania. Her special interests include the visual and performing arts. She participates in the ongoing relief efforts for Central Americans affected by Hurricane Mitch.


 

stereotypes

By Katie Moran

Katie Moran
Katie Moran

I hate stereotypes. I hate all stereotypes, I really do. I don't hate much. I believe in love, peace, and harmony. But I do hate it when people generalize about others.

I think that the stereotypes that bother me the most are those about "overweight" women. I wish that no one would make fun of women for the size pants they wear or tease them about the number that the scale says. I mean, it's only a number! By the way people act, you would think that the scale reads "good person" or "awful person" instead of "100 pounds" or "200 pounds." Does it really matter? I don't think it should, but unfortunately, to so many people in this country, it does matter-a lot. If only it didn't, we would be able to act, think, and speak the way we really want to, instead of wondering if the person we're talking to is thinking about how big our hips or our thighs are. Some women are willing to starve, purge, and torture themselves, and even risk their lives, just to be accepted by a culture with a horribly narrow stereotype of beauty.

I am not fat myself, but that's not the point. I have several friends and family members who are, and I know how much it hurts to be made fun of for any reason. For example, I used to be made fun of all the time because I have really hairy arms. So, to please everyone else, I started shaving my arms. I hated having prickly stubble covering my arms, but figured that it was better than being made fun of, right? Well, one day I decided that I was becoming just like women who starve themselves to please others. I was doing something that I didn't really want to do.

At my school, many students think that it's amusing to make fun of others. It's all one big joke, until you're the one being made fun of. People are made fun of for the clothes they wear, for the grades they get, and, especially if they're girls, for their weight. This pettiness makes me sick.

I'm fifteen and in the ninth grade. I like to spend my time playing the flute, playing soccer and basketball, babysitting, learning sign language, writing, working for animal rights and the environment, and spending time with my friends and family. When I grow up, I'd like to be a teacher for the deaf or an author. I'd also like to adopt several kids from other countries.

A lot of things have helped to form my worldview. For one, my parents have taught me since I was born that everyone is important, is special, and deserves respect. Also, my cousin Caitlin and my friend Nina helped me decide to be a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian helps me to put my views about respecting all living things into practice. Factory farming-where animals live crowded together in pens and are pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones-is major animal abuse. Both animals and women have been oppressed and silenced for a long, long time.

In my opinion, acceptance of one another is the most important thing that needs to happen in the world right now. If all humans respected one another-regardless of size, religion, thoughts, or whatever-we could really begin to solve some of the deadly problems that plague the world today. But before this can happen, we must learn to accept who we are on the inside.

Katie Moran attends Grant High School in Portland, Oregon, where she is on the school soccer team.


 

all about me

By Cathy Nourse

cathy_nourse.jpg (84341 bytes)
Cathy Nourse

Hi, my name is Cathy. I am a BBT. At least, that's what I call it. BBT means a "Big Beautiful Teen." I am a sixteen-year-old high school student. I weigh 265 pounds, and I am five feet eleven inches. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I am just as comfortable in formal attire as I am out on the football team tackling all the guys!

People often think that I eat a lot, but I really don't. I'm just big by nature. My mom is also big by nature. Because of this, my family has been involved in fat-acceptance groups. This is where you are accepted for who you are, and nobody really cares how fat you are! I guess you would say that my dad is an FA (fat admirer), a term that's new to me. Personally, I have male friends who have loved me for years, whatever my size.

Please don't think of me as a fat, lazy kid! I was on the freshman honor roll this past year. I was also the only girl on the Wilmot High School freshman football team. This past summer, I went bungee jumping for the second time. I jumped 140 feet-head first! Boy, was it fun!

Recently, I had one of my most exciting experiences. I was at the NAAFA Midwest convention, and I was asked to model for the fashion show. I felt so beautiful and everyone assured me that I looked great!

I strongly urge any big girls who are hiding in the background to step forward: be proud and be yourself!

My plans for the future include exploring my possibilities in modeling and other careers. I don't feel that my size should hold me back. I feel sad for teens who are depressed about being fat. Acceptance starts within yourself. I'm big. And I'm beautiful!

CATHY NOURSE is a sophomore at Wilmot High School in Wisconsin. Her current jobs include caring for two 10-month-old girls.


 

the perfect body

By Lyla Morrison

Lyla Morison
Lyla Morrison

There is a girl in my class who has a few problems. One, she has a serious bladder problem, which leads to her being embarrassed, often, in class. And she isn't obese, but she weighs more than anyone else in our class. These two things make her the butt of jokes on a daily basis. I am completely sure that if this young woman were skinny or beautiful, everyone would discreetly ignore her problems. Why? Because our society is so caught up in the image of the perfect body being skinny that they ignore everything else, including health. If this girl had "the perfect body," she would not be made fun of.

I myself am below the average weight for my height, but because only the anorexic look is acceptable, I am not considered skinny. I find it very sad that because a girl is not unhealthily skinny, society shuns her. Why this is, I am not sure. There was a time when people thought of the heavier look as the most beautiful. This makes more sense to me. If people are supposedly attracted to healthy people, how did the anorexic look become attractive? Something, somewhere, must have gone wrong.

I have known many large people. All of them are just like people who weigh less. Setting large people apart and treating them differently is just as bad as racism. If you think about it, racism and having something against large people are really quite similar.

I think all people-large, skinny, black, and white-should be judged by their attitude, not their appearance.

LYLA MORRISON is fourteen and in the ninth grade. She attends St. Paul School and enjoys writing and drawing.


 

a different viewpoint

By Heidi Schmaltz

Heidi Schmaltz
Heidi Schmaltz

In the seventh grade, I learned that you could insult someone by calling him or her an endormorph. My entire health class learned this with me, and so began another generation of fat haters.

Most of the fat people I knew were quiet, wore clothes that didn't fit them, and had no friends. Their names weren't Lisa or Joe or Mary. They went by Shamu or Willy or whatever diet company was popular at the time. From every direction-home, doctors, peers, teachers, and the media-these kids were getting the message that they were not decent people. They were disrespected and unsupported, and as a result felt like unworthy people. They were seen solely as fat kids: not smart kids, not creative kids, and not athletic kids.

Perhaps the greatest injustice large children face is the medical care they receive. Once I had to go on a diet because it was assumed that bad habits were creating my size. I was nine or ten years old! I ate what the rest of my family ate, and they weren't fat. We rarely had sweets around the house. (My mom is a health food fanatic.) We didn't eat much red meat, and did eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. My mom was always making sure we got "complete proteins" and not too much sugar or fat. We never had soda pop.

Of course, the diet didn't work. Most people, including doctors, freak at the obesity rate as if it were something to be ashamed of.

Our society's definition of healthy is wrong. We are so obsessed with thinness that we worry

more aboutlosing weight than about feeding the hungry. It is as if the media has created an artificial tragedy that is distracting us from real concerns. Thinness should worry us, but, because of stereotypes about fatness, it does not.

My size rarely keeps me from doing anything I want. This throws people off. How can this girl be happy, well-adjusted, active, healthy-and fat?

I took dance for a long time and was very good. I could do everything the others could and wore the same tight-fitting clothes. Yes, I have a body, and it has gone away under sweatpants and baggy T-shirts. I don't take dance anymore, but I am still a very active person. For the past year and a half, I have been practicing yoga, which has helped me gain confidence in my body. I have learned that true beauty does not always emanate from the skinny, but it does always come from the truly self-content.

As a high school student, my size has also become less and less important to the people around me. My friends accept my appearance all the way. Other large people I know are experiencing the same kind of change. People stop teasing, just as they stop teasing the kids with glasses, braces, or orthopedic shoes.

It takes some time to adjust and be comfortable with your growing body. Almost every girl thinks that her body is funny looking: maybe it's her hair, maybe it's her nose, or maybe it's her knees. For the fat girl, it is always her size. But getting rid of fat will never make the insecurities go away. It doesn't work like Jenny Craig says. It is very important to be comfortable with yourself. For the people who aren't, the awkwardness doesn't go. It really is a choice to make: to accept yourself or not.

I hope that through our efforts to live more wisely, the next generation of children-our children-will not be afflicted with fat hatred and that all children will have an easier time recognizing their own potential.

HEIDI SCHMALTZ is a seventeen-year-old from Portland, Oregon. She enjoys writing and has contributed a chapter on depression in the book Girls Know Best: Advice for Girls from Girls on Just About Everything (Beyond Words Publishing: 1997). A feminist and member of the girls' movement, she is an active volunteer helping her community.


Check out our Radiance Kids Project page for more information , essays, articles by and about children, teens, and young adults.


Remember, this is only a taste of what's inside the printed version of the magazine!

 

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