First, read magazines.
Or maybe we’re born with a capacity for hating ourselves as much as we’re born with the capacity to learn language, lengthen bones, sprout breasts. I can’t remember when, exactly, I started looking down when I sat down: at my thighs spreading, at the accordion folds of my stomach, but I know I was somewhere around the age of twelve.
I can’t blame my navel gazing on fashion magazines; I began questioning my appearance because I had stumbled upon puberty, had begun knowing myself as a female being looked at by other people, and forgetting myself as the wild-browed, gap-toothed tomboy simply living inside her clumsy, hyperactive, freckled body. Maybe it was the retainer and headgear and braces, those bellwethers of all the cosmetic straightening out yet to come. Or maybe it was my best friend throughout those preteen years, a sylph of a girl who played the flute with fingers slim as reeds and whose hypercritical mother made her turn on me with criticisms. We had art lessons together on Wednesdays after school and at some point we decided that my art was “chunky” (my sculptures stacked lumps, my oil pastels caked layers of pigment) and hers was “petite” (I remember one particularly delicate clay model of a bloom on a lily pad, the petals knife-edged in a way my stubby fingers could never emulate). Soon after, I realized chunky and petite were not merely words for our art. Or maybe it was Tony in my sixth grade class, my first real, searing crush, pointing out, one sunny spring afternoon, that I had sprouted the faintest of mustaches on my upper lip.
Whatever it is that pushes us all toward self-critique, I found a handy rubric for grading my body in the pages of Seventeen.