"I hate myself and I feel ugly all the time." I could barely get the words out of my mouth.
My mom continued to calmly walk me through a series of questions, focusing on all of my assets instead of my perceived flaws.
"Do you like your hair or hate your hair?" Mom asked.
"I like my hair, I guess," I replied in between breathless gasps and streaming tears.
"Do you like your eyes or hate your eyes?"
"I like those too," I said.
She made me write each of these attributes in the "Likes" column. One by one, we made a list of all the things I actually felt good about instead of what made me feel insecure. It was obvious there was more bothering me than just my looks. I was just too young to articulate all of the conflict I was feeling at the time.
After I calmed down, I was able to explain to my mother that I was angry because I didn't think I was as smart as the other kids in school. The classes in my school were divided up into slow, average, and advanced groups. When it came to math, I was in the slow class. This distinction and separation from most of my friends was eating away at my self-esteem. It made me feel isolated and "different." Looking back, I now realize the system our school implemented wasn't in the students' best interest, but at the time, it solidified my self-belief that I was not smart—and that really hurt.
I explained to my mother that math was the class I felt worst about. I told her how the teacher made me feel like a complete idiot for not understanding the problems.
"I was never very good at math, Katherine, but that didn't make me stupid or stop me from achieving my goals. You're not stupid, honey, you're really smart," my mother reassuringly said. "I became successful without being perfect at math, and you can too."
By the time the pilot announced we were landing, I remarkably realized that there were a lot more "Likes" about myself than "Dislikes" on the lists my mom and I had made during the flight. I felt better about myself than I had in months and actually began to look forward to a couple of days away from the pressures of school and life, not to mention spending some quality time skiing with my family.
Despite my mom's effort to show me I wasn't any of those negative things I was feeling, those old self-doubts reappeared shortly after we returned to Los Angeles. When I went back to school, my temporary feeling of being at ease disappeared and my old feelings of insecurity returned. Old habits are hard to break, even in the fourth grade. And once you've accepted those beliefs to be the truth, they are easy to indulge in and become reinforced. I spent the next several years of my life fighting my constant self-doubt. I felt like I was losing my mind.
Was I depressed?
Was there something horribly wrong?
Not that I could put my finger on.
So why was I feeling this way?
It turns out that I was a typical struggling preteen.
Most of my feelings were completely and totally age appropriate and normal. Of course, I now know that all girls struggle with the onset of adolescence, but at the time I really thought I was the only girl in the entire world who felt bad about herself. And as I got older, my problems only seemed to get harder to handle, especially the perception I had of my weight and, in turn, my body image.