By the time I entered seventh grade, all the rules had changed. I found the new atmosphere even more challenging. There were a lot more kids in middle school, the classes were held on a different campus than the lower school classes, and we were the awkward "new" kids on campus trying to find our way.
It was hard to make new friends, especially because there were a lot more kids who recognized my very distinctive last name. "Are you Arnold's daughter?" they'd say, as if it were some big deal. It wasn't to me, but then again, not everyone's dad was the Terminator, right? It was awkward to study American history and read a whole chapter on my mother's family. My heritage was something that I couldn't escape, and it made me terribly self-conscious and insecure.
As I got older, I was adamant about keeping the friends I knew from elementary school, the kids who liked me for me, because I was worried the new kids in middle and high school only wanted to be friends because of who my parents are. This was something I worried about, perhaps unnecessarily so, at least until I discovered boys. That's when it became obvious who was interested in me and who was more interested in my dad.
A few short days into middle school, I was faced with my first official body image dilemma in our physical education class. Because I attended private school, all of the kids were required to wear uniforms for PE. I vividly remember all of us girls standing in the locker room, gym clothes in hand, nearly frozen, waiting to see who would be the first to undress. Some girls just took off their clothes and changed while others headed straight to the bathroom stalls to have privacy. For the first time in my life, I was really nervous about what the other girls would think—or worse, possibly say out loud when they saw my body. I slowly removed my pants so I could quickly slip on my gym shorts, hoping and praying no one was looking. Despite my best Houdini-esque quick change, I felt as if a thousand sets of eyes were watching me as I undressed, making mental notes of everything wrong with my body. It was painfully awkward.
I remember hearing some older girls in the locker room at school that year staring in the mirror and talking about their bodies.
"I hate my legs," one said.
"What are you talking about? Your legs are perfect. Have you seen how big my hips are?" another commented.
"Ugh! My arms are so fat," said a third girl.
Their critical statements were puzzling to me because I thought they all looked perfect. I couldn't see what they were looking at when they talked about themselves. I wondered why these very pretty girls were picking apart their bodies as if they each had giant humpbacks, three eyes, or other gross and irreparable flaws. If I overheard girls saying things like that about someone else, I would have thought they were just being mean. Instead, these girls were picking on themselves, not others.
Until I overheard that exchange, my only thought about body image had been whether someone was fat or skinny. These girls were zeroing in on their bodies in ways I had never considered, critically analyzing each detail of various body parts. They ripped apart every little flaw. That was the beginning of my own critical self-examination and hyperawareness of my body.