In her new book, Katherine Schwarzenegger, Arnold Schwarzenegger's daughter, delves into her own life to help other girls and women develop a healthy body image.
Schwarzenegger talks about the influences and pressures on women and girls to be magazine-perfect. Her advice? Take a realistic, and happy, look in the mirror to see what is truly beautiful.
Read an excerpt of the book below and head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
"I hate myself!" I cried to my mother.
"I'm fat, I'm ugly, I'm stupid, and I feel totally disgusting!" I was ten years old and painfully suffering as only one can in the fourth grade, but this was the first time I could recall revealing my worries about my appearance to anyone.
I shared my prepubescent misery with my family on a flight from Los Angeles to Sun Valley, Idaho, where we were headed for a weekend getaway. I didn't want to go on the trip because. I had my first lengthy report due for school, and I was totally nervous about it. This was the first time I had a homework assignment that completely overwhelmed me. The dreaded fourteen-page "Nobel Report" struck fear in the hearts of kids in the lower grades, who knew that when they reached fourth grade they would finally be assigned this project. My brain was on overload. I was tired, feeling insecure, and downright mad about having to go on the trip. By the time our plane took off, I was headed for a full-on meltdown.
Clearly, how I looked on the outside was only part of the issue when it came to how I was feeling on the inside. I used my frustration to vent all of the pent-up unfamiliar feelings I was having about myself. I knew I didn't like my teacher very much, and I was doing awful in school for the first time. I was being challenged in my classes in ways I had never been before. Whenever I raised my hand to ask a question about something that confused me, I could hear the other kids in my class, mostly the boys, snicker and call me names.
"How could she not know that?" I'd hear one boy say while another would cough out the word stupid.
My reaction to their comments was to fake a sudden understanding of the lesson that had been confusing me and hope the teacher would just move on.
Now, for those of you who don't know my parents, my mother, Maria Shriver, comes from a very powerful and competitive family. She has been successful throughout her life as a top investigative reporter, broadcast news journalist, and is currently first lady of California. Of course, my father is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California and yes, he was the Terminator! He is also a former Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia, two titles he earned as a champion bodybuilder. But to me, they're just "Mom" and "Dad." Despite their fame and success, I grew up in a pretty normal home, dealing with issues that all families contend with.
Sometimes we disagreed with one another, but our home life was always filled with love, compassion, and understanding.
My mom was especially concerned about us growing up in Los Angeles because she didn't want us to become spoiled Hollywood kids. Given our unique family circumstances, she worked hard to give us as normal an upbringing as possible, teaching us to be good kids, to respect them as parents, to show respect to others, to be grateful, polite, appreciative, and to be educated about money, to stay down-to-earth, and to give back to our community.
Looking back, I can genuinely say that I am truly grateful that my parents sheltered us from the public eye. This may sound like an easy task, but it was probably the hardest thing they had to figure out as parents—how to give their kids a normal childhood even though they were always in the spotlight. And the fact that we all had a very recognizable last name didn't make their job any easier.
Both of my parents grew up feeling very confident with a strong sense of self-worth, gifts they were doing their best to pass on to my three younger siblings and me. A self-defeating attitude, pity parties, and self-loathing aren't a part of their worlds, and it wasn't how they were raising their children.
Whenever I told my mom I didn't feel smart, she assured me that I was a bright and intelligent girl. If I told her I felt ugly, she'd tell me I was beautiful. When I told her I was miserable, she'd remind me how blessed I am. My mom had a way of knowing how to turn my negative statements into positive ones, something I had yet to learn. I knew she said things like that to comfort me, but it didn't always make me feel better because, well, let's face it, she is my mom. She's supposed to say those things to me, right? I actually believed it was her responsibility to tell me stuff like I am beautiful when I feel unattractive or that I am not fat when I think I am. I thought all moms did and said things like that to get their daughters through the awkward years. After all, they were once young like us too. But I realize now that not all mothers say these things to their daughters, and it is a big deal.
When my younger sister, Christina, and I were babies, my mother constantly reminded us that we had to be more in life than just a pretty face. My father took a videotape of us sitting in our high chairs saying aloud, "I'm beautiful, smart, nice, and kind . . ." over and over with hand motions to go along with it. It's a little embarrassing to look at now, but it was the start of building our self-confidence and self-esteem.
With that kind of support and positive reinforcement growing up, it may seem strange that I was suddenly feeling so much doubt and insecurity. Admittedly, I consider fourth grade to be one of my "chubby" years as a kid. I felt overweight, and looking back at old pictures of myself, I can honestly say I wasn't fat, but I certainly felt that way.
Up until then, I was always pencil thin. Without warning and with little awareness that it was happening, my body had changed. I was no longer the skinny little girl I had always been. In fact, the changes were so unexpected that I thought something must be wrong because I was inexplicably gaining weight.
I wasn't eating any differently than I used to.
I wasn't going through puberty . . . yet.
My body just changed, which I wasn't ready or properly prepared to face.
As we reached our cruising altitude on the flight to Idaho that day, I was now all out sobbing. Instead of comforting me, my mom took out a pad of paper and a pen. She drew a line down the center of the paper and wrote "Likes" and "Don't Likes" at the top of each column. She asked me to list all of the things I liked about myself and then the things I don't. I had to really stop and think about the things I liked.
And then I yelled, "I don't like anything!" My sobs turned into uncontrollable weeping—you know the kind of cry where you can't catch a breath.
"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.
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.
I went home that afternoon and stood in front of the mirror in my underwear for what seemed like hours. I carefully studied my body from head to toe, noticing every flaw, imperfection, and detail that looked "wrong," "out of place," or "unappealing" to me. I looked long and hard until it suddenly became clear that yes, I was flat chested, which I thought looked totally weird on my body frame. I was horrified I didn't have boobs yet, since most of my friends were more developed. One good friend was already wearing a D cup, which I envied. I'd look in the mirror and wonder, "Where are they?"
A lot of my girlfriends had long skinny legs that looked like two toothpicks. They pranced around in bathing suits with thighs that never moved. My legs were not as thin or firm as theirs. I stood in front of the mirror, jiggling my legs. I gasped after noticing a lot of action in my thighs. I also didn't think my sandy-colored hair was as beautiful as the lighter shade of California blonde all my friends had. I had tons of freckles that ran across my too pointy nose, my shoulders were bony, and my hips seemed to be spreading at an alarming rate. I hated everything I discovered in the mirror that night.
"I try not to weigh myself. As long as I fit in my jeans, I'm good. It's so easy to become obsessed with a number on a scale! It's a slippery slope, and pretty soon, you'll be weighing yourself all the time, and for what?" —Betsy, Richmond, Virginia
It was official. I had become one of "those" girls I saw in the locker room earlier that day. I suddenly realized that life would never be the same again.
From that day on, I became obsessed with weighing myself—and I mean all the time. I feared going to the doctor's office for my annual checkup, panicked at the thought of the big black weight on the scale shifting from fifty to one hundred pounds. My mother had the same type of medical scale in her bathroom as in the pediatrician's office. I'd sometimes purposely shower in her room so I could secretly weigh myself, sometimes twice a day, hoping and praying I didn't gain any weight since my weigh-in the day before. I was mortified thinking about triple digits on the scale.
The struggle with my body image and self-esteem continued well into high school. I took a sex education class my freshman year that taught us about the changes girls' bodies go through as they mature into women. It sounded horrible! Wide hips, big boobs (which I now viewed as nothing more than two welts of fat), bigger butts, and even larger thighs! Based on that less-than-appealing description, I thought the next few years would be a living hell.
I made it through middle school maintaining a constant weight of 95 to 98 pounds. I was determined to stay under 100 pounds until I went to high school—and I did. I started ninth grade weighing in at what I believed to be a hefty101 pounds and feeling horrible, like I was a fat blob. My immediate reaction was to skip my next meal and starve myself until I dropped two pounds to get my weight under 100 pounds.
Even though most people would have told you I was thin, I had finally teetered over the 100-pound mark on the scale. It didn't take long for the scale to creep back up over that dreaded mark. I now weighed a staggering 108! Ugh. This is when I began experimenting with every fad diet known to man. I tried my hardest to starve myself, but nothing I was doing seemed to work. I hated my body.
Growing up, our home was always filled with lots of activity and action. My father is an avid workout fanatic. He still finds the time to exercise twice a day, even as the governor, with a crazy work schedule! My mom exercises religiously every day too. Their active lifestyle was passed on to my two younger brothers, Patrick and Christopher, my sister, Christina, and me. We were never allowed to sit around and veg out in front of the television or play video games all day. If the sun was out, we were outside playing a game or doing something active. Growing up in Southern California had certain advantages, such as the weather, which allowed us to spend the majority of our free time after school and on the weekends doing things outdoors. We played tennis, biked, hiked, and I got to ride horses.
Summer vacations were no exception to the rule. My parents always made sure we did something useful with our time. According to my parents, summer was not a time to relax or take a break from the everyday routine of going to school; it was a time to get ahead and do something useful and meaningful with our time. When I was younger, I played sports and went to camp. As I got older, my parents began to instill in us the importance of giving back to the community, especially those places around the world that are less fortunate than my very privileged life growing up in Los Angeles.
At the end of ninth grade, my parents agreed to send me to Costa Rica to participate in a community service exchange program, where we would live with a family, learn Spanish, and do work in the community. This was my first trip out of the country on my own. The home-stay family I lived with owned a dairy farm. The father often pointed over to a cow and told me in Spanish, "You see that one over there? She will be good for dinner tonight." The thought of eating that cow later on freaked me out. If they served hamburgers, I couldn't eat, because all I could see on my plate was the face of that poor cow, which had been a living, breathing animal in the pasture just a few hours earlier. The only other thing left on the dinner table to eat was bread, so I'd fill up on that before anyone could notice I wasn't eating the meat, which might have been taken as rude or disrespectful.
During my three weeks there, my diet was mainly warm, fresh baked homemade bread and tortillas. I couldn't resist the temptation every time a new loaf came out of the oven. My carefree eating brought me home, give or take, fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than when I left. I wasn't immediately aware of my rapid and drastic weight gain because I mostly wore baggy sweats with an elastic waist or drawstring tie and big T-shirts while I was there. Since I primarily wore loose-fitting workout clothes, it was easy to be oblivious to my quickly expanding waistline. Plus, my height of five feet eight inches gives me the added advantage of being able to carry around a few extra pounds, which someone else who is shorter simply can't pull off as well.
It wasn't until I came home and tried to slip into my favorite pair of jeans that my changed body became obvious and appalling all at once. Although I wanted to believe that someone must have shrunk my jeans while I was away, the harsh reality was that my pants didn't get smaller—I had gotten bigger!
Sometime during my first days back in Los Angeles, one of my best girlfriends came to my house to hear all about my trip. When I opened the front door I heard her say, "Wow!" You look so . . . healthy!"
"Healthy? What does that mean?" I wondered aloud.
My friend stumbled for an appropriate answer, but there wasn't one.
"Um . . . You look, I don't know, just healthy."
That's when I knew for sure that what she meant was that I looked fat.
I spent tenth grade struggling to lose the extra weight it took me less than a month to gain. I tried every fad diet known to man. I tried starving myself and working out like I was a girl on a mission. I worked my butt off that whole year to get back to my skinny middle school self, but my body never fully got back to what it used to be. I had to accept and realize that I would never be that girl again.
I hated my body, and worse than that, I actually believed there was nothing I could do to change how I felt—helpless, confused, and mad at myself because I had no one to blame but myself for allowing myself to gain all of that weight in the first place.
Looking back, I can now laugh at myself for thinking that I actually believed my problems were unique—singular to little 'ol me. I spent years stressed-out and full of angst, trying to be the image of what I believed everyone else thought I should look like. I wasted so many years chasing perfection, wallowing in self-doubt and torturing myself, all of which made me miss out on some of the best years of my life.
A few extra pounds!
Learning to love my inner and outer beauty wasn't an easy road. I still don't always love the reflection I see in the mirror, but I have learned that my outer appearance does not define me. I still get mad when I put on my jeans and they are a little bit tight or if I put on a dress that fits differently than it did a month ago when I bought it. But I don't go into a tailspin. I now know and appreciate that I can be confident in my skin regardless of my dress size. I have many other great qualities that define me other than my weight on a scale.
Fitness experts say not to weigh yourself more than once a week. I recommend weighing yourself once a month to give your body a chance to regulate. Your weight on a scale can fluctuate between five pounds, depending on what you've had to eat that day, your salt intake, when you've gone to the bathroom, etc. You can't let that number dictate how you feel on any given day. So, stop stressing!
"I generally don't feel fat until the season changes and I pull out my winter or summer clothes and they don't fit the way they should. Trying on clothes that once fit gives me an 'I feel fat' feeling." —Lindsey M., Fort Collins, Colorado
I spent years allowing one singular flaw here and there to cast a gigantic shadow over all of the good blessings I had in life. I've great friends, a loving and supportive family, a passion for riding, and lots of personal interests in philanthropy that I was and still am passionate about. I had my first real, what I like to call an Oprah "A-ha," realization, one that lead me to finally embrace the insight that yes, I am a curvy, powerful, smart, confident, loving, sexy, and happy woman. Let me be clear. For me this did not happen overnight. It took a couple of years for me to sit and embrace my body as it is.
I was finally able to accept that I will never be stick thin again and that I was blessed to have a curvier figure, so I should love it and embrace it.
I will most likely never be one of the cover girl models I see on magazines with a perfect body and flawless skin and long flowing, shiny, never-frizzy hair.
But that's okay with me because I have also realized that I no longer have to measure myself against those girls to feel and be beautiful. As long as I eat right, exercise, and continue to live healthfully, I am just as good as any supermodel!
It took ten years of struggling with my self-image and self-esteem to come to a place of understanding, acceptance, and self-love for my body and myself, regardless of my dress size, and to not only understand this message but also to finally stop listening to my inner critic.
My journey of how I got here is what ultimately led me to wanting to share my experiences with you in this book. I've been through the various problems, issues, and concerns you are now facing or will face in the future.
Even if you feel like you're the only girl in the world who is suffering, I assure you that you're not.
I've been there.
I've cried alone in my bedroom at night. I woke up in the morning filled with angst about going to school. I've stood in front of the mirror and wanted to scream about how I looked. I've been embarrassed to go outside in a bikini. I heard the cruel commentary from the boys and girls in the cafeteria or the back of the classroom about my weight or dumb questions.
And guess what?
I lived through it all, and so will you!
In fact, someday you may even look back on all of the drama you're now fighting and laugh about it, like I do. It may not seem possible now, but it's true. Believe me, when I came home from Costa Rica twenty pounds heavier, it wasn't funny.
Not even a little bit.
But now, just a few years later, my girlfriends and I laugh about it. I can look at my best friend, who said I came home "healthy," and say, "Did I ever look in the mirror when I was there? How could I not notice an extra twenty pounds!" and just laugh.
The gift of laughter is the best tool you can arm yourself with throughout these turbulent and awkward years.
I know. Easier said than done, right?
But if you can find the humor in the absurd daily struggles, if you can laugh at others' irritating remarks, if you can learn not to take every little thing so seriously, if you can learn to allow your inner beauty to work its way outward, those awful feelings will eventually slip away, and you will not only survive, you will thrive.
Happiness isn't found in being emaciated, having flawless skin, or supermodel legs that never end. We can only gain true happiness by loving ourselves, our inner and outer beauty, for all that we are and even for those things that we are not—or as I have defined it, learning to Rock What You've Got!