A viral and heartbreaking hashtag proves body-shaming starts early for women.

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If it seems like body-shaming is a new phenomenon, it’s really not.

We hear about it more and more these days in response to mind-numbingly ignorant marketing campaigns, laughably absurd celebrity criticism, and everyday people singled out by mean-spirited strangers.

The extra awareness is a good thing, but the truth is that this kind of weight- and beauty-based bullying has been happening to (mostly) women for as long as anyone cares to remember.

Twitter user Sally Bergesen recently called on women to share their own memories using the hashtag #TheySaid.

She recalled her dad warning her not to eat too much when she was only 12 years old. 12!

Though the comment was likely meant as a playful tease, it left a deep mark on Bergesen. And she’s not alone.

“Keep eating like that and you’re going to be a butterball.” My Dad when I was 12. Pls RT and share a body shaming comment. #TheySaid

— Sally Bergesen (@oiselle_sally) May 25, 2017

An avalanche of responses followed, proving that our body-shaming problem is deep, rampant, and extremely damaging.

Fat or thin, young or old, it seems almost every woman who’s ever lived has had to deal with other people’s verbal opinions about her body.

A classmate: “You look so good now, those salads are working!” I was 13 and throwing away my lunch everyday instead of eating. #TheySaid

— Paola de Varona (@pdvarona) June 2, 2017

As stories poured in, it became clear girls are being told from a frighteningly young age that their bodies aren’t good enough.

Women shared horrible things their parents, friends, and siblings said to them when they were 8 years old, or even 5.

5-year-olds can barely make themselves a sandwich, but we expect them to reel in their calories in order to keep a flat tummy.

“you shouldn’t have stretch marks”
“maybe try eating salad more often?”
“you don’t need anymore”
“you’re ‘pleasantly plump'” #TheySaid

— ashley marie (@asholaymarie) June 1, 2017

“Your breasts aren’t real. They’re just fat” -when I was 8. #theysaid #fatshaming #bodyshaming

— Amanda Cumm (@Ramanda_Rox) June 2, 2017

The stories also served as a powerful reminder that body-shaming can take a lot of different forms.

It’s not always meant to hurt feelings. In fact, it’s often disguised as concern or helpful advice. But its impact is almost always the same.

#TheySaid “you’re really gonna eat all that?” – my other brother, during his own bday party, when I was eating my FIRST slice of cake

— Diamond Murillo (@unhelpfulyoda97) May 31, 2017

The stories women shared were enraging and heartbreaking.

Girls in school surrounding me in a circle slapping their legs chanting “fat thighs”#theysaid

— kathy coates (@sky5kc) June 2, 2017

“You’ve got a really pretty face. But you’re too fat for my taste.” – a very honest date in my 20s #TheySaid

— Cecilia H (@ceciliah) June 2, 2017

#TheySaid “You should stop eating”, “Being slim is the best body type”, “no one likes fat girls”
my mom and my grandma say this a lot 💔

— 👑Queenwinters💄 (@iQueenwinters) June 1, 2017

“But he’s so good looking, I mean really good looking.” As if they could not understand how a chubster caught a fitty #TheySaid

— Lilla Mudblood (@LillaJade) June 2, 2017

‘Is that pizza such a good idea for you?’ Ex boss, 10 years ago. #TheySaid

— Bonita Bennett (@bonitafernan) June 2, 2017

“You’re going to have to lose weight if you want to do fun things at school and be happy.” – Mom, summer before I began jr. high. #TheySaid

— Tara (@runningreading1) May 25, 2017

“I don’t know what you’re doing, but you look SO MUCH healthier now. Props for losing all that weight” #TheySaid after I developed anorexia

— Ashley Scarlett (@ashleyyscarlett) June 1, 2017

“you don’t look like the person that could do cheer. your hands would break under your weight” #TheySaid

— kt !! (@ktjsfd) June 2, 2017

“You have such a pretty face. It’s a pity you’re so fat. No man will ever marry you.” My Mother to me circa age 12 #TheySaid

— Elise Hines (@geekspertise) June 1, 2017

As hard as the comments are to read, it’s incredibly important we do so.

It sometimes feels like we’ve come a long way as a society in terms of accepting people of various body types as they are — and in a lot of ways, we have.

But you can’t read through the thousands of responses to #TheySaid without realizing this remains a huge problem, particularly for women and girls. To move forward as a culture, we need to be brutally honest about how badly we’ve let many of our girls down, face the problem head on, and make a change.

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