She was sitting in the tub, a fever threatening and a belly full of upset. She’d been trying to get comfortable for an hour; multiple trips to the bathroom to vomit proving unproductive. At one point I even told her how to help herself throw up. It terrified me, like handing a match to a child. She looked horrified, so I’d suggested the bath. We were quiet, nothing but the soft sound of the bubbles settling, until she spoke. “Mom, do you remember the girl I went to preschool with who goes to my school now?”
“Did she have long, brown hair? Her mom works at the school?” She looked uncertain. “She was bigger than some of the other kids, right?” She nodded, “Yeah, that’s her.” She focused her eyes on the trail of her finger snaking through the bubbles. “Mom? I know her weight.”
She waited. I couldn’t read her face.
“What do you mean you know her weight?” I asked.
“Well, once on an inside recess day we were pretending to be in the hospital. I tried to carry her and kind of made a sound. She laughed and told me that she was heavy. She told me she weighed one…” she paused.
My mind ran through the competitiveness Ave and her sisters have—who is tallest, who is fastest, who wears the biggest shoe. They’ve never lingered on weight. I’ve painstakingly avoided anyone discussing that because Ave, with her athletic build, has always outweighed her sister. From the time Avery could sit up people asked if they were twins. I wonder now if I’ve made a horrible mistake.
“Yes, she weighs one hundred and sixteen pounds.” She was watching my face waiting for something.
“Well, that is bigger than any of you, isn’t it?” She nodded. “I’ve told you not to lift people, right?” More nodding. “Listen, here’s the thing, you are very strong. That’s great. People are all different shapes and weights, that’s good too. I want you to try and promise me something. As you get older, I want you to try not to let numbers make you upset, ok? Because here’s the thing, I have always, always weighed more than people thought.” Her head snapped my way.
“It’s true, at the doctor’s office or at school when I’d have to be weighed, no matter what they said, I was almost always 10, 15, or even 2o pounds heavier. Someone who looks skinny might weigh more, someone who looks big might weigh less. It really doesn’t matter. Kids used to tease me about my feet.”
“Your feet?” she asked dubiously.
“Yes, my feet. I had the biggest feet of any girls in my class starting in like 4th grade. Kids will tease about anything. How can you get upset about your feet, right? I did and it was silly. I love my feet!”
She took a deep breath and said, “Can you get me the fish container so I can make a boat?” I passed her the container.
What the hell am I going to do? I thought. Just this summer we were in Cape Cod and despite these 9 years of trying to watch my tongue, I slipped. My mom said she wanted to take a picture of us near a sand castle we’d built. I started to lean over and felt my stomach make a roll. “Oh, not now, I don’t want my stomach in the picture.” My stomach is flat, yet I still have this compulsion to think that it isn’t flat enough. It was out of my mouth before I knew what I was saying.
“It’s ok mom, I’ll sit in front of you.” This picture will forever remind me of the unnecessary shame that I blasted in front of all three girls. The cycle is so ferocious that even as I type this, I am upset that it happened AND I am holding in my stomach.
How do I avoid the deep ruts of my self-loathing as I raise these girls? My post-baby body is stronger and more slender than it was pre-babies, but my appetite for perfection won’t rest. Rationally I know that we are ever changing, numbers on a scale, the fit of a waistband; they ebb and flow, nearly always related to our actions, meaning none if it is forever. I am tender with others, protective of my girls, endlessly optimistic, but the hate nips and every so often I do think it swells out of my control.
I don’t want thin for my girls, I want happy.
I don’t want gorgeous for my daughters, I want radiant.
If they inherit my hands and feet, I don’t them to also get my instinct to apologize for being what/who/how I am.
All of a sudden, with a 6 year old who calls her parka chubby, because “saying it’s a fat coat would be mean” and a 7 year old who was scandalized by a weight, and a 9 year old who seems indifferent to food, I think that their health and self-image have way less to do with my constructing a non-judgmental environment and more with me taking a deep breath and exhaling for good the idea that on any day the tautness of my stomach or the line of my jaw make me any more or less amazing as a human being.
Tagged: body, Confidence, daughters, image, peace
It’s shocking how early body image creeps into their lives. I have desperately tried to keep weight issues ouf of sight, but I’m sure they see the looks that slip across my face when we pass a mirror, or hear the sighs as I get dressed in the morning. These things escape, so ingrained, before I’m even conscious of it.
I know they will be bombarded with images and judgments in their lives, but it terrifies me to think that they might take on my issues. I know I’ve taken on my mother’s, and I would hate to pass that burden onto my children.
I love “I don’t want gorgeous for my daugthers, I want radiant.” Beautiful.
Yes, it’s the idea of the one, two punch of our issues and the new twists that classmates, trends, and things like music can add.
That body image baggage that you carry with you is carried by nearly every other woman in varying forms. I know I carry mine. Even if we never err in our presentation of ourselves to our daughters, perhaps it is unrealistic to think that they won’t pick up the negative messages somewhere.
I don’t know the answers. If I did, my teenage daughter wouldn’t make that face when she tries on clothes. You know the one. Did she learn it from me? Probably, without me knowing it, she did. And from her friends and her grandmothers and from the media. It’s everywhere.
I’m not suggesting we throw our hands in the air and call it hopeless. I am suggesting that we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves in our parenting any more than we expect it in our bodies.
My daughter and I have talked about body image and weight. I probably don’t say all of the right things. I don’t know what all of the right things are. But I listen and I respond honestly. That’s all I know how to do.
Her radiance burns so bright that it warms those around her. I just hope she feels it, too.
Thank you, Shannon. It’s the issue of women/girls being able to acknowledge, revel in, or even understand their radiance.
I am glad you said that it’s baggage we all carry. Sometimes I worry that this theme grows tedious for people, but I find that managing the fear and frustration is ephemeral at best. A constant work in progress.
This resonates with me, because in my forties, I still struggle with body image issues. I don’t know why either, because there’s no rational basis for it. I am very careful to not project my own lack of body confidence on my daughter. I don’t want her to worry about such things, and so far there is nothing to worry about. But she tells me about the girls on the (elementary school!) bus who call other girls fat. It shocks me that it starts so young. Where does it come from? These poor girls.
Where does it come from? I swear sometimes I wonder if we are evolving to have it in our code. Like the instinct to nurture babies, for many of us there seems to be a primal urge to be self-critical.
The line about the deep ruts made me gasp out loud, because it’s so perfect … I relate so much to this. A couple of years ago Grace was close to a girl whose idea of fun it was to weigh themselves when she came over here. It made me furious, but I also didn’t want Grace to see the ferocity of my reaction. I tried to be casual about it. The thing I struggle with on this dimension is the self-love part. I don’t weigh myself, never have, and find it’s not that hard to avoid self deprecating comments about my body, but it’s anything beyond this that I can’t do. Talking about loving my body? Hard. Really, really hard. I try to focus, as I bet we all do, on what our bodies can DO, and on how that’s powerful and valuable, but I still worry about this all the time. xox
One of the things that scares me is that even as I work at positivity and eradicate certain behavior, like some twisted match of Whack-a-Mole the doubt creeps in somewhere else.
I do believe the more that we speak the words aloud, or online, the less shame we each may feel in still battling certain demons. Glad I have you in the journey.
Nice one! We worry about ourbody proportion too often.
I wrote about this once, in re J. telling me that his thighs were too fat.
It’s so hard to escape, even for boys in our culture. Your slip was just that – a slip – and if you let the girls know that that is all it was, you all will be fine. Lots of love and acceptance – that’s the antidote.
It feels like an instinct because it is part of everything all around us. It is blatant or it is subtle, but it is everywhere. And even before we fully understand what we’re seeing, hearing, consuming, it’s creeping in. Media images, food marketing, growing up always being told how pretty we are but how often did someone ask us about our favorite books?
It took me years to get to a place where I mostly accepted (and even loved) my body, and then one day with one surgery I’m starting from scratch again. At the same time I struggle with my body image, I struggle with the fact that I have to struggle at all. That anyone has to struggle at all. Especially women as amazing as you.
It’s probably impossible to shield them from it but your girls are so lucky to have your strength. You’ll get them through it.
Oh, Ang, I love you.
Such a fine line, right? You’re not going to do it perfectly, nor can you protect them from all the judgement in the world. But you and Sean are giving your girls such a wonderfully loving and accepting environment to grow up in – I think they will be fine. As long as you keep the lines of communication open – they will tell you when things are not fine. Like I said the other day – you should be a bit more gentle with Amanda. You are a wondrously sensitive and gentle soul and you are parenting fabulously. The hardest thing for you appears to be – not judging yourself so harshly. Like you said – stop feuding with yourself and try to see you as others do. And not just – us – in general. But see yourself as Sean does, and as your girls do. You are perfect, to them. 🙂
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