A few weeks ago my nine year old daughter looked me right in the eyes and very matter of factly said “I just want to be skinny.” At that moment I died a little inside.
Her feeling inadequate is my failure. Of all the shitty genetic traits I potentially passed on (breast cancer, Hashimoto’s Disease, mitral valve prolapse, etc.) the belief that she’s not skinny enough, or that thinness is important, is by far the worst.
I was a fat kid. I am not a fat adult. I probably haven’t been considered actually overweight in more than 25 years but there isn’t a single day that goes by where I don’t look in a mirror with disgust at my lumps of cellulite (which I first noticed in a reflection in the window in the back of our minivan on a family trip to Niagara Falls when I was 10) or feel ashamed for something I ate.
It breaks my heart to think that my daughter also sits next to her tiny, petite friends comparing the size of their thighs and assigning her value based on what she sees.
Since the moment I found out I was pregnant with a girl I was worried that the body shaming layered into my psyche from my mother’s family’s obsession with weight would prove to be a cycle I couldn’t break. I want to raise a girl who is healthy, who loves the miracle that is her perfect body, and who knows her worth has nothing to do with the size of her pants. What went wrong?
I don’t say negative things about my own body in front of the kids. I try to model good food and exercise behaviors without being forceful. I give both my son and daughter positive affirmations about their bodies, but also their kindness, wit, intellect, and especially their effort. We talk about healthy eating. We each do some sort of physical activity that brings us joy. I can’t help but wonder though what I could have done differently, or should start doing.
I’ve learned in my 11 years of parenting to always follow a difficult question or statement from my kids with a question, so I asked “Why?”. And in the conversation that followed we agreed that it was more important for us to feel strong and healthy than skinny.
Maybe if I can find a way to love my body, to feel strong, and genuinely healthy she will sense it and feel the same way. I haven’t been able to do it in 38 years, but she’s the best reason to keep trying.