The other day, while enjoying a cookie, Ava says “Mama, wanna hear something sad?”
And I’m always up for a little sadness, so of course I respond “Yes.”
And she says (and names have been changed to protect the innocent) “Jessica doesn’t eat sweets. She isn’t allowed to because her mom thinks she’s fat. Today at school she wouldn’t have a cookie and when I asked her why, she told me that.”
A “fat” nine-year-old girl.
And one of those women.
I want to cry a little, rage a little, break a couple faces.
Because first of all, I know this girl, and she isn’t fat. She’s isn’t a rail, she’s not one of those super scrawny kids, and perhaps she’s holding on to a bit of that baby chub, but SHE IS IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM FAT. I’ve seen obese kids. She ain’t one of them. She’s healthy, normal. The non-rail shape of her body is clearly, um, just that, the shape of her body.
In a word, she’s adorable. She’s lovely. And perfect – as most kids are, when fed decent food and allowed exercise and access to the outside.
And I’ve seen her mother. Her mother is a rail. Her mother wears tight jeans, small tops and heels pretty much always. Her mother is gorgeous; she turns heads. Very sexy. Very into her appearance. Lots of make-up, always put together – the type of mom I look at and compare myself to, thinking “Damn. I remember 10 years ago when I was hot like that. Wish I still was.” And I feel not quite good enough, which of course is my own issue and another blog post.
And obviously, her daughter just isn’t quite good enough.
She isn’t the vision her mother expected. She isn’t the dashing beauty her mother had hoped for. She isn’t the stunner her mother is. And she’s disappointed.
So she begins her attempt to mold. To create. To construct. To form her into…what…what was it? Oh right…her idea of beautiful. Of sexy. Of hot.
Forget the child’s soul. Forget her spirit. Forget her value as something other than a body, a dude magnet, a little hottie.
Forget all that. Teach her that what matters is her appearance. Her sexual prowess – her outsides –the way the world views her attractiveness, rates her, judges her.
Teach her to rely on her sexiness and good looks, teach her to define herself completely through something that will ultimately abandon her, fade, whither, leaving her wondering “wait. I’m not the hot girl anymore. I’m a mother with a bit of a pooch…I’m an older woman with saggy boobs…WHO AM I NOW? WHAT AM I GOOD FOR NOW?”
Now don’t misunderstand me. Avoiding a lot of fat and sugar and junk food is (obviously) an excellent and critical habit to teach a child – but because it’s HEALTHY. Because it’s good to have an active, thriving body, energy and stamina, and a clear, alert mind. Clearly our bodies should be nourished and treated well and respected. But telling your young daughter that she can’t eat a particular something because she’s FAT will never end in good.
The take away for the child is singular: my mom thinks I’m ugly. Not good enough. Defective.
I’m pretty sure that the mother’s emphasis on her daughter’s weight will result in the exact outcome she’s trying to avoid: emotional eating, dependence on food for something other than nourishment…and obesity. Or anorexia. Or bulimia.
It will result in self-hatred.
Because right now that little girl is still trying to please her mother. When all the other kids are eating a cookie in celebration of a birthday, Jessica denies herself, because her mom thinks she’s fat. But one day in the not too distant future, Jessica’s going to take a look at her mother and say to herself “Who the fuck are YOU to tell me I’m fat? Who the hell are YOU to judge me?” AND SHE’LL EAT EVERY DAMN COOKIE IN A 5 MILE RADIUS, just to prove a point.
But that message will remain, deep, deep inside: I’m ugly. Not good enough. Defective.
Might as well just keep on eating. Or starving. Or binging.
Because I wasn’t good enough for the ONE PERSON WHO MATTERED MOST.
How could I ever be good enough for me?
….Oh, man, let me tread lightly with my little girls – help them see the light burning within them. Untouched, undiminished, unchanged by the passing of time, by the sagging of boobs, by the stretch marks, by the belly that pooches a little…falls over our jeans in all its unsexiness, though it falls in the shape of a cradle, of the womb that once held her in sweet whole embrace. my own chubby, perfect daughter.