Today my daughter, only seven years old, said something today that I’d hoped I wouldn’t hear from her until she was a teenager. She said, sighing, “Every day I just get fatter and fatter.”
Ironically, we were driving to the woods to go for a long hike, but my heart plummeted through the floor panels and got left on the road. I was very, very careful to school my face blank and just said, “Why do you say that?” She thought for a moment and said, “I just am.” I told her that, in fact, that while her body might be bigger than some of her friend’s bodies, she’s still in the average range for her height and weight according to her doctor. And then I said it’s important to remember that being healthy is more important than worrying about the size of your body. We then spent some time talking about the various fruits and vegetables she is willing to eat, and what new ones she might try this summer.
I feel like I dodged a bullet, in a way, because Tori mostly doesn’t have a negative reaction to the word “fat.” We’ve talked about it rather extensively because, of course, I’m fat. But with my recent focus on losing weight and exercising, I think I’ve unintentionally given her the idea that being fat is bad. Which hurts my heart, of course, because if fat is bad and she thinks she’s fat she will soon make the leap to the idea that SHE is also bad.
And that’s not okay. That is a particular family legacy that I do not want to pass down. I vividly remember the body shame that inspired a liquid protein shake diet at age 11. I wish I had photos of myself at age 11 (we had no camera and didn’t buy the school pictures then, so I don’t have any, sadly), but I was not fat. Not in anyway. But not long after that diet I started putting on weight, eventually getting to size 16 by the time I graduated high school.
That liquid diet? It was the same one my mother was doing. Even now she still struggles with her body image, refusing to don a bathing suit even though her physical therapists have said swimming would be ideal for her issues. She tried hard to not pass her body stuff on to me (trust me, her mother was quite cruel about body stuff), but I still got it. As will, apparently, my daughter.
Today was just the start of the long fight to bolster my daughter’s self image in a society that asks women to get thinner and more sculpted all the time. I want her to get to age 11 and face down coming of age with a strong self awareness and at least an intellectual understanding that her body is hers and is beautiful, healthy, and strong – even if it doesn’t look like the bodies she sees on TV and in movies.
Last week Charlie and I saw the movie The Way Way Back. The movie opens with a wrenching scene between a 14 year old boy and his mother’s boyfriend. The boyfriend asks the boy to rate himself on a scale of one to ten, and when the boy says, “I don’t know, a six?”, the boyfriend responds, “I say a three. But let’s work on getting that number up this summer, okay?”
Kids can so easily be devastated by just a few simple words. I’ve worked hard to keep from saying words to my daughter about her appearance, always telling her she’s smart as well as beautiful. I want her tween and teen years to be focused on exploring who she is – instead of how she looks.
And when someone asks her how she thinks she looks on a scale of one to ten, I want her to look at the person asking as if they are insane and say, “What a dumb thing to rate someone on.”
This post was sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures and the new movie The Way Way Back, an amazing bittersweet coming of age comedy that Charlie and I were able to go see a couple of weeks ago and deeply loved. I’ll include the preview below, but really – we loved this movie. It was remarkable – even if Steve Carrell (one of my favorite actors) plays an asshole in it (that’s not a spoiler, promise).