Once again, I sat stunned, unprepared. I was sitting on the front steps of our house with my 9 year old daughter. My beautiful girl, with tears in her eyes, was trying to convince me that she is fat. She slapped at her thighs and held her stomach between her fingers, saying “See? I’m fat!” I stared at this darling girl, with the deepest pools of blue eyes I have ever seen, who in her best moments is the embodiment of light and the sweet confidence reserved just for children, and my heart broke. Because in this moment, and in the moments leading up to it, some of her innocence had been lost and she seemed to me now uncharacteristically unsteady and insecure. My mind felt like time was speeding up and slowing down all at the same time. I whizzed through all the appropriate cliches, passing by phrases like “you’re perfect just the way you are” and “you are beautiful on the inside” until I landed on a few that I thought would be ok. I am not honestly sure what exactly I did say. I felt a bit paralyzed, the weight of this moment heavy on me. I became acutely aware that there are things I should say and things I should probably not say. I think back to days when, though a bit older, I had similar conversations with my mom. One particular time I remember her response was to chide me a little bit, saying something like “Don’t you think it makes God sad to hear to talk that way about yourself?” Great. Now I’m not just fat, I’m also making the Creator of the Universe sad. So I stayed away from that one. I did try to communicate to her that I believe she was created uniquely and wondrously, knit together by her loving Heavenly Father. And that she is a healthy, beautiful, growing girl who is kind, funny, and smart. During and after this deer-in-the-headlights moment, I felt inadequate and unarmed. I went to my Facebook community, and received kind and understanding encouragement and advice. In the following days I did a bit of research, and I am clear now, if I wasn’t before, that there are volumes of books, magazine articles, DVDs, and the like that are out there to help moms like me in situations like this. That is great, it really is. But can we just take a step back for a moment and acknowledge that this just stinks? It is ridiculous that a child of this age is even beginning to struggle with body image. I am loathe to pull the “when I was that age” bit, but seriously, when I was that age I was playing with my smurfs and running around, getting dirty, and, I am pretty sure, oblivious to the inner and outer critical voices that would make themselves heard soon enough. I just hate this for her, hate that this bugaboo of body image that will continue to resurface likely for a lifetime, has already shown its ugly head. This moment happened about a month ago. Happily, I have not heard the “I am fat” mantra from my daughter since that time, and for that I am grateful. I have watched her playing outside with her friends and her brothers, doing cartwheels, playing some made up game or other, in a world where she is, for the moment, not worried about how she may appear. These are perfect childhood moments, and I am soaking them up. And as I sit and contemplate this whole thing, I try to understand my role in what I hope will be a journey of healthy self image for her. Just yesterday, the morning crew on the Today Show discussed fat talk (women basically competing with complaints about their bodies). I realize this is a trigger for me, as I often grow so weary of these types of conversations and find myself just wanting to walk away when I feel them beginning. Hopefully, I have been at successful at my attempts to keep my own self criticisms in my head, because I am certain that whether either of us wants to admit it or not, I am a role model for my daughter. I know it will only become increasingly important to model a healthy self image, as well as paying attention to and honoring a inner life of beauty. This is a balancing act for sure. I want my daughter to know that cultivating a spirit of compassion, humility, and love far outweighs (ahem) all the trappings of what our culture will define as beauty. But there are times I look at my daughter and I catch my breath, thinking “she is so beautiful.” And I tell her. Which brings me to perhaps the sweetest and simplest advice I have received on this topic so far. It came from my beautiful and wise 17 year old niece. I frantically texted her after the incident, searching for the input of someone closer to her age, hoping for some magical wording that would poof! make this go away. Of course I know this is impossible, but her response came as close as I think I will ever get: “Just keep telling her she’s beautiful until she starts believing you.”
Monthly Archives: May 2013
I first wrote this on May 8th, 2010. I have revisited it the last few years, and wondered if I should add to it. But as I reread it today, it strikes me that there is nothing else to say than what I have said. So here it is:
I have been thinking about the hands of a mother. I am thinking about the combination of strength and tenderness in a mother’s hands, the wordless depth of love communicated by a simple touch. I am thinking of the mending, digging, mixing, comforting, holding, fixing, medicating, tickling, baking, praying hands. I think of my mom’s hands, how they told me things when her words did not, how she used them to daily tend to the needs of her family, how when cancer took so much from her, her hands somehow remained familiar and beautiful, and how I miss them. I look down at my own hands and I see hers. At times, my hands seem less skillful than my mother’s. I don’t sew. I haven’t mastered the way she put a band aid on in just the perfect way. I don’t generally have a loaf of bread waiting for my children when they come home from school. But in my own way, I use what I have. And that is what a mother does. And we hope that in the things we do, in the ways we use our hands, we are able to convey the bottomless love we have for our own.