Over the summer, my older daughter, who at the time had just turned 5, called me “a f–king goddamnit” after I told her she had to go to bed before the movie she was watching ended. She didn’t know what the words meant, but she knew they were bad. I wanted to be furious, but instead I found it so deliriously funny that I had to leave the room, lest she think my laughter at her filthy mouth rendered her the heir apparent to Andrew Dice Clay or Sarah Silverman.
Still, in a calmer, less giggly moment, I let her know that the “f” word has no place in her vocabulary. The other “f” word — fat — is also unwelcome, and when she uttered it to me recently, my reaction was less amused and more alarmed.
“What did you say?” I asked her when she said it to me softly.
“Fat,” she answered. “But I whispered it because it’s a bad word, right?”
“Right,” I replied.
I’m not sure where she heard the word, although I’m certain it wasn’t in our home. While I’ve had my fair share of struggles with the scale since I was younger than she is now, I make it a point never to mention the word “weight” or “diet” or “fat” in front of my girls. Instead, we just talk about being active and healthy.
A video that’s currently making the rounds online shows a model so distorted by Photoshop that it’s hard to believe the woman at the end is the same one from the beginning. I get why the video has gone viral — racking up in excess of 9-million views since it was first posted: For women like me who struggle daily with the number on the scale, the reflection in the mirror and that very specific shortness of breath every single time they go to button their favorite pair of jeans, we are forever comparing ourselves to the images we see countless times each day of models and actresses who appear to be effortlessly thin and sexy.
Even though we know rationally that it’s their job to be unfailingly flawless, it doesn’t detract from the subconscious message we receive (or project) that happy, carefree, fit and attractive necessarily equal skinny with a protruding collarbone, razor-sharp hip bones and thigh gaps that just are never going to happen on our bodies. It helps to know that some of the perfect women are only perfect through the (black) magic of Photoshop, like in the viral video, but it almost doesn’t even matter. Our brainwashing is so far gone that unless we personally see Giselle shopping for herself at Lane Bryant, or Gwyneth tucking into a Big Mac with super-size fries and a chocolate shake, we will invariably feel as if we can never measure up (or down).
There are so many women — like me — who can spend hours rationalizing why eating just one (or four) pieces of our kids’ Halloween candy is not horrible. And then when we do talk ourselves into it (because you know we always do), we feel shame and pain afterwards — the kind that can really only be soothed with another Twix or three. We stare at friends and strangers who wear yoga pants during the day because they actually go to yoga and we envy their seemingly easy-breezy lanky physique and their commitment to wellness and we feel bad about ourselves by extension because even if we had the time and money to work towards that body, we just know we’d still end up looking more like Melissa McCarthy than Jenny McCarthy.
I don’t have much in common with Jessica Simpson. I am crystal clear about the differences between fish and fowl, for instance, and never once have I dated John Mayer. However, she recently spoke to People magazine and said:
“Raising [daughter] Maxwell makes me realize that I don’t want her to see me beat myself up for things like food choices or numbers on a scale. Those things don’t determine who were are and instead make us feel terrible about ourselves … I want her to know her value, rather than spending her energy fighting negative voices from within.”
All of a sudden, I kind of like her. Not for what she’s accomplished as a famous person (especially because I’m unclear on what that is, exactly). But because I admire her dedication to raising a girl the right way.
My daughters are only 2 and 5, but it is my mission to have them avoid the body-image struggles I have wrestled with since I was in preschool. We talk about smart choices and foods packed with protein and calcium and the importance of running and playing and how all of that is good for our heart, muscles and bones. My kindergartner thinks princess are awesome because they get to wear tiaras and are always kind people (if not oddly attracted to rodents) — not because they’re grossly thin. She thinks she’s glamorous and smartly warm wearing an evening gown with a rugby shirt underneath. She also thinks, as do I, that her pot belly is beautiful, freckles and all. I want her to love her body the way I’ve never been able to love my own and I’m proud to say that, at least at this point, she does.
I want my girls to enjoy sweets because they’re, well, sweet. Not because they’re soothing them from some other kind of pain or are an emotional reward. I want them to taste their food and relish it, not eat it secretly or as some kind of consolation. They don’t know when I’m starting another (another) diet. They see me leaving the house six mornings a week to go walk or hike or run. They see that I choose not to have dessert but that it’s not because I’m in trouble. And on the nights when I tell them they can have fruit, not cookies, after dinner, they are OK with it because it’s not a punishment or they’re being deprived; it’s just a different kind of treat. They don’t know the struggles in my head with what I do and don’t eat — and that is among my greatest accomplishments as a mom. I’m pretty sure I’ll never recover from my unhealthy weight issues, but the moment I found out I was expecting my first daughter, I snapped out of it enough to know that my body-image problems would not be passed down to them.
The first order of business has been banishing the word “fat” from our home. The next steps won’t be as easy as they are exposed to more pop culture and the inevitable mean girls, but it’s a battle I’m going into with as much determination as anything I’ve ever tackled. Other than the Halloween candy stash, that is.
Photo credit: Meredith Carroll
More from Meredith on Babble: