When you're cradling a sweaty baby in one arm while running after a toddler and people tell you to enjoy that time because bigger kids bring bigger problems, you might be tempted to immediately clap back, because at that moment, your problems are big enough. Those people happen to be right, but don't tell them I told you so.
Lottie came home not too long ago and told me she thought she needed to go on a diet. After my head exploded and I was able to pick up the pieces, I asked her why. She told me that she was afraid of getting fat, that girls in her grade had been talking about how awful it would be to get fat.
Sweet Jesus. Third grade.
We sat down to talk about this; I couldn't see having this conversation while I was mopping the kitchen floor. I told her all of the right things: she's young, she's active, and she's amazing. She was nodding her head throughout the conversation, but I could tell it wasn't getting through to her. So, I took a deep breath, and I told her some painful truths about her mama and life in general.
I told her that there will always be people who are way too focused on looks. Everyone has his/her own style and appearance, but there will be times when it's not enough for some of the critics. As long as people are happy and comfortable in their own skin, it shouldn't matter what other people think. Only sometimes it does. And when it does, I want her to have the proper tools to deal with it.
I asked her to tell me what she sees when she looks at me, and she said, "My mom who is beautiful." Oh, my heart. The hard part came when I told her that I am overweight, I accept my pudginess, and I don't really care what anyone else thinks of my body. She immediately protested and told me I wasn't fat, but I shushed her so I could continue, so I could explain that I'm not embarrassed or ashamed or sad about it.
Yep, I weigh too much. I'm fat, chubby, fluffy, curvy, substantial, chunky...you get the drift. If I were to compare, I'm probably the heaviest of all of my friends, but I don't compare. I'm most likely the biggest mom of all of my kids' friends' moms, but I don't compare. By now, I have learned that comparing does no good, and it's really just a time-waster. I had two separate people tell me this week that I was fat TO MY FACE, and after a few fretful moments, I forgot about it and felt glad that I don't feel the need to body shame other people just because I can. The crux of it is this: I may be heavy, but that doesn't change who I am as a person. (Now would be the perfect time to let you know this is NOT a fishing expedition for compliments. None needed. REALLY. That's not the point of this post. Now, carry on.)
I could see Lottie getting a little lost, so I continued. I told her that I'm proud of this body. My body carried two kids, and when those babies decided my womb was some sort of magical Studio 54 that they couldn't bear to leave, my body dealt with two emergency C-sections so I could give birth safely. This body walked me through thyroid cancer and the radioactive iodine that followed. This body took care of everyone and everything when T was so sick that he could barely move. This body has rocked kids to sleep, hugged friends in time of mourning, played in the rain, and swum in the pool of a waterfall in Hawaii. This body works at home and works to make students into great teachers. This body hosts dance parties on school mornings when no one wants to get out of bed. This body goes to boot camp and spin class every week day to stay healthy, and this body keeps up pretty well, thankyouverymuch. This body houses the brain that listens intently when there are problems, laughs like crazy at silliness, devours books with every spare moment, and multi-tasks almost every minute of every day. This is the same body I had when I was 17 and met the love of my life; there is just more of it now, and he's still happy to be around, I might add.
I told her that if she ever starts to think negatively about her body, I want her to think of the all the amazing things it does for her, and most importantly, how it holds one of the biggest hearts in the entire world. I told her that she has been given the gift of athleticism, definitely not from me, and she should continue to revel in that her whole life as she has in her childhood. I told her that her kind heart and happy disposition would always make her beautiful, and to me, she is absolute perfection.
I'm not going to spend my summer hiding in sweats or refusing to go to the pool. I'm going to put on a bathing suit, dive in, and enjoy life with my family and friends. My suit may be bigger, but I bet my laugh will be, too. What a beautiful gift to give my children: my presence, my absolute, complete, not-worrying-about-what-my-legs-look-like-in-shorts presence in their lives.
I don't honestly know how much of what I said to Lottie sunk in, and I may not know that for a long time. This is a conversation that needs to happen over and over, though, until she understands that there should be more than just what she sees in the mirror that defines her as a person, and whatever that more is, I want her to own it and be proud of it. I never want her to be ashamed of who she is because she has a long life ahead of her figuring it all out. Plus, it isn't just body shaming out there in the world: it's all kinds of shaming. We shame moms who stay home and moms who work; we shame people on welfare and the filthy rich; we shame those who share their emotions and those who are utterly stoic. There is slut-shaming, food-shaming, politics-shaming, and even shame-shaming. We basically shame anyone who doesn't do things exactly like we think they should be done, and I'm over it. Seriously. What I want Lottie (and Dallas and everyone, really) to get is that shaming others is easy and shaming ourselves can be even easier, but feeling true pride and loving oneself is the hard part. It takes work to push aside the feelings of not being enough and to live life the best way possible. I know she can do it, though. I think we all can.