trying to contemplating, slowly considering, thinking-about-while-eating-pizza losing weight before my sister’s wedding this summer. I’d love to look “good in my dress” as the matron-of-honor (sounds SO OLD). I’d love to weigh what I did before I had kids – before I went through infertility treatments. You know, like, my college days 13 years ago. And not just weigh less, but be fit, like that one time when I ran a marathon. Again, pre-kids. I’ve come to the conclusion that my current lifestyle right now (which can only be described as the cliche-but-true “survival mode”) doesn’t allow for consistent, healthy meals at normal times or even moreso, exercise. I’m going to hope for the best for the wedding, but otherwise, I’m going to continue wearing leggings and pants with no buttons to work (thanks, Old Navy!) and not feel guilty about it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my daughter is hearing and picking up on. She’s 4 and a half, going on 14. She’s sweet and outgoing, opinionated and stubborn, a master at taking her sweet time. She’s a charmer and she loves to please. She loves art. She’s super girly, loves pink and purple, dresses, fancy hairstyles and bows in her hair. She wants to be a mommy when she grows up, and currently, a dog groomer or a pediatrician. In addition to all this, she’s extremely observant of the world around her. She picks up on everyone’s moods, their social cues. She’s listening when you don’t think anyone heard you, she’s watching your facial expressions and what you say. She sees if you roll your eyes, sigh in exasperation, coo lovingly to the baby, or make disgusted faces when commenting about your own body.
And then she’ll copy you.
It sort of hit me the other day, the messages we send to girls before they even realize they’re getting them. (Boys definitely have it rough too, as I struggled to explain to B why he might not want a gymnastics leotard like C got, even though he totally wanted it, but that’s for another post.) What message do so many little girls get about what their lives will be like, growing up?
Can you imagine if the messages so many girls receive were all stated out loud in one conversation? It would go something like this:
“Someday, when you’re older, you might go to college, or not. You might get a job you love, or not. Women have more choice in their lives than ever before. You can choose any job you want, you can be anything you want to be. You can get married if you want to, but you don’t have to. You can have one kid, or many kids, or none at all. And while you’re choosing your education and your career and your partner, you’ll also worry about how you look. You’ll be able to point out, from a young age, the part of your body you hate the most, and you’ll hate it forever. You’ll want to be skinnier, even though you’re completely healthy. You’ll get a scale and you’ll stand on that thing every morning, and sometimes multiple times a day. ‘Did it change?’ you’ll wonder, loving the .5 difference from when you wake up after a night of no eating to after a big meal. You’ll want to try fad diets your girlfriends try, or you’ll try counting calories or measuring what you eat, and you’ll chart it. You’ll know which celebrities are deemed “the most beautiful” and you’ll over-examine their faces, copy their makeup. You’ll pick out clothes that “accent your best features” – and you’ll assume all your best features are physical. You’ll do all this to impress other people – boys maybe, or friends, classmates or siblings. You’ll forget how happy you used to be in your own skin and it will take years to get that feeling back. If you get it back.”
I was driving when I had that conversation to my daughter in my head. I can’t imagine saying it all out loud. Yes, she may likely face all of it, as I did and assumedly, every girl I know did. But I really, really hope she doesn’t. How can I help my daughter to think differently – to go against the grain of typical girls who doubt their whole lives from ages 10 – (does it even have an end?) over how their bodies look?
I’m not sure. But I do know that it starts young. Really young. C is adorable, and sweet, and sassy. If all she hears are comments about her looks, she’ll start to believe they’re the most important part of who she is. If all she hears on the radio are songs about girls’ looks, she’ll think that’s what boys really want. If all she sees on TV are boys staring at girls who aren’t wearing many clothes, she’ll assume when she’s older, that’s what she has to do to get attention. And if she watches people discuss their weight, what the number on the scale says, whether they “fit” into a pair of jeans, whether they’re “happy with their bodies” – she’ll be doing the same exact thing. She’ll assume it’s normal. And really – it’s not.
The “f” word is banned from my children’s ears for as long as humanly possible. I want it to be years before C realizes that there are people everywhere (her mom included, sometimes) who don’t like their bodies. What the what?! If you stop and think about it – it’s totally insane.
I’m concerned that C has already heard and seen too much. But I won’t be able to control what she hears on the bus in a few years, or what her friends tell her at sleepovers. At this point, I want to focus on her art skills, her love of babies and her mothering nature. Yes, she often looks stereotypically “beautiful”, with her long blonde hair and blue eyes, fancy dresses and bows, and that’s fine. But it’s all about balance. Someday, she’ll be 33, exhausted, drowning in life, switching from PJ sweatpants to Target sweatpants to leave the house, a kid on her hip and two more holding hands in the parking lot (me today, and everyday) makeup-free and an unbrushed mop on her head – and that’s got to be just as good.