In my head, I formulated so many responses.
“Thank you so much, but my girls are learning not to talk about other people’s bodies.”
“Wait…did you just compliment a seven year-old on being skinny?”
But of course I responded the only appropriate way I could think of to the well-meaning women: an awkward smile. I couldn’t bring myself to say thank you which…well, weird.
Oh man, it’s starting already.
From the mom who told Thalia she’d probably do well in ballet “because they like them small and skinny like you” to the salon employee who admires her figure.
Eek, do second graders have figures?
We shouldn’t be dealing with this stuff already.
Sometimes I wonder if talking about it (“no girl could ever really look like Barbie without being sick, honey”) is worse than not talking about it. But I don’t want to ignore it either. My girls know relatives who have big bellies. They knows about my dear friend who was finally compelled to have gastric bypass surgery to get healthy. They understand about healthy foods and Jamie Oliver and good and bad food choices–even if they don’t quite make them themselves just yet.
I’m not always sure where to go with it all.
I too was the “skinny girl” growing up. I was the one whose friends thought it was hilarious that they could stretch their thumbs and middle fingers around my waist and nearly get them to touch around the other side. The one who could get up on stage in a leotard year in and year out, never once worrying about what was jiggling.
Admittedly, I kinda miss those days of bandanas as belts and breasts that couldn’t be measured in length. (Sexy, I know!) I liked being able to walk into a boutique and know that things would fit But things changed in my mid-thirties and suddenly, whoa! What are those uh, dimply-looking things on my thighs? You mean I can’t live on bagels and pasta any more? To make the transformation complete, things sure changed when I got pregnant. It still stings when I think of the clerk at the fancypants maternity store on upper Madison Avenue that looked my non-pilates-toned body up and down and practically sneered, sorry…we don’t think we have anything here to uh…accommodate you.
I bought a way overpriced diaper bag that I wore maybe twice and yeah! That sure showed her!
Today I’ve settled into a detente of sorts with my postpartum body, thanks in part to some middle-aged resignation, a fine array of A-line skirts and bias-cut dresses, and the acceptance that I can only be mid-40s me, not mid-20s me, whatever it may look like.
As with most things in life, I often take comfort with the mantra that well, I will probably never be the most _____ woman in the world and I will never be the least ______ woman in the world either.
Fill it in yourself. Kind of fun.
But it’s harder–way harder–to think about these attitudes and societal norms conspiring to infiltrate our daughters heads and eat their brains like airbrushed, fashion industry zombies in belly shirts and teetery Louboutins.
We’re so super-sensitized to any signs of eating disorders or early sexualization that sometimes it’s paralyzing to know how to react when your 5 year old grabs the skin on her thighs and says “look at my fat, mommy!” Is it just stuff kids do? Sign to call 16 therapists immediately? I don’t tend to be reactionary about most things that the parenting world at large panics about. I don’t think that a monogram on my kids’ backpacks will lead to their imminent kidnapping. But I have read so many posts from women I know, now admitting to anorexia or body image issues as children, that I can’t help but mull that over. Maybe too much.
(I do take heart that these women have grown up to be strong, productive, amazing.)
All I want is to know the 100% right thing to do to insure my girls stay on a healthy–mentally and otherwise–path. The way our mothers did for us. Or the way our mothers didn’t do for us and we wish they had.
Too much to ask?
I wish there were some easy way to know what to do. To know just the right thing to say and to know just when to shut up and not turn it into A Thing. To be able to ask for a comic book superpower that lets a mother distinguish Things Little Girls Say from some terrible foreshadowing of things to come.
What do you do, parents? How do you talk to your girls about bodies? How soon?
Because seeing my five-year-old joke about “wiggling her fat thighs” is not something I’m quite ready for.