This article is part of the Here. Now. essay series, which seeks to de-stigmatize mental health treatment, and improve accessibility to treatment and support for teens and parents in metropolitan New York.
“Hi, Mommy,” someone whispered. I felt breath on my face.
It was a Sunday morning, and I was still in bed. It was still earlier than I’d like to be awake, but not as early as it had been when my husband took the 1-year-old and 3-year-old downstairs a half hour before. The voice saying hello was my 4-year-old daughter. I smiled, motioned to her and she climbed into my bed.
Every parent loves each of their children for their own specialness. This particular kid is a ridiculously kind, beautiful, sweet, funny, loving and smart soul. She is a wonderful girl.
“You’re a wonderful girl,” I told her, kissing her soft cheek, looking into her beautiful brown eyes.
“Even though I’m fat?” she asked.
I hope you felt that last line like I did when I heard her say it. I hope you felt it like I did–like a slap across the face, like a kick in the stomach, like your heart snapping in half. Like how everyone ever made you feel when they made an unkind comment about your body. Then multiply that pain five billion times over.
Trying not to rise up with a roar like a furious beast, I sat up in bed and said, “That’s not true. Who said that to you?”
And then I waited, afraid.
Because did anyone really even need to have said that to her? Could she have gotten it…of all people…from me?
I’m on a quest to lose the baby weight from four consecutive babies over five years. It is a long, unpleasant haul. I exercise regularly. I have mostly excised carbs and sugar from my diet (while still allowing them to my children in what I deem reasonable amounts).
And yet, despite my turning down delicious things frequently, it’s still not a situation where the pounds–or my pants–are “falling off.” I am about to turn 44 years old. My metabolism is about the speed of a dial up modem.
While it’s on my mind frequently, I try very, very hard not to talk about my weight issue around my kids. At best, it’s not helpful, and at worst, I think it could be actively harmful.
I cringe a little, to be honest, when I see parents loudly praising each other for weight loss in front of their young children. I hate hearing it between women–“You look SO SKINNY! YOU LOOK AMAZING!” It’s great to look amazing. It’s better, of course, when it comes from happiness rather than absence of fat.
I try not to let thoughts about my body rule me. And yet, I will say that there are at least several times a day where I look another woman and think, “It must be really nice to be able to wear whatever you want and look good.” These thoughts dog me even as I sweat my guts out in spin class, or track my steps on a pedometer, or reach for water instead of a snack. They are uninvited observations. They are odious comparisons. And they are unwelcome.
I don’t want that for myself. And I certainly don’t want that for my daughter.
“It’s the boys at school,” she told me. “They said I’m fat.”
Well, those boys are getting their judgment from somewhere, aren’t they?
And so I ask you–what are you saying in front of your kids (girls or boys, it doesn’t matter, obviously)? What are you saying aloud about your weight, about someone else’s? What do you want your kids to say about themselves?