My daughter, as I've mentioned before, is 8. She's an amazing kid: a good student, a thoughtful friend, a funny, happy go lucky kid most of the time. She's an outgoing girl who enjoys softball, girl scouts, art, dancing and singing. She watches you tube (safe search on) and Disney channel shows and PBS kids (Odd Squad is her current fave) and can frequently be found lip-syncing to JoJo Siwa. She loves riding her scooter around our neighborhood and trying to cross the monkey bars on the playground. By all accounts, she's a pretty normal 8 year old kid.
This morning, though, in a fit of rage, she told me that no one likes her, everyone hates her, because she is fat. Talk about a total #momfail moment. What do you say to that? What do you say to an eight year old child who believes that her peer's friendship is contingent upon her shape or size? What do you tell a child that believes that her looks matter so much that no one loves her because her stomach is too big? How do you reassure her that she is loved, no matter what she looks like, and have her actually believe it?
Especially when it's taken you 38 years to believe it yourself?
Yes, I'm 38, and I still struggle with my self esteem. It's a life long process, as I'm sure most of you know. Since having a daughter I am SO SO careful what I say around her. I never talk about dieting, only about being healthy. I work out to make my body strong, I run to clear my head. I eat fresh fruits and vegetables because they make me feel good and give me energy. I am super conscious to never make comments about my body in front of her because I never want her to internalize the struggles that I've felt my entire life. And I would never, ever criticize or make comments about her body. 20 years as a feminist have taught me these things at least.
And yet, here we are.
My 8 year old daughter thinks she's fat, and thinks that the world hates her for it.
God I really fucking hate our society sometimes.
This isn't the first time we've talked about the "f" word. Several months ago, she came home from school and told me a classmate told her she was fat. I was pissed (ugh, why are kids so awful?) but I knew this day was coming. We had an earnest discussion about it.
"You aren't fat," I told her. "You have fat. Everyone has fat on their body. Some people have more than others, just like some people are taller or shorter or wear glasses or have different abilities. Everyone is different and special in their own way and no one should be calling you fat to put you down and make you feel bad. All that matters is how YOU feel about you - do you feel healthy and strong? Are you a good friend and kind to people, even if they are unkind to you? THAT is what matters, not how you look." It seemed to help her at the time. But then, life goes on. She's affected by so many things I can't even imagine. Other kids that don't want to play with her on the playground and she doesn't understand why. What exactly does she sees on TV? What's the message she's getting? What does she hear on the bus? What do I unintentionally portray to her by wearing makeup everyday or taking selfies? She is a little sponge, and somewhere, somehow, she's soaked in this idea that because of how she looks - and how it is different - she is not worthy of love.
It really, truly breaks my heart.
Mostly because I don't know how to help her. I don't know the right words to say all the time, even though I stumble my way through trying. I don't know how to make her believe that it's what is on the inside that matters. I don't know how to make her understand that her heart and her soul and her brain and how she treats people and her love and her laughter are the REAL things that matter and make her beautiful. I don't know how to make her care about THOSE things - and not her looks - when we are constantly surrounded by a world that shows her just the opposite. I don't know what I'm doing and sometimes it's a struggle.
All I do know is how to love her. So I'll keep on doing that. I'll have the hard conversations, even when I'm not sure what to say. And I'll show her and tell her over and over and over again what I have learned after 38 years on this planet. I'll tell her to be kind to people, always, even if they're not kind to you. I'll tell her how when other people treat you badly, it is a reflection of THEM, and not you. I'll tell her that big girls are just as beautiful and capable and strong and worthy of love as anyone else. I'll tell her that you need to love yourself so fiercely that no one's words can shake what you already know to be true. I'll tell her to throat punch the next motherfucker who calls you names. (Kidding.... Kind of.) But mostly, I'll tell her that by being yourself and loving yourself, you are exactly who you are supposed to be, and that there is nothing more beautiful than that.