My Mom Isn’t Allowed To Body Shame My Kid

daughters and weight issues Last week my daughter, who recently turned 13, dressed for her summer enrichment class. We live in Phoenix where it stays over 100 degrees sometimes until Thanksgiving. She emerged from her room wearing jean shorts, a tank top and a shrug with long sleeves. When I asked her why she was wearing long sleeves on a day forecast to be 106, she responded without hesitation, ”I hate my arms.”

And there it is.

I need you to know that I have surrounded myself with books and articles about how to raise a daughter who recognizes her beauty. I want to tell you that I readily call on their content in any given situation. I want to tell you that when I look in the mirror I’m aware if she is nearby. I want to tell you that when I look in the mirror I don’t grab my flesh in areas, make a face and call it names. I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that my daughter’s announcement has created a forceful awakening and I am ready to battle for her sense of self. No. More than that””for her sense of beauty and her right to fill this world.

I tell my daughter that her arms are wonderful because they swim, throw, punch and hold. She looks at me like I’m on crack. I panic and search out my adolescent journals. Upon finding one, I read about a day my father told me he was concerned about my weight. I weighed l18 pounds. He worried that I was getting big. There are pages and pages of resolutions regarding losing weight and becoming smaller, smaller, smaller. In these pages I note support from my mother in that she is making my meals and helping me to count my calories. Even then I was aware that she did so out of love and her desire for me to fit in and succeed in the world. I choose not to show these to my daughter.

Instead, I show her a coffee table book that I find under my bed filled with women who are considered Rubenesque, zaftig. She rolls her eyes but I find her reading it before bed. ”Mom, you look like this one.” I am afraid to see the figure she is pointing to””I try not to show my fear. The woman she points to is a model from the late 1800s. She is shorter than the orange chaise she lies on naked, and in a sideways position. She has a round and somewhat fleshy belly. Her thighs are smooth and curve outward at their tops and her hips seem soft. I ask my daughter what she thinks about this picture””this book. By doing so, I am asking her to evaluate me. I am also indirectly asking her to consider her own possible adult shape. She yawns and says, ”I think this book is weird, but this lady is pretty.” When I ask her why, she responds, ”Because she looks like a good mom.”  This might undo my need for therapy.

In the morning we visit my mother’s house. She is in her front yard pulling weeds. I note her petite figure and find her beautiful. I also realize that I look nothing like her.  When we enter her house, she tells my daughter, ”Honey, there is some banana bread on the counter””it has reduced sugar.” When my daughter asks for butter to coat on the almost-sweet banana bread, my mother points her to the margarine.  I get up and search for a stick of butter. Later, my mom pulls me aside and tells me that my daughter is incredibly beautiful. I’m about to agree when she whispers, ”I think she should brush and style her hair.” I don’t have time to help my mother sort out how silly this is because her entire experience in the world has led to it. And I need you to know that my mother is the most generous, supportive and intelligent woman I’ve ever known. She lost her father to a heart attack and I believe her choices are as perceived as health driven. Still, perhaps I overreact, but I make an excuse and we go.

I sometimes wish my parents were uneducated because in my mind this would make certain things easier to reconcile. My father is a professor of political science. He is the son of immigrant parents and has accomplished phenomenal things in the face of childhood poverty and a general lack of unconditional love. My mother has her master’s degree and is a deeply respected health administrator and person. She has done tons to provide services to the homeless, but I wonder as we are leaving is there a reason she is intent on helping to feed the hungry beyond moral or political obligation? I wonder if she insists that women who are without residence or consistent sustenance eat reduced-sugar banana bread, low-fat cheese. Who are all of the brilliant women hungry to feed? I also consider my own education. I have an MFA and my teaching credentials. Why am I still acting like an idiot when it comes to my own beauty? Why is this the scariest topic I’ve ever written about?

When we are driving home, my daughter says she is hungry. I almost hit the person in the next lane to be able to turn into a nearby restaurant’s parking lot. My daughter orders waffles and fruit. I ask her why she orders the fruit and not the hash browns. She looks up and says, ”I like fruit and I want it.”  We move on and talk about school. During our meal she tells me that she is a bit pissed off that she has boobs. I am screaming in my head not to blow this moment. She continues, ”I feel like even though I know they can feed a kid someday, right now they are just in the way and boys keep looking at them. They just feel so big.” I am quiet long enough for her to look up””to really make eye contact.

I say in my serious-mom-means-it voice, ”Boobs are not your enemy. Your body is not your enemy. It is yours and you will have it forever. Please find reasons to love it. It took me a long time to love mine””I’m so glad that I do now.”  At first when I say this I think I’m lying a little bit””but when I’m done I mean every goddamn word. She meets my gaze and nods. ”You’re so weird,” she says.

I want you to know that the next day and even at this moment she is wearing a sleeveless shirt.

(Image: Africa Studio/shutterstock)

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