On my very first day in Texas, I took my daughter, two-years-old at the time, to the grocery store to pick up all of the necessities for our apartment””toilet paper, cheerios, and chardonnay””and as I lingered over a display of Frito Pie ingredients, wondering what the hell Frito Pie was, a woman with a massive hairdo and leopard print caftan approached, exclaiming, ”How adorable! She looks just like you–you should put her in a toddler pageant!”
I laughed appreciatively at her hilarious joke, until I noticed the wounded look on her face and realized she was being serious. I would find out later that ”You should do pageants” is the ultimate compliment in Texas regarding toddler cuteness, and that my response was basically on par with punching a kindly grandmother in the face. She handled it with southern grace, though, patting me on the shoulder and even saying, ”bless your soul!” which I would find out later is the Texas equivalent of, ”well fuck you too, honey.”
What really stuck with me that day, though, was the woman’s assertion that my kid looked just like me, because frankly, until then I’d never seen a resemblance. I had always joked that my husband must have cheated because there was no way she was mine.
I went home and relayed the incident to my husband, and after having an arrogant laugh about the aw-shucksy quaintness of the natives, I asked if our daughter really did look just like me.
”Of course,” he said. ”Everyone says so.”
I stared at my toddler while she slept for a while, and piece by piece, I could see it, too. The hair. The eyes. The tip of her nose. As she got older, these things became even more recognizable, but I saw them as features that were inherited but improved on her, because while my daughter is beautiful, the most I could ever hope for is ”interesting.”
For context: I am a 4’10” woman with DD breasts, Irish skin and hair, a post-baby body and a self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s a popular coping mechanism: people are going to laugh, so if you make the joke first, you win””or something. I crack jokes about being of ”small, but hardy stock” and when people put pictures of celebrity doppelgÃ¤ngers up on facebook, I always post Danny DeVito. Hilarious. I even joke when people see me with my daughter.
”Oh, how cute! She looks just like you!”
”Except my body type, thank God. At least she won’t inherit my fat jeans.” Hyuck, hyuck. Puns are never ok, kids.
What does this have to do with New Year’s Resolutions? For years, I’ve been using a straightener and heels to correct the things I don’t like about myself, and the cherry on top of my little self-loathing sundae is my annual January 1 avowal to lose 15 pounds, wherein I count calories obsessively, go on runs, do crunches in the living room and pretend to not want popcorn on movie night which is bullshit because I always want popcorn.
This year, I absolutely cannot afford to make that resolution.
It happened so gradually I wasn’t even sure it was happening until it got ugly.
When my kid used salad tongs to ”straighten” her hair, we thought that was pretty precocious. When she asked when she would be old enough to buy concealer like mine, my husband and I rolled our eyes. When I found her examining the back of a granola bar box for nutrition information, I was a little nervous, but shooed her out of the kitchen. The afternoon that she asked me what the caloric content of the apple she wanted to eat was, I realized that we had a problem on our hands.
I sat her down to talk to her about it–to figure out where all this was coming from.
”You weigh 38 pounds, soaking wet,” I told her. ”What’s the deal?”
Tears in her eyes, she confided that she feared getting fat. I pulled out my carefully practiced third wave feminist looks don’t matter self-acceptance speech, droning on until her tears were tears of boredom, and then pulled out the big guns:
”Mommy’s a little fat. Do you think that I’m pretty?”
”Yes?” she said, like she wasn’t sure if that was the right answer, but she really wanted it to be. I knew then where all of this was coming from, and it was all thanks to yours truly.
I would never insult, shame, or criticize my child’s appearance. Ever. But what I’ve been doing for seven years almost squicks me out worse when I stop to see it from my daughter’s perspective.
For every person that told her that her beautiful hair was a carbon copy of my own, I was there, blow dryer and straightener at the ready, to let her know that that wasn’t a good thing.
For every person that told her how cute her nose is, I was there, insisting that people not take pictures of me straight on because of my ”honker.”
Every time that a stranger told her that she could look forward to growing up and looking like me, I’ve been there, standing sideways in the mirror on tiptoes with my stomach sucked in, teaching her to dread it instead.
Daughter, you look just like me, and I hate the way that I look.
What conclusion did I think she would draw from that?
Don’t get me wrong. The child has a healthy self-esteem and won’t miss an opportunity to remind us of how lucky we are to have been graced with her singularly spectacular existence, but under no circumstances should my seven-year-old be putting herself on a diet. So here’s my New Year’s resolution. I’m going to air dry my hair, and skip the damn mascara once in a while. I’m going to eat cake on her birthday and not regret it later. I’m going to wear flats and when my husband tells me how pretty I am, I’ll try ”thank you”, instead of ”whatever, mom.” In the summer, when its 400 degrees in Texas and I have boob sweat and knee sweat and eyebrow sweat, I’m going to wear shorts and when someone says ”Your daughter looks just like you!” I’m going to say, ”Damn straight, she does! Lucky girl.”
Let’s face it: with a family like ours, this kid has years of therapy in her future; why waste billable hours on body image?
(Image: getty Images)