I wanted to be skinny. Every magazine I saw had multiple articles telling us how to get skinny, it must be good and what everyone wanted. There weren’t tips for getting husky, now, were there?
My childhood observation was that it was an insult to comment on someone’s weight if you thought they were too heavy, but that saying they were thin was good. Alas, my body and I were not meant to be rail thin, I would always have enough meat on my bones to not instantly freeze if stranded in the cold. The closest I ever got to skinny was after the birth of my daughter when a mixture of breast feeding and post partum chaos dropped me down to a weight I had not seen in ten years. At that point, comments about my weight were not flattery, mostly just concern for my health. Not exactly what the magazines had touted would happen if 20 lbs. were dropped.
Now my daughter is a skinny girl. At least that’s what others see and openly tell her. Strangers, friends and family alike do not hesitate to comment on her weight and her need to get some meat on those bones. At six years old she told me that that made her feel bad, it made her worry that something was wrong with her. I felt uncomfortable hearing people say those things, but until she expressed her feelings I didn’t realize how their words were etching themselves onto her psyche and undermining her self-esteem.
A lifetime of random hurtful comments regarding my body shape still linger in my mind, yet until she spoke I wasn’t able to shake myself of the skinny=good, fat=bad mentality. My little girl was feeling the same pain and shame I had, regardless of the words. And that wasn’t okay.
Unsolicited observations about our bodies are a personal violation, no matter the intent or the age of the recipient. I became determined to make people understand that. It isn’t easy.
Many adults feel they can say whatever they want to a child, and often don’t put much thought into what they say. The ‘their feelings had been hurt nobody stood up for them and they turned out okay’ mentality prevails. It can and has been difficult at times to point out to someone that they are hurting her feelings and making her uncomfortable by talking about her body. Most people will say they didn’t mean any harm, but they didn’t hear the cutting of their tone and words.
We’ve all learned that the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” just isn’t true. Words stick with us throughout our lives and I want her words to be positive. I know that I can’t be with her all the time, but for now, it is my job to protect her and show her how to protect herself from allowing others to shake her sense of self.
Now when someone begins speaking about her as if she wasn’t standing right there, I interrupt and tell them she isn’t skinny.
She is lean and strong.
She can do the monkey bars three times back and forth without any effort.
She can climb a tree like a cat and outruns all the boys on the playground.
Her body is healthy and despite her fondness for visiting the school nurse, she hasn’t been sick in over two years.
She is a good dancer; a hearty hiker and can scale a rock wall in the blink of an eye.
She is funny, artistic, and empathetic and loves to read. Her body is built especially for her and it is beautiful just the way it is.
And so is she.
That’s what they need to know about my daughter. More importantly, that is what she needs to know about herself.
Cristina Tartaglia enjoys exploring the back roads of New Mexico, writing when her muse decides to show up, her job with exceptional students and, of course, the very many growth opportunities that come with being a Broad Shouldered Mama.