The F Word

March 11, 2012

My daughter is especially self conscious about her body, very picky and specific about the parts she doesn’t like. She’s 6.  Given her tendency I knew this day would come and it would suck.

“Fat.”

One of her favorite buddies called her “fat”.  She is not fat, but believes she is. When she finally told me what had her so upset, she collapsed in my arms and sobbed.  And sobbed.  I wanted to sob, too.

I remember being called ugly when I was her same age. I remember being certain it was true.  For years.

Since the day I became a mother of girls, I knew I had a lot to learn about putting them on the path to a good self-image.  How could I train them to be resilient in this world where looks matter and where meanness is common, especially in youth?

Many of us have an idea of the worst version of ourselves.  At any age, another person finding that same conclusion is painful.   The notion that such a conclusion could hold truth is … defeating.

That day my daughter and I had a long and teary conversation.  I was stunned at how well she articulated what bothered her and how she felt.  Nothing got fixed.  We only shared the pain of being judged by others, and acknowledged that it was a part of life with which we all must deal.  In that moment I knew she had what it takes to figure out this hard but certain part of life.

Since then I have wondered, and worried, how she was going to find her way and how I could help.

Two days later I was to attend an event with my sweet friend Mary, one that required dusting off a pretty dress.  I had one all picked out, conservative but flattering.  There was this other dress in the closet, same color, but more…form fitting.  But no, too fitted, not appropriate… nah.  It is the only off the rack dress in existence that was made for my peculiar figure, but…nah.

As my conversation with my daughter from Thursday lingered, I thought of something I have known for some time to be true.  The only time my kids do what I want them to do is when I set an example.  Ask any parent, one of the most humbling experiences of parenthood is seeing your child copy your behavior.

I can’t teach my children how to feel good about themselves.  I can only practice it.  As I approach 40, I have the gift of knowing myself well, bad and good, and finding the comfort in my own skin.

So I said, Fuck It.

I cranked up Pink on the iPad, slapped on that tight dress and got more in touch with big hair and makeup than I had ever before outside the state of Mississippi.  And I danced the night away with a room full of people I didn’t know and a fantastic band complete with saxophones.  I had a grand time.

Dear daughters and dear son, happiness doesn’t lie in a tight dress or heavy makeup.  Happiness lies in doing what brings you joy regardless of the opinions of others.  Happiness lies in being true to yourself.

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7 Responses to “The F Word”

  1. Laura said

    Sally, one of the many reasons (there’s at least a million) I am so glad I don’t have girls is because they hear every. single. word. we say about our bodies and will often parrot what we say: “Oh I feel fat…I’m so chubby…I have back fat…my legs are too big…” when in fact the only thing wrong is we don’t walk through the world photoshopped to a size 2. (I photoshop my face all the time for pictures so I am victim/guilty of this)

    Do you have a relationship with this little girl’s mom? Perhaps you could have a friendly (seriously friendly not mean girl friendly) chat with her about how her daughter must feel about herself if she is bandying around such words. Obviously, if you meet this woman and she’s a size two and has a half of glass of water and a tic-tac instead of coffee your concerns will fall on deaf ears. . .

    I’m glad you gussied up and had a great time. I don’t think there is harm in daughters seeing their mother’s dressed to the nines in high heels. But then I never scored big “feminist” points.

  2. Sandra F said

    To steal (and probably screw up) a line from an old phrase from somewhere “as is the mother so goes the child”. Girly girls who worry more about how they look, their hair, size and clothes invariably are the daughters of women who are equally self absorbed and judgmental. Good for you for being a true role model for your girl. Tell her every single day that you love her and that she is beautiful and that she is talented and intelligent and a true gift. Self belief and a self worth must be nurtured – and protected from the nasty mean girl weeds. Like the post – thanks for sharing.

    • sallysmart said

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I especially love the part about what we tell our kids daily. I need that reminder.

  3. Thanks for this entry, Sally! When I saw the title, I had a feeling I knew to which “F” word you may be referring. Said word has been banned in my household as far back as from when my kids first knew what it meant. Being the chubby younger sister of a beautiful, long-legged, uniquely smart older sister was not easy even on my cutest (yet still carrying that baby fat) day! My journey was made much harder by the fact that my weight was ridiculed by close family members who probably still don’t realize the depth of hurt their words caused. Though my body found more reasonable proportions by 8th grade, I carried that hurt inside and unresolved for many years.

    Now being a fully formed and (mostly) well adjusted adult, I have done my best in my parenting to insure that history does not repeat itself. I’ve often said that I’d rather have a real “F*%K” bomb dropped in my household than the other kind. My son and daughter both knew early on not to use body type of any manner against one another or anyone else for that matter. Though the conversation about body image certainly hasn’t stopped there, I think the fact that we’re paying attention to our observations about ourselves and one another does make a difference. At least, I hope that it does!

    Loved it all, Sallysmart … thank you!!

    • sallysmart said

      Thank you for your comment, Debbie. It blew me away because from my earliest memory of you and since, I have always thought you were one of the most naturally beautiful people I knew. Amazing how universal these feelings are.

  4. Mary Ann Borst said

    Sally, You ‘ROCK ON’ girl!!!!! I LOVE your piece. You are so right, in todays society, people have to look a certain way, and it’s wrong.

    I have four nieces who ‘do their own thing’. They don’t worry about what people thing or say about them. I know growing up, I never did either.

    So, Sally keep on ‘Rockin’ on’ with your big hair and tight dress. WOOHOO!!!!!

  5. brennagee said

    Anna went through a time when she called herself fat. She wasn’t, but I think she wanted to beat her brothers to it. My boys use the word fat when they can’t think of a better put down. They know that word is not welcome in our house but it still tumbles out way too much. I must stop this and increase their vocabularies;)

    I want to go out dancing with you! I love that you were you and absolutely beautiful.

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