Thursday, October 15, 2009

Body Image Issues? You Can Wait

It’s taken me over a year to write this post. Don’t ask me why. I’ll just give you some excuse that I was busy, couldn’t get started, whatever. But regardless, I’m writing it now. Last year, when my daughter was 6 years old and entering 1st grade, I took her back-to-school shopping. Like many parents, I get her inexpensive basics at Target and Wal-Mart. And then I like to take her somewhere else for a couple special pieces that will work with her wardrobe. That’s how my mom always did it, only I had two older sisters, so there were lots of hand-me-downs in the mix. My daughter’s only sibling is a boy, three and a half years older, so with the exception of sweatshirts and snow boots, hand-me-downs don’t really factor into the equation. On this day, we chose Old Navy for our “special” destination. Old Navy. Cute. Fun. Reasonably affordable. Everyone loves them, right?

Well, this is a good time to disclose that my daughter is an Amazon. This is a shot of my kids and me, taken just a few weeks ago. I'm 5'9", but I'm wearing heels in this photo, probably closer to 6'0". My son is 11 and he is up to my chin when I don't wear heels. My daughter is past my elbow. She has legs like you would not believe. Easily just as tall or taller than every boy in her class. A head and shoulder taller than most of the girls. People often ask if she is one to two years older than she is. Always been that way. At birth, she was exactly the same length and weight I was. She’s going to be tall, and she loves to go out and play with the boys, run around, kick a ball, dance, and whatever else sounds like fun. She’s not super skinny, but she’s not heavy either. She’s active and fit. And I am careful to tell her that she’s just the right size for her.

Also, we don’t use the word fat at our house, at least not about people. We might say, “Look at that big, fat worm on the ground,” or “Woohoo, Mom got a nice fat check for that project,” but we’d never say it about a person, not even as a joke. We were at a friend’s house one day and my daughter ran into the room, bawling. I asked what was wrong and she said one of the boys said, “big fat body.” The boy’s father, who has a real soft spot for my daughter, immediately got up, angry and ready to punish someone. I told him to wait until we found out what exactly happened. She said they were watching TV and one of the boys, a three-year-old, said “big fat body.” I asked if he said that about her. She said no, but she was clearly very upset. The boy’s father again sprung up to talk to his son, but again, I told him to wait.

I asked my daughter, “Do you have a big fat body?”

“No,” she sobbed.

“And do you eat healthy food?”


“And do you get lots of exercise every day and go outside and play and run around?”

Her tears were drying now. “Yes,” she said quietly.

“So then, you know you don’t have a big fat body. And you’re just the right size for you, aren’t you? And besides, (the boy who said it) is only three, so he probably doesn’t even know what he said, or that it would upset you.”

She calmed down and went back to play. I was a little shook up, to be honest. Not just seeing her so upset, but because of what had upset her. I looked at my friend, whose mouth had fallen open.
“Wow,” he said. “You handled that really well.”

“Thanks,” I said. “But I never thought she’d be thinking about this at age five. I’m sure she’ll have body image issues when she’s a teenager. We all do. But why does she need to deal with that crap when she’s FIVE?

I had to think about all I had done and said over the past five years that may have influenced her to think that those were harmful words. Do I emphasize health and fitness? Of course I do. Too much? Maybe. I don’t know what the “right” amount of emphasis is. But both of my kids have grown up watching me lose a lot of weight, work out and prepare healthy meals and snacks. They’ve certainly heard me talk about it. A lot. Too much? Maybe. Again, I don’t know.

One of my proudest moments was not the day I read a certain number on a scale, measuring tape, or clothes label. It was the day my son gave me a hug and said, “Hey Mom, I can get my arms all the way around you.” I still cry thinking about that. But I’ve always told them that I made changes so I could be healthier. The word fat--and the word thin, for that matter--never entered the equation. So I had to wonder where all of this came from.

Now, remember Old Navy? Way up there at the beginning of this post? I’ll give you a second if you need to scroll. OK, so … we go to Old Navy to shop for some clothes. I happen to love the way their low-rise jeans fit me. I figured if they make the girls’ sizes like they make my size, she’ll be fine since we have similar builds. Everywhere else, she was wearing a size 6/7 or Small. Get to Old Navy, find lots of cute stuff, try it on and it doesn’t fit. None of it. Not even close. Have to go up to a Medium or an 8. OK, that’s fine. Sizing varies from place to place. She tries on this cute little polo dress, in an 8, and it’s too tight across the torso. It fits OK, but if she raises her arms, the part on her torso stays put while the hem raises two inches. Not good. Try on some jeans, in an 8, and they are not only tight in the waist, but way, way too long in the legs. She’s six years old. Why is Old Navy telling my normal-sized, long-legged six-year-old that her waist is too big and her legs are not long enough? I know this word is overused as a catch-all for people we think are too thin, but seriously … she would have to be anorexic to fit into their clothes unless she went up not one but two sizes from what fits her in other stores.

Unreal. I was absolutely livid. Of course she loved the clothes and wanted to get everything. I made a few concessions. I was on a limited budget anyway, so it was easy to say no to most of it. We left with a few basics and she was happy. I was not.

But what do you do? I figured that as long as she didn’t care about what the size said, I shouldn’t either. Or should I?

What do you think?

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