My memories at my childhood lake home are slowly fading, but there are few I remember with considerable detail. There I was, sitting next to my cherry red bunk bed on top of mauve-y pink carpet in a two-piece swim suit. I looked down at my teeny 9-year-old rolls on my belly and told myself, “I don’t care what I look like when I’m older, I just can’t be fat.” I sulked at the thought of meeting up with neighborhood friends to swim believing they only would be staring at my chubbiness.
If you know me personally, you’ve experienced my extreme impatience. I used to long for a glimpse of my future; where will I live? Will I be married? Will I have a lot of money? Will I be beautiful? But beauty to me, at only nine years old, meant I needed to be skinny.
I’m ashamed that whomever and whatever I learned my idea of “beauty” from had impacted me so greatly before the age of 10. I can only believe that in the 20 years since I’ve pouted in my bedroom the beauty industry continued to win, while our children’s body image has sunken deeper and deeper into the ground.
What right do we have to warp our children’s dreams from school and love and passion into obsessing about their weight? We have become a society that shows our babies that beauty and size are the only way we can be successful, win the heart of a prince and ultimately, be happy. I really, really don’t want that for my babies. I don’t ever want them to stare at themselves and feel like less of a human because of the thick hips and thighs they are likely to receive from my side of the gene pool.
Let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? Fat haunts you. It slithers through your mind and soul until you feel disgusting and unworthy of human interaction. But when did fat become a feeling? And why does it have to be bad?
I’m nearing my 10-year high school reunion and I recently spotted a classmate claiming that she wanted to lose 20 pounds before August. I rolled my eyes when I saw the reasoning: “I want to look good!” My heart aches for her- and all of you- that believe we can see your happiness through the weight that you carry.
At this very instant, I’m looking around- listening to my two beautiful children laugh and play. I couldn’t imagine being any happier than this. When I walk into that room with my former classmates, they’ll know that I am the happiest I’ve ever been. Not because of a number on a scale, but by my smile on my face and warmth in my heart. They’ll (hopefully, anyway) disregard the fact that I’ve gained weight (37 pounds to be exact) and enjoy my company while we visit about work and marriage and children.
The truth is I don’t expect any one of these women to look as they did the day we graduated high school. Many of us have bore children and watched our bellies stretch and grow perfect little humans. Naturally, our body’s metabolism has slowed down. Our stress levels have heightened with families and careers and bills to pay on time. We look different because we are different.
I can only imagine what our world could look like if we simply stopped being so distracted about physical features and solely focused on people’s hearts and minds. A world where we valued love and kindness and we would never be distracted by one’s physical appearance. Could a world like this completely end self-hatred? I can’t wait until one day it will be “normal” to move our bodies in a way that feels good for us (believe it or not, not everyone LOVES to run) and eat healthy foods while still indulging on a treat or two. I want our bodies to be healthy and for that to be good enough. I’m certainly not exempt from the feeling that my weight has betrayed me, I’ve often sulked and moped about not looking a certain way. But– and I wish I would have learned this long ago– my weight has never needed to be a scale of measurement of my happiness. We can be loved and successful in whatever form our bodies come in.
So, as I stare at my practically perfect children, I vow to teach them that they never have to measure up to anyone’s beauty standards. That their love and kindness will shine through any disgusting and vile theory that we need to look a certain way to be happy. I promise to never fat-shame myself or anyone else- whether it be out loud or under my breath. I promise to value my children and uphold them to very high expectations of love and kindness to themselves and others they encounter. I am going to teach that to my kids. Don’t be the one to mess it up. Don’t you dare sabotage their sweet little minds into thinking they are less.
As three-year-old Lucy once said, “You are beautiful. You are Mama.”