The skinny

“Hannah, You’re so skinny!”

Gasp. I put my glass of wine down in front of me. Looked at my little girl.

This sentence slammed me in the gut.  From one new Kindergartner to another.  An innocent enough comment, no?  Hannah giggled at the comment.  Not sure how to react.  Confused actually whether it was a compliment or an insult.  She looked to me for guidance as to the correct response.  “Thank you”?  “No I’m not”? “Why”?

And 38 year old mom also was at a loss for words.  “So are you”?  “No she’s not”? “You’re both perfect”?  Nothings seemed right.  Because to me, a five year old shouldn’t be noticing the body of another five year old.  Or maybe just not commenting on it.

Or, maybe I’m just overthinking.  (Surprise, surprise).

And maybe I’m overthinking because from the moment I heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl”, this was what I have spent the most time thinking about.  How to be sure she never lives one day with the body image struggles that I dealt with for so much of my life.

I’ve done “all” I can on my part.  I never make comments about my own body in front of her.  She’ll never hear me call myself ugly or fat. She won’t know if I’m having a bad hair day or “tight jeans” day.  I only spend seconds in front of a mirror in her presence.  (Although somehow when she looks in the mirror she still turns and looks over her shoulder at her butt… do I do that?).  I laugh when she calls me pudgy and tell her that people come in all shapes and sizes and no one is more beautiful than the next.  I stress that her smile is what makes her most magnetic and that the more she smiles, the more people will like her.

I’m doing my part.

But now it starts.  The messages will be coming from her peers.  The schools do a fantastic job educating the kids on diversity.  My children are growing up “color blind” with a wonderful mix of race and skin color in the classrooms.  I partly chose this town for that very reason.  But schools fall short educating on the diversity of body types.  Helping kids love themselves and to be blind to the size of the girls next to them.

I don’t want her to start believing skinny is good.  Skinny is better.  Because it’s not.  The Wanting to be skinny instead makes you unhappy.  It makes you never be satisified.  Always want to look better or different.  It makes your eyes drift down to your body in the mirror, instead of at your silky soft gleaming hair. And huge welcoming, warm brown eyes. And make-everyone-melt dimple on your cheek.  Wanting to be skinny makes you think twice about enjoying a meal with your friends and instead focus on how FEW bites you can take.  Wanting to be skinny overtakes your thoughts.  Has you waking up thinking about how long you can go before having your first meal and how many hours you can go before you have your next.  It becomes a way to control things in your life that don’t need controlling or aren’t meant to be controlled.

And Being skinny?  Certainly does Not make the people who matter like or love you more.  It actually can make people like you less. For no reason.  And being skinny although lets your clothes fit better and might turn heads, actually can make you dislike yourself.  Because of how much you care when you know you shouldn’t.

I know all of this. Because I’ve been there.  In some ways, and on some days, I’m still there.  I’m uncomfortable preaching to Hannah what I have struggled with so much myself.  I’m a hypocrite.  One that says being skinny doesn’t matter, but my own brain often can’t convince myself of that fact.  I know my words to her are so right.  And the way I apply them to myself are so wrong.

Will she see right through me?  Will my being thin and seeming not to care in her eyes help her or confuse her later?

Again, I end a post without an ending.  Because this is a topic that I don’t believe I’ll ever have an answer for.  All I know is that I want to do right by her.  Set her the best example I can.  And maybe in the process… I’ll start believing it myself.

That skinny is only skin deep.  But beauty is at the core.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “The skinny

  1. I’m SO glad that you decided to re-post this. I think so many women struggle with body image, I know that I do. And if I’m blessed with a daughter, a poor body image is NOT something that I want to pass on to her.

  2. Hippie is entering fifth grade and I swear to pancakes, it’s the biggest source of heartburn after her brother’s inability to not be a spaz. She says things like “I’m so fat” in such a way that I know she’s just trying the phrase out to see how it feels and all the weight of the WORLD is on me when I think how to respond.

  3. Yes. Being skinny really does consume a person. Like you, I want so hard to make my daughter(s) comfortable with who they are rather than who they think they should be. I know it might be a struggle, but it’s worth trying.

  4. I cried reading this. I am still crying. I have all the same questions, all the same concerns, but the opposite problem with my own body.
    When my daughter came home crying one day because her hair wasn’t ‘right’, I just wanted to curl up in a ball. How can you find yourself lacking physically at age 4?
    We talk the good talk here too. About hair, and body types, and food choices. And sometimes I back it up, but sometimes… sometimes I know I am setting a bad example and I so don’t want to.

    From my fatness, I have always seen skinny as somehow easier, somehow less loaded. I know now how wrong (WRONG) that was.

    This was a really powerful piece for me.

  5. How early it starts! We can only do our part, encourage self worth in more meaningful ways than the superficial…After reading this, so, SO glad to have boys…

  6. I’m glad you reposted this. I have struggled with my weight since 6th grade. Even at my thinnest, when I was exercising 2 hours a day and barely eating I thought I was fat. It is hard because kids are just mean. I don’t know why, but it is something that we all have to deal with. You’re too skinny, or too fat, or not pretty enough. How do we expect our kids to be confident if we can’t be. I am at a point where I need to make decisions to live a healthy life and stop obsessing about my weight. My husband loves me the way I am, but I still look in the mirror and cringe. I guess the thing that keeps me centered is knowing my body grew 2 amazing kids and I have to look at my stretch marks and squishy belly as trophies. Thanks for broaching a subject and admitting that you still don’t have it all figured out. I know I don’t either.

  7. This is beautifully written and well said. I struggle with this same issue. And my heart stopped the other day when I saw my daughter turn around and look at her butt in the mirror. She is 4.
    I, too, have tried to shelter her from my weight struggles by never mentioning any negative comments around her. But, as with everything, obviously our actions speak louder than our words. Teaching confidence in our bodies and ourselves requires confidence, something I am still working on.

  8. I have a 2nd grader and the same thing happened to her. She came home from the first day of school telling me that another girls said she was so skinny! I felt the same way as you! Thanks for sharing!

  9. I’m impressed with all you are already doing — I’m pretty sure I’m not that self-aware of my everyday words and actions that might have a later impact.

    Good on you, mama, though posing the hard questions doesn’t always make the easy answers appear, sigh…

  10. Nicki

    This topic, this problem is so hard to deal with because regardless of how we raise our children – and I am sure you don’t want to hear this but “skinny” or “not fat” is just as much an issue with boys as with girls – society swoops in with its “ideals” and sometimes all our good teachings go out the windows.

    I would strongly suggest reading two books: Operation Beautiful – website is here: http://operationbeautiful.com/ and book can be found online or at book stores and the second book is Mary Pipher’s Saving Ophelia. You can probably share parts of Operation Beautiful with H but Saving Ophelia is all adult, all for you.

  11. There is so much here, so much to say, so much to talk about…and THAT is the important part. You are talking about it, and by talking about it you are making a difference. It’s a step ahead for her, when in so many families this isn’t discussed. So bravo my friend. You are making a difference.

    I also think you need to be honest with her. That might be hard, but it will go a long way to help her understand. At least in my opinion. What we know sometimes comes from what we think, so she needs to know what you think and why it’s so to fully understand. I hope that makes sense. And I hope you don’t mind me offering the opinion.

    This is a brave post Becca, and such an important one! I heard my 4 year old recently say that he needs to be skinny to run fast. It’s different I know, but it’s worrisome all the same. We need to talk about this stuff!

  12. Liz

    I always wanted girls….I thought I’d be able to do for them what my parents did not do for me. I was not taught to appreciate my body…especially since it was so much bigger than my teeny sister’s. I was not taught to be strong and vocal and proud of it. I thought having girls would be my way of fixing what was broken for me. Now I’ve come to realize that perhaps I was not given girls because I would’ve driven myself (and everyone in the house) crazy trying to do all of that! Because, as you know, I’m also an overthinker and a worrier, and I am doubtful that I would’ve had the answers to your questions even if I were a mom of girls. It certainly sounds like you are doing and saying all the right things…and I would suppose (hope) that even if Hannah “sees right through you”, she will see your attempts and battles and strengths, and that will be honest and true and empowering.

  13. This society we live in is not a friendly one when it comes to how we view our own bodies. It’s a place for judgment, self-loathing and the destruction of self-esteem, and it’s no surprise that many of us fall prey to any or all of that.

    No matter what you do Becca, she is going to hear those words, skinny or fat, over and over again, and you can only hope what you instilled in her will carry her through some really dark times. I’ve been there with the body image issues and eating disorder and I have to say it took someone who cares to get me out of it, and as long as she has you, I think she’ll be OK.

  14. Man, what a tough one. Is there any woman out there who hasn’t been snared by a negative self-image? It’s that pervasive, it seems to me. Maybe it’s a rite of passage, sadly, and we just have to hope we’ve taught our girls to value themselves exactly as they are. And then hope that one day they do.

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  16. I’m glad you shared this. It’s such a hard issue to handle. All women struggle–or at least have struggled–with body image issues, and a great number still think that losing just 5-10 pounds more would make them happier. You’re right. Being skinny doesn’t make you happy.

    I can’t believe she ever calls you pudgy, though!

  17. This is such a tough issue. I’m amazed at how tuned in my daughter (turning 6 in a couple of months) already is to “beauty” issues. I try so hard not to compliment physical appearance, but she still focuses on whether she’s pretty. We haven’t gotten to the “skinny” part yet — but I’m dreading it.

  18. oy. this is such a tough, tricky, sensitive topic, isn’t it? i have two little girls, too, and it breaks my heart to think of the journey they may travel to come right back to where they are right now: happy and comfortable in their skin. it sounds like you’re an absolutely amazing mama for your girl! she’s lucky to have you!

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