Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Hate This Lecture

My seven-year-old neighbor looked at me.

"I told my mom I was on a diet," she said matter-of-factly.

I looked back at her. "Are you?" I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer. "Why would you be on a diet?"

"No, not really," she grinned, showing the gap in her mouth where her two front teeth are coming in. "You'd be on a diet to be more healthy." Then the corners of her mouth lowered just a bit, and her voice was a bit softer, almost conspiratorial.

"AB says she's fat, too."

Too? As in also?

I focused on my daughter, who was sitting quietly, probably hoping this tidbit wouldn't come up.

"Well, I am," she stated. Simply. Directly. Without any elaboration. Just "I am fat". The End.

"AB," I began, but she had already tuned me out. She knows whats coming, the same mantra I have repeated in her ear since she could remember. But I kept talking anyway, turning toward my sweet neighbor, who is missing her front teeth, who throws her head back and laughs with abandon, who loves to play babies and pretend and dollhouse, who spends so much time in my house that I've grown to love her. How can two kids--one who is missing her front teeth and one who just learned how to shave--even be worried about being fat? How is this a conversation I'm having right now?

I knew I couldn't just leave it, but at the same time, would anything I say make a difference to them? When these parenting moments come up, I often find myself at a loss, wishing I knew the right words to say, wishing I was a better example, wishing I could make a difference in one afternoon.

"I'm going to tell you the same thing I tell AB all the time," I began.

AB groaned. "I hate this lecture," she sighed. But I know she needs to hear it. I know it's her job to groan when I talk like this, and I know it's my job to ignore the objections. She needs to hear what I have to say. I also know I have no idea, really, what I'm about to say. The words aren't there. Because I know in the back of my mind that I am just like them. A grown-up version of a little girl who thinks she's fat, who compares herself to the Cosmo she sees while she's standing in the grocery store check-out line, who secretly wishes she was different but tries to put on a brave face because she writes a blog about it and shouldn't she know better? But as much as I write about it and talk about it and even know about it, all the make-up tricks and the lighting and the team of professionals who swoop down and spend hours making someone look picture-perfect, and then the team of professionals that spend hours making that picture-perfect person look picture-perfect after the picture has been taken--all of that makes no difference to me when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror at the Halloween costume store, no make-up on, dark circles and holey jeans and hair that won't behave. And I wonder to myself why I don't look like Megan Fox, who surely looks phenomenal when she walks into the dismally-lit Halloween costume store.

How can this person possibly give any good advice to the seven-year-old and the eleven-year-old who are looking at me, the girl-posing-as-an-adult, the one who supposed to have answers, not issues?

Their faces were expectant. The next generation of girls, needing answers, needing words to grow on, not empty promises of the next big age-defying, fat-busting miracle from a messed-up society that counts beauty as a thing to be measured, a box to fold oneself into.

Friends with boys often tell me they are so glad they don't have girls, and sometimes I agree. Most boys aren't coming home and saying that they think they are fat. But moms of boys have to be just as careful, because we want those to boys to have realistic expectations of girls. Girls who walk into Halloween stores not looking like Megan Fox, but like themselves, with no make-up and holey jeans and hair that won't behave.

Myself.

That's who I was looking at in the mirror. Myself. Me. Wild hair and dark circles and all. Not Megan Fox. As beautiful as she is, I am not her, and conversely, as beautiful as I am, she is not me. From somewhere deep within my soul a courage arises, a need to accept myself and see the beauty in myself instead of focusing on all the flaws. A reminder not to chastise myself but give myself some love, because beating myself up over the way I look turns me into the worst kind of bully, and it only serves one purpose: to make me feel bad.

I turned toward the girls. "Would you ever call someone else, like a friend, fat?" I asked.

The seven-year-old's eyes were wide. "No!"

"Then you shouldn't be that mean to yourself, either. You were made beautiful, in your own unique way, and you are you, and there is no other you on this entire planet."

I didn't get to finish, because they were sliding out of their chairs, giggling and eating popcorn, grabbing homework and paper. A signal that this conversation was ov-er.

Instead of calling them back so I could finish my thoughts, I let them go. Maybe I had said all that needed to be said at the time, maybe that was okay. It certainly wasn't profound and I don't know if they felt enlightened, but in some way, maybe simplicity is profound.

Don't be mean to yourself. Accept yourself for who you are, as beautiful in your own unique way inside and out. There is no other you on this entire planet.

You can never be replaced.

Dear insecurity:

This is the part where I say I don't want ya
I'm stronger than I was before
This is the part where I break free...
{ariana grande, break free}

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