Today, I did something that I swore I would never do. I stepped on the scale in front of my daughter.
I did it without thinking. I just tapped the scale to wake it up, shed my pj’s, and stepped up. That’s when I noticed her bright brown eyes looking at me.
Oh, crap, I thought.
Before she was born, I swore that I would never pass my body image, weight-obsessed nonsense on to my little girl. I had big dreams. We would talk about our bodies as miraculous tools that carry us through our lives. I would use words like “strong” and “capable” instead of “skinny” and “pretty.” I would break this cycle of female body shame by showing my daughter that I loved myself no matter my shape. The best-laid plans…
Along the way, life happened. I lost countless hours of sleep. There were 8,500 diaper changes, 5000 loads of laundry, eleventy million spit-up-stained shirts, and I lost my way. As I grappled with my post-baby body, the small comments started to slip in.
“Mommy used to fit in these pants,” as I wrestled with a stubborn zipper. “Before you, kiddo, Mommy had a waist,” as I selected another baggy shirt from the wrinkled pile of maybe-clean clothes on the floor. I inadvertently showed her that the span of my hips or the expanse of my ribcage was something to be compared, analyzed, or changed.
And then this morning, I hopped up on the scale like I had done a thousand times before — like I’ve done since I was 20 and my boyfriend told me I was fat (he was a real treasure), or like I needed to check in and see if I was taking up more than my allotted amount of space for today.
But those little eyes…
I saw you, sweet pea, as you saw me. To you, I’m perfect. My sagging, weary breasts are your five-star restaurant. My soft, rippled belly was the roof over your head for the 10 most vulnerable months of your life. My neck is the right size for your sweet, soft arms to hug. My hips are just broad enough for you to rest your legs on when we dance in the kitchen. You don’t care what the scale says. You don’t care about the size on the tag in my jeans. I’m your mom, and you think I’m awesome (at least for the time being — all bets are off once you turn 13).
And, to me, you’re perfect. I see your quick, broad smile. I see your fast, able legs. I see you struggle and fight to learn how to use this amazing tool of a body that you’ve been given. I feel your joy when you finally grasp that toy that’s been just out of reach.
So today, instead of promising that I won’t let you see my struggle with body image — since that’s clearly a promise I can’t keep — I promise to be honest. I promise to tell you that the world can be mean to women about how they look. Tricky, cruel people will tell us that our only value is in the length of our legs, the circumference of our waists, and the size of our breasts. Sometimes those cruel people will be the ones on TV, the ones in the newspaper, and the ones in power.
But I will also tell you that this is wrong. Those tricky people are the worst of people. Anyone who treats a woman as an object is not deserving of your (or anyone’s) time or attention. All people — no matter what their gender or color or size — have a right to take up space, to be heard, and to be evaluated for who they are, not how they look.
Instead, I will show you my world — the one filled with people who are good and true, people who lift each other up instead of tearing each other down, people who celebrate victories and support each other through struggles, and people who don’t give a rat’s patoot how a woman looks. They care about what she has to say and how she treats others. Thankfully, there are a lot of people like that in our lives.
Yes, I struggle to find peace in a world that tells me I am too big, too tall, too fat, too much. And pretending that I don’t feel that won’t help my daughter learn what to do when it happens to her.
So, kiddo, I’m making a new promise to you today. I promise to be honest. I promise to admit that although I am a strong, capable woman, the pressure to measure up still gets to me — and then to show you that true beauty looks a lot more like kindness, intelligence, and strength than an arbitrary number.
And I will let you watch me beat that scale to pieces with a sledgehammer.
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