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The Body Image Monster Is Here

20140131-123040.jpgWe curled up together on my bed, book in hand, her hair still dripping from the night’s shower. She seemed down, but I have learned not to dig too vigorously. Make a space and show her I’m interested, and she will move into it and talk.

The pages were about breast development, when girls might need to buy their first bra, and how everyone’s body develops at different rates and into different shapes. Some girls are discouraged because their breasts are small or nonexistent. Some are embarrassed because theirs are large and showed early. We won’t all look the same. Good reminders for all of us at any age.

Instead of starting into the next section, I asked her if she had any questions. Was she worried about anything?

Then she said it. “I think I need to lose weight.”

I resisted the urge to smash the wall with my fist and rage at the sky and the culture that had somehow already convinced my beautiful 8-year-old girl that she was too big.

“Why? What makes you think you need to lose weight?”

She has been weighing herself. She said she’s gaining weight. She talked about someone we both know and how much she runs around and still eats junk food and yet is skinny. She said she thinks her own body is too big.

I know I can’t make my daughter believe me, but I tell her anyway. I tell her that what’s most important is being healthy, not seeing a particular number on a scale, not being the same shape as someone else. I tell her that in my opinion, this other girl is not healthy. She doesn’t eat good food, she doesn’t eat enough, and she’s too thin (though it isn’t my place to say so to her). This other girl is also very tall, while my daughter is average. They are different shapes and always will be. I tell my daughter that her doctor would tell us if she needed to do anything different.

I ask her how much she weighs. When she tells me, I ask her if she wants to know how much I weigh. She nods. I tell her I’m 145 pounds. More than twice as heavy as she is. But she is not half my height, so she is fine. I tell her that if she actually lost weight, she would be sick. She is growing. She needs to gain weight. Maybe as much as 5 pounds for every inch of height.

I think she believed me that night. She relaxed a bit, she smiled a little. She still said maybe she would try not to eat seconds at lunch, but she didn’t seem as worried.

No, it’s just me who is worried. It’s so tough to teach healthy habits and attitudes about food. That it’s for us to enjoy, not view as an enemy. That we need to take care of our bodies but be reasonable and realistic. That food is fuel and if we take in too much, we store it as fat and that makes us less healthy. That we come in all shapes and sizes and we are all beautiful in our own special way. I am only just now, in the second half of my thirties, embracing that myself.

I want better for her. And for her friends. I want better for our girls.

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