Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me
“Honey, you’re perfect,” I replied. “You eat right, you exercise, and you take care of yourself. Your body is perfect.”
She looked at me doubtfully and wandered off in search of a mirror. I was left wondering how in the heck an 8-year-old could already have a negative body image.
And then I remembered: I’m her mother.
I’ve had a negative body image since I was a child. It’s something I’ve struggled with, worked on, ignored, indulged in, and struggled with again. At 28 I remember stepping on the scale in my doctor’s office and being thrilled that I’d finally gotten down to the double digits. My doctor, not as thrilled, sent me to an eating-disorders clinic.
It has been a monumental effort, then, to keep my body image in check for my children. My husband and I rarely, if ever, even discuss weight. We simply model the behavior we expect from the kids: eating right, exercising, playing outside as much as possible. I’ve never wanted my daughter’s weight, particularly, to be an issue with her, and so I’ve tried to ensure that weight—hers or mine—was not an issue with me.
Later that same evening, however, her homework involved our own bathroom scale. She needed to weigh various objects around the house, and after finding a couple, she said, “I need one more. Mommy, let me weigh you.” And I froze.
I’ve never even gotten on a scale in front of my husband. At the doctor’s I’ll strip to the point of indecency to bring that number down. And yet here was my girl, asking to weigh me and record it for her class. What could I do? I braced myself and stepped on.
“OK,” she said. “Let’s see. 144.5 pounds. Is that right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I replied. “144.” In my head I knocked off the half pound for my sweats, but my voice betrayed nothing—no judgment, no despair. Just, yes, this is what I weigh.
“Point 5,” she corrected me.
(Sigh.) “Yes, 144.5,” I said. “You’re right.” She wrote it down and walked out, pleased as punch that her homework was done.
I stood there for a moment longer. And I thought about two famous women, presumably role models for women and girls everywhere, who have had their own weight issues. Last summer Jennifer Love Hewitt was on the cover of a magazine proclaiming, “Don’t Call Me Fat!” The public was apparently critical of her thighs based on a photograph of her in a bikini, and she defended her shape and her good health. The next time she was on the cover, it was to proclaim her weight loss.
Just recently Jessica Simpson was on a cover, defending herself over a photograph that spurred criticism over her weight gain. In the article she essentially said, “Hey, I’m happy, I’m in love, I’m healthy, so back off.” For the first time in my life, I admired Jessica Simpson . . . until a couple weeks later, when she was again in the same magazine gushing about her weight loss.
When they were defending their weight, their curves, their ordinary physical selves, it made me feel good. I was proud of them for sending such a positive message to girls and women, that swizzle-stick thin is not always healthy or even attractive. And then they went and blew it by losing the weight. And talking about it.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t publicly accept our bodies and then privately hate them enough to change them for others. We can’t do that to our girls. I can’t do it to mine. I keep a photo of myself with pencil-thin arms to remind me how unhealthy too thin can be, because of all people, I know. At least, I should know.
I may not ever be able to fix this thing that’s wrong with me, this self-image problem that I’ve had for so long. But I do know that I have to help my daughter—either to stop her from inheriting a self-image problem of her own, or, if I’m too late, then to help her work through it now before it colors her whole life. And whether or not I can fix me, I still must start with me, or I will have no credibility with my child.
So I will work on breaking this cycle. Instead of my perpetual assumption that I’m fat, I will try to focus my internal monologue on the positive. I’m healthy, I eat right and exercise, and I’m setting the best example that I can for my daughter. Someday I may even start believing it.
And if—when—that day comes, then, darn it, my body really will be perfect.
Maggie Lamond Simone is a book author, award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.