So what if I am Fat? I told her She was too.
You can’t take it with you.
But my oh my, do we ever. We take the labels, the tags, the comments and the opinions. We take the jokes, the remarks, the innocent and intended as playful, even endearing words- and we wear them until the day we die.
Why is our culture so consumed with shapes and sizes? Why are we so consumed? and why do we blame the fixation on a nameless, faceless voice, when its our own that perpetuates the problem as much as anything else? In fact, more than anything else.
I am really not someone who falls into the category of being too overly infatuated with my body image, or body image in general… or so I thought until I had a daughter. I have never been a gym rat, have never hopped on any bandwagon exercise fad, I actually tend to let my inner black sheep emerge when it comes to all things fitness. And yet, I’d say I’ve struggled all my life with my weight. Never an obese person, but as a shorty, a little goes a long way, and as I’ve been told my entire life- there is junk in my trunk, enough to live off of for days if stranded in the wilderness somewhere I think. I am pretty sure I don’t know when my struggle began, just that I have need for one, because I have areas of my body that need improvement.
Now, this will not be a post about all the ways I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery, and ultimately, learned to love myself just the way I am. For one, and no offense to the countless articles, books, blogs, websites, documentaries out there exactly like that, but that is just not my journey. I am flawed, I know it. And, that light bulb moment, turned on at some indeterminate time in my past tense, became clear: I am totally and completely fine with being flawed. Like, for real. Not saying so to mask the inner pain, there is none for me when it comes to my body image. I actually rather enjoy all the parts of myself that are what one might call imperfect. Not because I enjoy looking in the mirror and seeing my now somewhat sagging, and curvy in places that aren’t supposed to be, parts; but because I embrace a discovery I’ve made slowly over my years of being a watcher.
See I love watching humans and their interactions. I study people and relationships with others as something of a hobby. I don’t know why. Its like being a bird watcher, but I only have to step out my door to go explore the bounty of the specimen I enjoy studying. Its in my daily adventures and mundane happenings that I have discovered one major truth that has overridden any sense of shame I am supposed to feel about my body: every single person on this planet not only has body flaws, but is aware of them, acutely. Ask any single human being you come across today what they would change about themselves if they could, and I guarantee the longest pause you might get before the list comes spilling out is maybe 1/2 a second; a whole second if they want to give the impression that they actually have to think up a list. And there you have it. Its not any secret mantra I have, or some over-inflated image of my self, its simply that as a studier of the human species, I have long come to realize that we are all equals in our laser sharp awareness of being flawed. And that equality somehow gives me comfort, and takes away any reason for me to spend too much time dwelling on something I can’t change anyway, even if I had a burning desire to. Is being healthy the same thing as having a perfect body? Nope. And I am certainly no expert on the subject of being healthy, so I will leave that topic alone. I am the first to admit it, I like things that the health nuts tell me will kill me. Bummer. My feeling is at least I will have many yummy memories, and perhaps more important, and the actual reason for today’s post; my children will have many memories of a mother who enjoyed the taste of life, not a mother who imposed restrictions and shame on herself and them, stealing the joy out of just living in our uniquely imperfect, flawed bodies. Because they are all flawed, and hey guess what, no matter if you spend your entire existence trying to tune them into perfection, they always will be, in some small way. There will always be that “something” that you just can’t change.
So why does a girl like me, a self-proclaimed reject from the world wide sister (and brother) hood of the body image shamesters, feel compelled to write a blog post about body image? I’ll tell you in two words: The Dainty. That’s right, my daughter. It is in her eyes that I see the potential for my relapse, and her complete failure, at joining me in the revolution against being a victim to the disease of body image obsession. I am a watcher, a studier, and often, what can come from those attributes, a mimic. And so, although I have long been comfortable in my own stretched, curvy skin, bones and cellulite; I am guilty of mimicking the chirping of every other critical word I’ve heard uttered in my lifetime about what little girls should look like, and manifesting those expectations unknowingly onto my baby girl already, at less than a year and a half old. Why do we call her The Dainty you ask? Well, easy. Because she isn’t one. Clever right? Aren’t we the jokesters. Never mind its at our child’s expense. She is my “big baby.” Our little Chunky Monkey, Rolly Poly, sweet Chubby Girl, Thunder Thighs. She is not a petite little girl in the slightest, and while were at it, she is not in any way slight. She is big-boned, broad, sturdy. We have already said it all, and heard it all..and so has she, in her short sixteen months with us. If there was ever a time to feel ashamed, this would be it. I may not carry body shame, but I can dish it out. And the realization of this hurts me.
Let me be clear, my husband and I say these things
lovingly, jokingly, to be funny, to make light of what is- she is a large baby. Our largest. And she has out grown her brothers already at every milestone. She can also out eat some of them at the dinner table. And do you see what we’ve done there? We’ve already given our daughter the badge of body image shame, welcome to the club darlin’. You are now a card carrying member of, well, the cruelest and most critical species; the human race. We’ve helped to concrete what you will already learn for yourself once you are old enough to look in a mirror and understand what you will see staring back in the reflection. You are flawed. Now spend the next fifty to sixty years working out why you have an internal sense of shame about yourself, working out why you can’t seem to ever find that allusive perfect size, and maintain it, and well, just work out, ok? Its awful to think about what we have already set our child up for- failure. disappointment. struggle. weakness. Shame.
Life is hard enough, why do we make it harder? I ask myself this question often, perhaps more than any other.
My daughter entered this world perfect, absolutely perfect. She was breathing, alive, and naïve to being flawed in the eyes of the society she was born into in absolutely any way. She had the chance to live that way, untouched by the cruel reality that will indeed come for her like the plague, like it has for every single one of us, once we are old enough to become aware of each other and the strange enigma called comparison; but we decided to tarnish her already. We did what we have been programmed to do. I may not have any body image issues myself, but oh boy was it foolish of me to have lived thirty two years until she arrived, assuming I had somehow risen above having body image issues, period. Because certainly I must. I do. I felt compelled to take my perfectly innocent and beautiful baby girl, and choose, from basically day one, to lather her up with the filth of this image-obsesed world. Why? So she would be plenty calloused, hardened, and less stung by the bullets of the body image terrorists- oh wait, I am one of them.
So what of my proclamation that I am not in any way afflicted with the plague that is body image shame? Although I thought I was cured, or evolved perhaps, from it by my years of being a human-watcher hobbyist, and having come to the truth that we are all flawed, and therefore perfection is a myth. But the disease
laid dormant in me still. It waited silently, tricking me into thinking I had been spared, because although I genuinely don’t look in the mirror and focus on flaws; I looked at my child, and did exactly that. I am not cured. I am as sick as the rest, maybe worse off. I am in fact in the throws of a battle, not for my life, but my daughter’s. Her health and confidence in being comfortable as a perfect imperfect like the rest of us, is being stripped away by this attacker; and the vessel chosen to come for her was me. I became the front line for the faceless body image culture to bludgeon my daughter over the head with her flaws, by beating her spirit into submission with my comments that will later become her list of need improvements. That nameless, faceless, ominous voice of the vulture culture, coming to remind us all how awful we should feel about our bodies, was in fact, my own. Like a rhino it came and steamrolled my perfect infant baby girl. Labeled her everything she will learn to live up to in time.
The problem is not with our “culture.” After careful consideration, and disturbing data collected in my unscientific studies over my lifetime, I’ve discovered the problem begins and ends with us. Before we ever step out the door to have a look at what, and who is out there staring out their door too, peering out in comparison and contrast. We can choose not to be the face or the name who perpetuates this shame game. I love my children. This is a fact I state regularly. However, I am guilty of being part of the problem. I am shattering my child’s self image before she even has a chance to develop it herself. If I don’t do a major detox right now, she will move forward into this life armed with all the reasons she doesn’t look quite good enough, and why she may find herself one day stating the obvious to her own little girl. We are flawed. I may think just because I don’t say I hate my “bubble butt” and “big thighs,” that the hate put in my head for bubble butts and big thighs has escaped it. It hasn’t. It didn’t. It came right up to the surface and decided to settle like a fine layer of dust right over my perfect daughter’s beautiful figure. She could not be more perfect in my eyes, in my heart, so why did my mind allow the hate sitting there dormant to rise up and soil her image? I don’t have the answer to that, but I will say this. I am done with that garbage.
My daughter is kind, smart, silly, loving, and absolutely perfect. Every inch of her. I refuse to be her own worst enemy until she is old enough for me to pass that torch for her to carry on her own. I vow here and now to never ever, ever again use my words, the words I’ve borrowed from our vulture culture of image obsession, after having abandoned them for myself, to strip my daughter of her worth. She is perfectly flawed, which makes her perfectly imperfect, just like the rest of us. There is absolutely nothing that needs changing about her body, or yours, or mine. I will replace my ugly borrowed rhetoric with positive affirmation not just for her, but for you and for me. Isn’t that after all, how a culture is made? One by one? We are all amazing miracles. Regardless of your beliefs, that much is true. The intricate workings, the functions; the sheer beauty of the perfect assembly of the human body are almost beyond comprehension. The differences in each of us are what makes this fact all the more amazing. In every shape and size, inside of us all, our hearts beat. Exactly the same way. We all choose to either accept our beautiful flaws for just that, or give them enough credit to steal our joy and turn our kindness for ourselves and others, including our perfect innocent children, into an image of hate.
We are guided on this journey in the darkness by our hearts. Our bodies simply carry them to safety or to pain. And when you stop and think about it that way, all of a sudden the unique look of every body seems utterly less important than the look of the heart it carries inside.