“I have old man arms.”
“My friend said I have old man arms,” explains my seven-year old daughter.
“Who? What does that even mean? You don’t have old man arms.”
My god, how am I going to handle this? I’m in a panic. Post-shower, in the bathroom, I see my daughter evaluating her reflection–her self–in the mirror.
“My neck’s ugly when I go like this,” she laments while pushing her chin to her chest, as if getting ready to somersault.
I show her that mine does it too. “It’s just what chins do, honey.” My stomach is doing somersaults of its own.
“My hair’s ugly. It’s always messy.”
“Your hair is beautiful. Lots of people pay lots of money for hair like yours. It’s blond and wavy and beautiful.”
“I want hair like yours.”
“Your hair IS just like mine.”
I don’t tell her that, by third grade, the boys in my class had christened me with at least half-a-dozen cruel nicknames because of my wild hair. To this day, I’m neurotic about it, constantly patting it down, worried that people are judging me. At least we don’t live in the humid south. She has that going for her.
I don’t know how to navigate these conversations.
The other day, I showed her a video about how Photoshop is used to edit, crop, and enhance women’s bodies. I couldn’t get her to understand this was a bad thing.
“They make everybody in the magazines and movies look thinner than they are, and prettier than they are. Then people feel bad because they think they’re supposed to look that way, too, but it’s impossible because it’s all just computers. And when people feel bad about the way they look, it makes them want to buy the make-up or the clothes or whatever is in the ad so they can feel better. They’re just trying to get people to buy stuff.”
“Oh, so they make people look pretty? Wow, she looks so pretty.” She wasn’t getting it.
But I was getting angry.
I get angry when I feel helpless.
We do everything you’re supposed to do to stay healthy. My daughter is active. She eats lots of veggies and whole foods. And yet somehow, the past few years, she’s gotten chubby. I struggle to find clothes that fit her. I buy pants several sizes higher than her age, and hem the bottoms. I hate when she wants to wear a bikini, but love that she feels comfortable enough to do so. I worry so much about kids teasing her about her weight.
She’s tall, too, and strong. Many of her classmates are the tiny sort. She specializes in lifting them up off their feet to show affection. The German genes from both sides of the family seem to have expressed themselves loud and clear.
She’s growing so fast. For the past year, she’s worn training bras. “I’m the only one in my class to wear a bra,” she says with a mixture of pride and embarrassment. My sister got her period when she was nine. What if the same thing happens to my daughter? I’m not ready for this.
How do I protect my daughter from poisoning herself with expectations and comparisons? How do I help her feel happy about the way she looks, without reinforcing the insidious messages that being beautiful is the most important thing in life?
I want her to feel confident in her appearance and free to express herself. I don’t want her to hate and hide herself because she doesn’t measure up to Photoshop.
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