Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Be kind to yourself, girl

Josie is long and very thin, and always has been.  Even as a baby, she never had typical baby chub, never had the fat rolls on her neck or legs or wrists that so many babies sport so beautifully.

I remember I was at an indoor playground with her and Zeke when she was only a couple of months old.  Zeke was off playing, and I was sitting with Josie on a bench.  A Hispanic woman started talking to me (I've never quite been able to figure out how some people just know that I can speak Spanish, but on more than one occasion, people have started talking to me in Spanish, and done so with an attitude that implies that they absolutely believe that I will respond in kind).  She asked me how old Josie was, what her name was.  And she looked at Josie and then back at me with a critical gaze.

"Ella es tan delgada," she said, with more than a hint of disapproval in her voice.  She's so thin.

"Sí, pero también es muy saludable," I countered.  Yes, but she's also very healthy.

And she is.  She has a ton of energy, bright eyes, clear skin, shiny hair.  She's a terrific athlete, strong and coordinated.  Her doctor thinks she's perfectly healthy.  She doesn't eat a huge amount, but she eats, and she eats as much good food as she needs to.  She likes vegetables and salad and healthy snacks, and I let her indulge in ice cream and cookies when she wants them.

As my own pediatrician expressed to my mother when I didn't have the hugest appetite as a little kid, you don't hear much about middle class children starving to death.  Kids generally eat when they need to eat, and don't when they don't.

So I've never worried about her being thin.

I've also never dwelled on it with her.  I'll joke with her about how I don't understand how her legs have gotten so long, but I don't call her "skinny" or make any comments about her body except to praise her athleticism or strength when she takes herself hand-over-hand across the monkey bars or makes a great play in soccer or something like that.  Or maybe to tell her, when she's running around the house naked, that I think she has a cute booty.

And as for myself, notwithstanding my own efforts to stay relatively fit/thin, I never talk about feeling fat or wanting to lose weight - I don't even own a scale.  The kids see me exercise every day, but we only talk about it as a way to stay healthy and strong.  Whatever shitty things I say to myself in my own head about my own appearance, however much I pick myself apart every day when I look in the mirror, I never say them out loud, in front of my children.

Which made it particularly alarming when I was informed that when she is at her dad's house, she consistently expresses concern about getting fat, and she will routinely forego things like cake or cookies or other treats out of a concern of gaining weight.

This scares the shit out of me.  She never does this with me, but the fact that she does it at all is terrifying.  I've been terrified of this since the beginning, in fact.  First of all, she seriously doesn't have an ounce to lose.  Her BMI is probably in the 10th percentile, if that, and for a long time, it was so low it wasn't even on the charts.  Second of all, I've read enough articles and seen enough documentaries about body dysmorphia and disordered eating to know that it's something that is incredibly difficult to fight, once it takes root.

As much as I can try to set a healthy example, as much as I can make food and exercise all about health and moderation and strength, every day I drop her off at school where there are 6-year-olds worried about being fat.  There are 8-year-olds on diets.  There are gaggles of 7-year-old mean girls already talking shit about other girls who aren't as cool, who maybe don't look exactly the way these mean girls think girls should look.

So I'm terrified, and I don't know how to stop the onslaught.

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