A Weighty Issue
They hadn’t seen each other in a while.
“Wow. You’re like, so much bigger than us,” says the girl to my daughter, standing with two other girls.
I wanted to jump in, to say something (anything?) to protect her, but I didn’t have to.
My daughter responded:
To even begin to discuss what I’m going to touch on here is to know, deeply, that I’m skimming the surface of something that cannot be contained in a single blog post. It’s too vast a topic, one nearly untouchable with words as it is felt so intensely within: body image, self-love, weight. What is it actually like to be my daughter—your daughter, our daughters—a thicker-framed girl? How is it, really, learning about your body in a society where double standards and mixed messages (love your body, get skinny, love yourself) are the norm?
What does it feel like parenting our children, these tenderhearts who look to us to make sense of the senseless, to guide them through rocky terrain riddled with stereotypes and ignorance? What happens to our girls that creates grown women who—telling me their memories of dressing room horrors, backhanded compliments and “jokes” that were never funny—have tears, years later still, in recollection?
And, please, someone tell me, are there ways to prevent this?
“Weighty” is a difficult topic. I’m going to tiptoe in. I’m going to gently open the door, just a little bit. Venture slowly with me …
On the outside, I was just a mom in the dance studio hallway, watching my kiddos through the glass window. Having no idea the ball of nerves that she was speaking to just then, another mom, who also worked at the studio, says to me about my oldest daughter:
“She does really well in dance …”
“… she throws her weight well …”
“ … you know, my daughter is a bigger girl …”
“ … for more than 12 years now, she’s always wanted to dance …”
“ … at some points, we even tried to, kind of, like, persuade her to try this or that … sports, more for her frame … but she’s always said, ‘I’m a dancer. I love to dance.’”
She pointed to the collages on the wall behind me, varying years of the studio’s dancers, and pointed out her daughter to me here, here … And over here, through the years.
Her larger-framed, beautiful daughter who loved to dance.
Her daughter who dared and defied and literally pirouetted against the grain.
How I didn’t drop to my knees right there at the sheer emotional weight of all that had taken place in the last few hours, the soaring emotions and life lessons between sisters and Parenting through it all … How I didn’t hit the fetal position and bawl and wail out, “Yes, so much yes!” over her pointing out how stereotypes and stigmas are so ugly but rising above them so gorgeous, and … I’m not sure.
I managed to look at her, without bawling, and utter, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me.”
And from there, I proceeded to take my girls home from dance class that evening and drink 100 beers. (Kidding, kind of.) And I thought 1,000 thoughts about 1,000 different Parents and the issues we face… I thought of real issues, of seizures and sicknesses, cancer and starvation. I shuddered and prayed for them, and realized that it minimized the severity of “weighty” in the grand scheme of things… but not the reality of it.
I thought about something a friend had said to me, “… as your friend who was that heavyset girl, who walked in total self-consciousness always …,” and about how I’ve got no concrete answers. But I’ve got to believe that the only way my daughter—your daughters, our daughters— will walk OUT of “total self-consciousness always,” as my friend and so many of us did (do), is to walk through it—talking about it and squashing it—together.
Are stereotypes real? Yes. Does society put pressure on our girls (women) to look a certain way? Yes. Is it bullshit? Yes. Is Serena Williams’ thigh larger than Taylor Swift’s? Yes. Does that matter? Do we need to acknowledge this and keep talking about it with our kiddos? Yes.
And I thought about you, Parents, reading this right now, and how this blog could be “Weighty” or “Freckles” or “Stuttering” or “Acne” or “Birthmark” or “Too Tall” or “Kinky Hair” or any of the inside journeys we Parents guide our children through, hoping to equip them the best that we can for the hallways of school and playgrounds of Life. And how, with you, I know that I’m not the only one out here trying always, daily, in every way and at every angle, to build my children up, to have them inherently know and recognize and respect that human beings come in all shapes and sizes, beauty comes in all forms … and that their most beautiful attribute will never be about their physical attributes, but always their heart.
That is how my daughter responded to the girl’s comment that she was bigger than them.
“Wanna go play at the park?”
Jen W. O’Deay, writer and owner of Feel These Words writing services, is a mother to three and has been a stepparent for nearly 20 years. She writes Jen’s Zen monthly, offering "Five minutes of parental mental clarity.”