Monday, June 27, 2016

Measuring Up

The older Paige gets, the more I continue to reckon with a "problem" that is not really a problem to anyone but me, and to people whose opinions don't matter. Hopefully it won't be a "problem" forever. 

I want to get to the point where I no longer worry or care about my daughter's weight, or think of it as problematic. This is an incredible struggle for me, which in part is why I write about it frequently, and why I hope Paige reads everything I've written about all of this someday.

Paige is a big girl. There's no doubt about that. She's 8 and a half, and already 4"6 and almost 100 pounds. This is her genetic blueprint, as much as blue eyes, straight hair, and freckles are. She is incredibly active with healthy (if enthusiastic) eating habits, and my number one goal in parenting her is to make sure she stays that way.

I don't want her to end up like me: Weighing herself every morning, bringing a bathroom scale on a three-day business trip, criticizing and hating her body at every weight, enduring a chorus of criticism from within her own household, thinking about every calorie she consumes to the exclusion of far more consequential thoughts, spending her 20's struggling to overcome two different eating disorders.

I don't want any of that for her. I won't contribute to it. This is like a mantra I have to keep repeating to myself in order to stay the course.

I refuse to let adults criticize Paige's weight--to her face or behind her back--without intervening and objecting. I want them to understand what I've come to know is true: that Paige's weight is her weight, like her height is her height. They should be able to see that anyway just by looking at her brother, who is growing up in the same household with the same genes, yet has the opposite body type. 

This weekend I took Paige to a friend's house to help get measurements taken for an upcoming wedding. My heart sank as my friend read the numbers out loud off the tape measure. Those numbers told me this was all going to get worse before it gets better. That life was going to be "hard" for Paige, especially later in her teen years when she inevitably gets even bigger, and figures out that society won't let her wear the same clothes as her peers. 

I see her look in the mirror every day with so much confidence, but it's already almost impossible to find her clothes that fit. She already worries a little bit about being fat. She already talks about it in slightly anxious tones, like a dismal gray storm cloud preceding an emotional thunderstorm. 

Years and years of pain associated with this shit built up behind my eyes as I jotted down numbers. I started to cry and tried to hide it. Then I stopped myself, and I hated myself for worrying about this. I told myself the same thing I do every time these thoughts creep into my mind. 

My mantra.

I remember a great book I read that encouraged me to overcome my own body bigotry in service of parenting my "overweight" child successfully. I remember a This American Life podcast I listened to, in which successful women like Lindy West celebrate being fat and insist their bodies aren't just temporarily deformed weigh stations, so to speak, en route to being the thin woman (read: sexual commodity) they were always meant to be.

Paige is not meant to be thin. I know this in the way I know she's good at math and a great friend. She is about so much more than her body. She measures up in so many ways that matter, and in this one way that doesn't matter at all. She will not be a one-dimensional sex object always striving to meet society's paradigms of beauty.

That is my mantra, and I am in perpetual search of the courage to truly believe it. 

Courage to overcome my own entrenched body issues, shame, and stigma, and to keep reminding myself, every day if I have to, that I will not let Paige's weight dictate the measure of her worth. 

Not in my eyes anyway, and not in hers.

I don't always do a good job of this. Sometimes I fail miserably and wonder if I've just undone all my careful work. Sometimes I lose control, and accidentally criticize Paige for eating too much, or insist that she wear something that fits her better because her belly is sticking out and I am secretly embarrassed for her, even though she's blissfully unaware that there is anything "wrong" with her body; because of course there's not. 

She's so much smarter than me in this way. She knows better. I hope she forgets and forgives me these lapses.

It's easier said than done to reverse 38 years of female body shaming and break the cycle of that bullshit once and for all with your own daughter. But I have to do it, because I know that Paige's happiness and the sanctity of our relationship depend on it. This is too important for me to screw up.

The quality of our relationship and the level of Paige's self-esteem. Those are the only two measurements I should care about.

I'm trying. I really am.





2 comments:

  1. Hats off to you for writing this. What a beautiful girl! What an uphill battle to keep that mantra in our society. Keep that mantra!

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  2. Great piece! As a father I just learned to shut up and did what I could. Recently over lunch, my oldest daughter recalled how much stirfry she gagged down as a kid.

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