Our generation of women have learned how damaging it is to say the F word.
If we’re mothers we know that every turn in front of the mirror grabbing a handful of belly fat and proclaiming our disgust speaks silent disdain into our daughters souls. Every dressing room mirror and swimsuit season can leave grown women chanting mantras about more exercise and less Krispy Cremes but really it’s so much more than that and most of us know it.
I read a book recently and the author discussed her battle with bulge. She wrote about feelings I mirror. I pictured her laying restless in her bed thinking about the last bit of ice cream in the freezer and the squish of her thighs as she padded down the stairs to retrieve it and push spoonfuls into her mouth with only the glow of the fridge light.
I pictured her standing in front of a closet full of clothes that seemed to shrink day after day and struggling to make zippers grab and buttons close.
I pictured my life. And then I saw her author pictures. And I knew she had no idea what it felt like to be me. I mean, she may understand insecurity and food addiction but she didn’t understand the F word. She wasn’t fat. Not at all.
But I am. I know I am not supposed to say that but really, who am I kidding?
Because there is a point when you hope the seatbelt clicks on the plane and you try not to lop over into the aisle, and you shift around a few times and suck it in and hear the click and feel relief wash over you because what do you do when it won’t close? Do you have to flag down the flight attendant and proclaim you are too fat for your seat? Do they bring you an extension? Do the people in the seat next to you pretend not to hear or do they look at you with a sense of embarrassment on your behalf. Do they silently judge you when you order a diet coke?
Because there was that time we visited the amusement park and remembered how we screamed on the ride that sent us upside down and we waited in line. My daughter with her brave face on, my husband holding the tickets. And I remember when we passed the goofy sign with the cartoon finger-pointing at height limits, Kaia stood tall and just barely passed by. Last year she had been too short. And we climbed into our seats and waited for the mechanic whoosh when the overhead restraint lowered. And everyone reached up to pull it down and in that moment I knew it wouldn’t close. I pushed myself as far back in my seat as I could manage and cursed my boobs but the gangly teenager had noticed me squirming and headed my way.
“It’s got to click,” he mumbled at me.
Everyone’s eyes turned to face me. A teenage girl leaned over and giggled something into her friend’s ear.
My face burned scarlet but there was no click. “Sorry, you’ll have to get off,” he said.
I lifted the restraint back up and climbed down.
“Where are you going mommy?” Kaia questioned.
“Umm, mommy’s just going to go watch with Grandma. I’ll be right over there,” I whispered as I made my way down the platform past the line waiting for their turn. Someone was called from the line to take my empty seat.
I wanted to cry. To burst into tears right then and there. To melt into the sticky sidewalk and disappear. I sat on the bench watching as my daughter flew through the air squealing. And I thought about how I needed to hold it together for her. How I needed to bite down that raw grief and embarrassment so that she would see a strong mother.
I would brush it away, unfazed, when inside the weight of shame was crushing me.
And then I read an article about how we should never talk to our daughters about their bodies. Never mention weight or beauty. Never address food as anything other than fuel. And I read through the hundreds of comments praising this way of skirting the issues of body hatred, peer pressure, and self-esteem. This formula for building strong daughters.
But everything about that made me shake my head because I remember being 5 and walking behind my brother and his friends so they wouldn’t see how fat I was. How fat my emaciated body was after being diagnosed with leukemia. No one had ever told me I was fat. Not once, but I believed it.
Because these lies that defile and plant and grow up into flesh and fullness, they don’t just start with models on glossy magazines and size racks in the department stores. They start in the whispered hiss that the daughters of Eve are ever left wanting. Ever left vacant and empty and wretched. And don’t tell me you haven’t heard it yourself a thousand times since the day you were called girl.
And there was the day she fell behind when she was running and her tears met me in the bathroom mirror and my heart broke into a million pieces.
I wish I had the luxury of quietly sweeping body image and beauty under the proverbial rug and thus ensuring my daughter never frown ugly into her reflection but that is not the world in which we live.
I remember when Kaia was in ballet and a girl in her class had asked about her belly and how Kaia’s eyes had swelled with hot tears and how she had asked me if she was fat. She wasn’t even entirely sure what the word meant but knew it hurt. She still had toddler thighs and the chubby baby cheeks of an angel and I remember wanting to ignore this cruel world where girls make you feel ugly before the boys ever do but I couldn’t.
Because my baby was hurting and I knew she needed truth more than she needed a strong mother.
She needed to know that I hurt when I’m too fat for Stitchfix and everyone is getting packages I can’t fit in and I close the browser and look at jewelry instead.
She needed to know that I don’t always feel beautiful or strong or whole.
She needed to know that I cared a whole lot what boys thought and that every mean word from other girls tore into me a bit and honestly, I still carry some of it.
She needed to know that I am not just spirit but flesh. That it hurts to walk around in this body sometimes.
She needed to know authenticity. Not that I hate myself or my body or that she should as well but that we all feel the pulse of the world around us and sometimes that world will tell us we’re not good enough and sometimes we’ll listen. And when that happens, I’m not going to tell her not to feel it or don’t worry because the pain doesn’t matter or worse, doesn’t exist.
I will tell her that the broken bits are a place where God works. The beauty is in the honesty. The telling the truth about yourself. And the only truth I know is I am both broken and whole. That I hurt and yet am healed.
I will tell her God sees all of it, including the appetite that sometimes veers out of control and the disgrace I feel drowning in calories, and the zippers that bulge and that instead of pretending I’m ok with it all, I can cry out to a God who gets me.
And when she comes out of the gate and asks me if I saw her so brave and strong up there, I will say I see you. I see you. And know that when she sees me, she’ll get the truth in all its devastating beauty.