“You’ll probably be too fat,” he replied to my 9 year old.
Last night my 9-year-old asked if we could have a private chat. This isn’t an unusual occurrence, we have private chats whenever she needs to get something off her chest, but it’s always about something that is very important to her.
We sat down in her room where she began recalling a conversation that had taken place that morning with her 6-year-old sister and her 11-year-old brother. They’d been brushing their teeth, and somehow the conversation had turned to Survivor, a show they all enjoy watching, and about Brooke, the ultra-thin, strong, capable, pretty young woman on the show. My son had commented that my youngest daughter, who is a very slender build, would likely look like Brooke one day. Lily, my mini me, my totally regular sized prepubescent daughter, asked if she would look like Brooke. At this point, my son looked at her tummy and said something along the lines of, “no, you’ll probably be too big.”
As Lil told me this story from the morning, she went on to say through tears, how that had really hurt her feelings.
“Do I look like Brooke?” I asked
“Do I need to look like Brooke?”
“No,” she said back.
I asked her if she remembered what I always say about people coming in all different shapes and sizes. I explained to her that even within families, people have different body types. My youngest daughter for example, doesn’t have my body shape. She is very lean and lanky, a straight up and down type, not even close to the way my body looked growing up, probably more in line with her dad’s body as a young person. Lily on the other hand has my body type, we are softer, curvier but no less capable or worthy than any other body!
“Do I have fat?” I asked her.
“But I’m not my fat,” I reminded her. “I have fingernails, I have hair, but I’m not fingernails and hair either! Your body is about to go through an incredible change and you already know that you’re going to get more fat on your body because your body needs it for puberty. You might grow before your friends, you might grow after your friends, but just like flowers, you’ll all bloom in your own time!”
We then chatted about the importance of knowing our worth. I explained how she can’t let the words of her brother, or anyone for that matter, make her feel less worthy or like she’s not god enough.
I told her a story about how I used to think that getting compliments from others was the best thing ever, until I learned that the only person that really mattered was me and what I thought of myself. If we rely on others for our worth, we are always going to be disappointed because it’s not the job of others to make us feel good about ourselves.
She looked at me with the eyes of a young woman learning some hard life lessons.
“I love you mum,” she said before laying her head against my soft belly.
“We are all worthy,” I reminded her, “and our bodies are the least interesting thing about us.”
Here would be a lovely place to end this story, but I knew I needed to talk to my son.
“Why was Lil upset?” he asked me.
“There was a conversation that you guys had this morning that really upset her, she’s been holding it in all day.”
I told him about what had been going on for his sister and reminded him of one of the important rules I have; never talk about someone else’s body. I spoke to him about the power he has as a male, to protect the women he comes across in his life from feeling the way his sister felt this morning. We spoke about the power he has as a male when it comes to women’s bodies and how they feel about themselves. He took it in as I talked about the power of our words. He nodded as he understood the impact his words had had, and he promised to try to be better.
Our kids don’t think about these things, they just speak.
I’m so fortunate that I have created a space in my home where my kids can talk openly about these things instead of them bottling them up only to come out in therapy 20 years later.
Have the conversations. Be available. Listen, ask questions, share your experiences. Be who you needed when you were growing up.
Until next time….