So there’s this study out by Glamour magazine that says women, on average, have at least 13 negative thoughts about their bodies during the course of the day—one for every waking hour. That sounds about right. Why, I had at least four during the 15 minute stretch between the time I got out of bed and the time I towel dried after my shower:
Me looking in the mirror: Your skin looks horrid—what’s with all the dark spots?
Me brushing my teeth: Dude, you gotta go get some teeth whitening—stat.
Me on the scale: Ugh. For the next week, you need to eat air. Nothing else. Just air.
Me after my shower: Well damn. Remember when your thighs were juicy but reasonably thin and your stomach was stretchmark-less? Blame Mari and Lila for the travesties. Oh, and pull out the fat jeans.
Of course, if some man—namely, my husband Nick—had said any of this to me, I would have shanked him spouse-style: no clean underwear, home-cooked meals or nookie for, like, ever. And he would have been gotten a nice, terse phone call from my divorce attorney. Still, knowing full well that no one should ever say such things to any woman, I let those thoughts about my own self invade my brain virtually every time I pass by a mirror, sans repercussion.
What’s worse is that my baby, Mari, is doing this, too. At age 11.
Curious about what they truly think about their bodies, I asked my daughters if they ever think bad thoughts about themselves during the course of the day. Lila, a.k.a. Hollywood, gave me an emphatic “no.” Apparently, she’s perfect just the way she is and believes it to the core. This is a good thing. I think. Until, of course, her head doesn’t fit through the door.
But when I asked Mari the same question—if she has negative thoughts about herself—she looked up from her homework and said, quietly, earnestly, emphatically: “Yes.”
Me: What do you say?
Mari: Well, when I get dressed in the morning, I always think my butt is too big.
Me: Long. Blank. Stare.
I mean, hearing that shook me to the core. And hurt like hell. Because I thought I’d been working overtime to make both of my daughters believe that they are perfect just the way they are—a process that began before they were even born. When Mari was in my belly and a sonogram revealed that she was a girl, I vowed to make sure she could see her beautiful brown self reflected in on the walls of her love-filled room. Back then, baby décor featuring black children was scant (still is, really; when’s the last time you saw, say, a picture frame, bed spread or growth chart decorated with brown ballerinas?) and so I ended up making a border of picture frames filled with pictures of her family on the wall next to her crib. And when she was born, I filled her bookshelves with picture books written by and featuring people of color, and let her fall asleep to lullabies sung by the likes of Kathleen Battle, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway. So she could feel her people deep down in her little soul. So she could know for sure that her color, her flavor, her heritage, her history is astoundingly, unapologetically beautiful.
Still, despite the “black is beautiful” indoctrination, we faced our battles; it took for what seemed like forever to get her to learn how to love her hair. And I’ve worked overtime to get my babies to appreciate their bodies, because Lord knows I didn’t want them to face the storm of harassment and ridicule that nearly broke me when I was an impressionable little girl.
Still, somehow, all the cheerleading I’ve done on behalf of my babies means nothing when my 11-year-old, curvy and bootylicious and thick like me, pulls on her jeans in the morning. She’s decided in her young mind that having a booty and thick thighs is a problem—a problem exasperated, I’m sure, by the fact that she’s surrounded by other 11-year-old girls who are thinner and decidedly less bootylicious and who, in turn, can still fit into the cute-but-smaller cut clothing in the children’s departments and uber popular tween stores like Justice.
But how do I switch her mindset on this? How do I tell my 11-year-old that, ironically, the very thing she hates about herself is the very thing that will get her lots of attention—positive but, in some cases, unwanted—when she’s a teenager and the boys start smelling themselves and get up the nads to speak to her in an, “I’m a guy and I think you’re cute and we should kick it” kind of way? I mean, I don’t let her watch BET or listen to sexually-suggestive hip hop or R&B music and so, quite conceivably, she’s not really aware yet of the black male obsession with big booties—that really, at the base of it, having junk in her trunk is agood thing. (BTW: According to the March issue of Allure, big butts currently are a national male obsession, no matter the race. Shout out to J-Lo , Kim Kardashian and them.) And frankly, that’s not really the message I’m trying to pass on to my 11-year-old, who is still, thankfully, happy to be a little girl and not some over-sexualized Venus Hottentot.
Still, I want her to appreciate her gift—to not obsess over it like I did when I was a little girl and my mother tried her best to get me to hide it and my best friend’s mom called me fat because of it and I felt awful about the size of a part of my body that, no matter what I did, would not get smaller.
I’m trying to find the words—the appropriate ones for my tween. Somehow, “appreciate and feel good about your body, no matter what” feels so… trite. Mari is smarter than that—and way more thoughtful. I have to make the words count. And hell, I’m stuck.
So what say you, oh wise and wonderful Parenting Post audience: What specific words should I say to my baby to get her to release that inner mean girl who keeps nagging her about her curvy figure?