Thursday, September 18, 2014

The "F" word

Yesterday, it happened. 

I wondered if it would happen one of these days, but I wasn't quite prepared when I heard that repulsive word. 

My 9-year-old daughter came home from school yesterday and said that a boy at recess called her FAT

At the time, I wasn't sure what to say. Of course, I have read things about self-esteem, about children's body image, but in that moment, all I could think about was what I would do & say to that boy if he were standing in front of me. 

Shoving those thoughts aside, I tried to be calm and I asked her if she told her teacher. She said she didn't have time, but she would try to tell her tomorrow. When she told me what had happened, she wasn't crying. She wasn't especially angry. It was actually more of a frustrated, but questioning statement. I told her she knew she wasn't fat, right? I told her that we all are different sizes - some people are bigger, some are smaller. That's how we're made. Honestly, we didn't have a whole lot of time to talk about it - we were late for a dentist appointment. (side note: just once, I would really like a sitcom life, where my child comes and asks me an important question or tells me something significant and I am just sitting there, reading a magazine or something. And I can calmly put it down and take some uninterrupted time addressing the issue and talking it over. And we hug. And then we both go our separate ways knowing that it has been discussed & solved. Yeah. Right.)

Since then, that conversation has been swirling in my mind & heart. This is such a sensitive issue & I really don't want to mess up here. The consequences for messing up are far-reaching. 

I know. 

I won't go into details here, but starting at about age 10, I started having body image issues. And, while I was surrounded with people who truly loved me and wanted to help, there were some things they said or did that actually made the problem worse. It wasn't until I was in my 2nd year of college that I finally started truly seeing myself as more than a number on the scale - and until my metabolism finally stabilized after all that dieting. That is a long time - a DECADE of some of the most important years of my life - spent berating myself, belittling myself, and thinking I was less because I weighed more

So - you can understand why I approach this with a bit of trepidation. Simply saying, as I did "you know you're not fat, right?" doesn't make everything better. The seed has been planted. The threshold has been crossed. And even if she hears it no more from that boy at recess, there is a very high probability that she will hear it elsewhere. The thing is, she is overweight. It's true. It's the reality. She has always been bigger, and now that she is maturing, it is more apparent. I believe part of it is genetic - she has a different body type than her sisters. And part of it is personality & choices. She has never really gotten into sports - she has been more of a music/art loving girl. She likes to eat. While her sisters are somewhat picky eaters, she is not. While I have to work to get her sisters to eat a couple bites, she is asking for seconds and sometimes thirds. 

So - what do I do? 

We usually tell her to eat a big helping of salad and some fruit and drink more water if she is still hungry. But usually - yes - she is still hungry after that. 

How do I handle a request for seconds without making it an issue?

In our home, we don't use the word skinny. We use the word healthy. We have talked to her - and our other girls - about how eating too much is unhealthy for our bodies. But, again, I have tried not to make a big deal out of anything. To my knowledge, she doesn't hide food, but I have heard it getting to that point and I don't want to be there. I don't want her to see food as the enemy - as I did for so much of my life. And I still have to fight that mentality. 

It hurts my mother heart that she is starting to understand the unfortunate reality that many people care more about what you look like than who you really are. 

That kid at recess, and others she has and will come into contact with in her life don't SEE HER

They don't see how last night she gave up her big bed to her little sister because she wanted it & she slept in her sister's toddler bed. 

They don't see her beautiful drawings of colorful tigers, fairy villages, and people she loves. 

They don't hear her practicing piano without help because her mother is musically impaired. 

They don't see how she makes breakfast for her family, complete with personalized notes for each of them. Just because. 

They don't read the wonderful stories she writes about princesses, queens, heaven, and fairies. 

They haven't seen how at the times when her mother's tears fall without end as she grieves the loss of her son, she has stayed by her side. Holding her. Crying with her. Not leaving her until she is absolutely CERTAIN that she is going to be okay. 

They don't see that. 

I'm worried that she will be that girl. You know - the smart one or the one with the pretty hair or pretty eyes, but FAT. I cannot even tell you how badly I HATE. THAT. WORD

The articles say be the example! And we try! I just completed a half marathon. We try to go on walks and to the park as a family. We hike. There is a fruit bowl which is always filled. There is a vegetable tray with fresh-cut veggies. We always try to have a vegetable & a fruit at every dinner. In fact, we just completed an 8-week healthy challenge that she participated in. I know we can always do more - but we're trying.  

The paradox here is telling her that she is more than a number on the scale. Her worth is NOT tied to her pants size in any way. Heavenly Father, Jesus, and her family love her without end, no matter what. Comparing herself with others never helps - it only hurts us. AND! And she needs to take care of the precious body she's been given. She needs to not eat more than is needful. She need to exercise. She needs to limit the amount of sweets she's eats. 

I would appreciate insight here - especially from those of you have have dealt with this before. How did you do it all without turning it into an issue, a label, something that will haunt her for years to come? She is so young. I lover her so much. I want to deal with this the right way & not screw up! THANK YOU!


Diane said...

You are doing an amazing job! You are doing everything that's helps in this situation. I think that staying positive and staying in tune with helping her have good self esteem the next 10 years is the hard part. A lot of that doesn't depend on you though. The outside world clouds their self esteem far too easily. Pray, pray pray, and keep doing all those positive things. McKinley is so beautiful, inside and out. We always love to have her near us! Sorry. This probably wasn't as helpful as you wanted.

Becky Wallace said...

I have no advice. This is something that I too struggled with, and I'm consciously trying to give my daughters a healthy body image while struggling with my own.

I read this article, and it was informative. I don't think it will help you very much, but maybe it will reassure you that you're doing the right things!

Katie said...

This is a very truthful post... how to balance concerns for a child's health and teaching healthy habits, while at the same time stressing that we are so much more than just an exterior is a really good question. I guess we just say that who we are as a person is most important, but that how healthy the person is determines partially how long we are able to use this body to bless others here on earth... and in some ways sets the limits on which ways we may be able to. I guess stress that health matters, but the looks are more window dressing. Healthy can look different sometimes, so it is really a very hard concept to grasp sometimes. Your daughter sounds like a very beautiful girl, I am glad that she is being raised by a Mom who puts a lot of thought into raising her.

Rachel said...

I just read stumbled upon your blog via Facebook and this post just touched my heart. My oldest hasn't had this experience yet, but I'm waiting for it. And it already breaks my heart. But I love what you said about what that boy didn't see her doing and being. Such a great reminder to tell my girls (I have 5!) and help build their confidence and self worth so other's do not break it down. Thank you!