Almost every parent I know has a line drawn in the sand. Sometimes it’s around sugar. Sometimes it’s around screen time. Sometimes it’s Caillou. (I could go on and on about this show, but if you wanted to hear someone whine for hours, you could just watch the show for yourself.)
As a parent of three young daughters, my line in the sand is drawn around my body. It’s a wall, actually. Inside the wall are only good thoughts and behaviors and words. Outside the wall is everything else, including one word in particular: fat.
It may seem small, and I’m not even sure what affect it will have, but that is my line. My kids eat sugar, they’ve binged on Netflix, and they have definitely, inexplicably delighted in watching Caillou throw a tantrum at the grocery story, the public pool, the soccer pitch, the water park… (WHYYY do kids love that show?). But they will never, ever, EVER hear me call myself fat.
Which is why it broke my heart so acutely, so deeply, when my six-year-old daughter called me that.
It happened during my foolish and fruitless search for a holiday outfit that is stunning, affordable, and appropriate for all holiday occasions. (Is that too much to ask?!) I also foolishly thought this could be accomplished in the company of my three young children during the 10 free minutes we had that day. I undressed in our crowded change room and began with outfit number one, a faux furry sweater that looked like a dog’s butt. I know this, because my six-year-old said, “That looks like a dog’s butt.”
We laughed. It did look like a dog’s swirly butt. But as any parent knows, laughing at a six-year-old’s slightly inappropriate joke is adding fuel to a wildfire. Things accelerate quickly. All roads lead to more butt jokes. And I could see the embers blaze in my daughter’s bored, blue eyes as she hungered for more laughs.
“Your butt is funny,” she said as I removed the butt shirt.
More giggles from her two younger sisters. She pushed on.
“Your belly is jiggly,” she said. I attempted to temper the conversation by doing an especially silly dance as I stepped into a skirt, standing there in a state of undress in front of my three small girls.
And then she said it.
“Why is your belly so… fat?”
I assume you are now wondering what my belly looks like. Well, it’s a belly. It fits nicely inside my jeans. I guess it looks like I delivered three babies in a span of three and a half years. It looks like I gained weight and lost weight. When I do jumping jacks, it looks like Jello. When I do push-ups, it looks like a loaf of bread. My body does not look as it did when I was 16. But I’m ok with that. In fact, I love it. I love it more now than I was able to love it back then.
My husband loves my body too. He tells me every day. My doctor loves my body too. (OK, love is a strong word, but judging from the thumbs up at my last physical, at the very least she finds it medically acceptable.)
My children love it too. They trace the fuzzy freckles on my forearm like clues on a treasure map. They wrap themselves around my legs and giggle at my disaster of a pinky toe. (Show me a pinky toe that’s not a disaster.)
And almost every chance they get, they sink their hands deep into my soft belly and tell me stories of their entirely made-up adventures as babies in the womb. It’s my most favourite time. If I hadn’t learned to love my body, including my belly, if I flinched or winced or instinctively tugged down my shirt and covered my ‘flaws’ when they wanted to touch my skin, I would miss those ridiculous stories. I would never know that they commandeered a pirate ship inside my stomach. I would never know they banged on drums inside my lungs. They would never know what my body really looked like. And that I think it’s beautiful.
That didn’t come without effort. I worked really, really hard (and still work hard) to have comfort with and appreciation for my body. Initially, I faked it, motivated only by my daughters’ precious sense of selves. But over time, my self-love started to take root. And in my 32 years, this is the best I’ve ever felt about my body. Just in time for those three curious sets of eyes to take notice.
Which is why it broke my beating heart when my six-year-old asked me why my belly was so fat. Because what she was really saying was, why is your belly so wrong?
And truthfully, my heart didn’t break because my daughter called me fat. It broke for what she might one day call herself.
She immediately felt remorse. Kids are always testing new language, and I could tell she was confused why this particular word left the mark that it did.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t even know what that word means.”
Of course she’s going to learn what that word means, especially in its most negative form. The word itself isn’t bad. It’s the message. And of course my line in the sand can’t protect her from every negative thought about her body. But when she tragically, inevitably has one of those negative thoughts, I hope she remembers my response that day. It was the only thing I could think to say.
“I love my body.”
I do. And I love her body. And her sisters’ bodies. And my husband’s body. Not just because they’re strong or fast or one-of-a-kind, and not in spite of any lumps or bumps or perceived imperfections they may have. Because of one simple reason.
Every body is worthy of some love.