My eight-year-old daughter Georgia feels everything with the whole of her heart. When an ambulance passes us on the road, it’s common for her to get teary and anxious for whoever might be inside it. She loves deeply and hurts regularly for those who are struggling. Leaving church this morning, she stopped to talk to man in his 50’s. He was wheelchair bound after a surgery. As we walked away she sighed and said, “Mum, I love talking to that man.”
It can be pretty tiring to parent a very emotional child; talking her through all her hurt and angst, tempering her nurturer’s tendency to parent her own siblings, being very careful with my words and my discipline lest I crush her spirit.
One uncharacteristically cold morning in late February she came into my room wailing.
“What’s wrong, George?”
“I can’t wear those pants!” she sobbed.
If I was in a snippier mood I would have told her not to be ridiculous and go get ready. But something in the way she was crying told me to go gently.
“Why can’t you wear the pants?” I had laid out the cute, stretchy “dance pants” that are part of the uniform at her school. (She rocks those dance pants.)
“Because they are tight and my legs are fat!” she sobbed
“Whaaaaaaat?” I said. So far, in a house of girls, fat is a word we have avoided.
“Yesterday a boy in my class said my legs are fat. I can’t wear those pants because I have fat legs.”
And so it begins. At eight years of age, my daughter is starting to see herself through the eyes of a boy.
I told her that she wasn’t fat, that she was strong, and beautiful and amazing. I told her that the boy was not allowed to call her fat, and that he would probably get into trouble if the teacher knew. We made a plan; that day George would tell the teacher what the boy had said. We made a backup plan; if the teacher doesn’t listen, Mum will talk to her.
George headed off to school with her brave pants on. The ones she rocks.
That evening she came home and reported to me that the teacher had indeed taken her very seriously. Although the boy denied calling Georgia fat, he got a stern telling off and a caution.
“The teacher said that if he calls girls fat, he won’t have a happy life. And she said if he ever says it again, he’s going straight to the Deputy Principal.”
I sent the teacher an email and thanked her for helping me to show my daughter that it was not okay to be spoken to like that.
But the sad thing is that now the word ‘fat’ has entered our lives.
“Am I fat?” she asks me.
And in a meaner moment, because they’ve realised it hurts, and because sisters are like that, they call each other fat.
“You have a fat bum,” I heard one say yesterday.
“No I don’t. It’s all muscle.”
I smiled at the sassy response.
As I learn to parent four beautiful girls, I’m looking out for the advice that will help them to see themselves as I see them, and as God sees them; beautiful and beloved. And what I am realising is that it starts with me.
It starts with me telling them that they are clever, strong, beautiful, smart, reliable, helpful, kind, sweet, generous, loved. With me loving the skin that I am in, not commenting on my frown lines, my muffin top, my wobbly thighs or my crooked teeth. It’s never saying, “I’m so fat!” in front of them. Or ever really.
If I’m eating right and losing weight, it’s about making an effort to be healthy and put the right fuel in my body. It’s not about numbers on the scales or staying away from “bad foods”. It’s not about “getting skinnier.” When I’m exercising, it’s about getting strong and healthy, and not “burning away all my disgusting fat.”
My girls are blessed to have a dad who seems to know what to say. He doesn’t ogle women or objectify them. He never comments disparagingly on the appearance of overweight people. His social media feed is full of camping ads and bad dad jokes- not a single naked lady. Dads, and Dad-types are also the key to our girls feeling secure and happy about who they are.
I can’t stop the boys at school calling my daughters fat. I wish I could.
I can’t stop my daughters from absorbing a warped perception of female success as depicted in the media every day.
But I can tell them, every day, that they are amazing, and I can show them that I am amazing too. Not arrogant and puffed up, but ridiculously good looking and made in God’s image.
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