My middle daughter, Sarah, was 6 lbs 10 oz at birth and looked like a plucked chicken. Except she was the color of a tomato. For twelve weeks. That kid screamed her fool head off for 12 straight weeks. She is a ball of energy now and never stops moving. She has two nicknames, scrappy and crazy. Occasionally my friend mixes them up at soccer games and calls her scary. Truth be told, she is that too.
Sarah has always been on the thin side. Once the screaming stopped and the red disappeared we actually realized that her skin was paste white. The chicken look stuck around – her legs literally made chicken legs look big. Her tiny features are complimented by beautiful big blue eyes with long, dark eye lashes and darling freckles. She is irresistibly cute.
Imagine my shock when last night she looked me straight in the eye and said “am I getting fat”
This is a big deal to me. I don’t want my girls to be unhealthy. Fitness and health has always been very important to me. I work as a group fitness instructor – as such I talk to women on a daily basis with negative body images. The reality is, most women and men do have negative body images about themselves, real or imagined. I try very hard to watch what I say around my girls. After a long holiday weekend I may feel a little off my game and a little chubbier than normal but I very desperately try not to say “I feel fat” because even though from time to time I feel heavier than I normally am, I am not fat.
Nor is my daughter. She is probably still underweight for her frame and height. Yet here she was asking me if she were getting fat.
About a year ago Sarah started to fill out. Her favorite foods had always been tomatoes, pickles, cucumbers, lettuce with vinegar and black olives. Oh and anything made with sugar. I honestly thought that this kid wouldn’t go through puberty until she was 16. About two months ago she came to me with concerns that one of her breasts was very sore and swollen. Having already had a child go through puberty you might think I would know better but instead I ran her over to the Doctor. The prognosis was good, Sarah will live. Oh and get boobs. She was starting puberty. I have always had to special order slim clothing for her but suddenly I was returning clothes and buying them in larger sizes. I took a long hard look and realized she was filling out. Truth be told, for the first time in 10 years, Sarah looks to be at a healthy weight.
My older daughter Grace is tall and quite thin. She enjoys being fit and trim, she knows what being healthy feels like – and likes it. I catch her from time to time looking in the mirror and I can’t help but worry what she is thinking – am I getting abs? Little Sophie still has baby fat. It hasn’t bothered her until recently. I see a tiny glimmer of concern in her eye when I have to help her button shorts that are a little snug. Sophie is a solid girl, she is taller and weighs more than her sister, two years older than her. She is also 8. She has lots of growing to do and by all accounts still is a baby.
I had hopes that raising my girls with an interest in sports would help prevent body image concerns but my optimism was short-lived. I realize that my three girls are not the exception to the rule, that they, just like most other women and girls are going to have concerns about the way their bodies look. My task is to keep them on the right track. I worry about both sides of the equation. I would be just as concerned if my girls were intentionally underweight as I would be if they were overweight.
As parents we try to teach our children that they need to eat well and exercise so that their bodies will be healthy. That their bodies will respond to proper nutrition and exercise. That living well will equate to looking well. So while little Sarah is needlessly worried about a change in her body, I am constantly worried that I can keep them focused on health in a natural and normal way. It doesn’t consume me, I am not obsessed but I am also willing to admit I think about it.
I think for now it’s all good. An hour later a friend who hadn’t seen Sarah in a year complimented how muscular she had become and she was beaming with pride and flexing her newly found bicep.