Unwanted Milestone: Six-Year-Old Body Shaming

When you have a new baby, life is all about milestones. Baby holding her head up. Rolling over. Sleeping through the night. Starting solid foods. First steps. Parents drive themselves nuts comparing their children to other children and either boasting or fretting about when their child reaches each milestone. This obsession with milestones is probably the first thing about parenting that makes us parents truly crazy.

Then comes potty training, and we get REALLY crazy. Holy poop. (Pun intended.)

But some milestones are not as exciting. First ER visit. First peer rejection. First bad grade.

And the one I witnessed tonight: the first time I heard my daughter say, “I’m so fat.”

In case you were wondering, my daughter is 6. She is in first grade.

We were at my parents’ house swimming, and the heat and exhaustion had already forced her dad and little brothers into the house. She and I decided to stay and swim just a few more minutes, just the girls. She had just climbed out of the water and was talking to me while I sat in the sun. Honestly, I don’t remember how it came up. I was so shocked to hear her say it that everything else is a blur. My heart sunk into my gut as I struggled to avoid a knee-jerk reaction.

Every insecure moment of my life flashed through my mind; all the pain of my lifelong struggles with weight and identity crashed over me like an unexpected wave. My mama-bear instinct wanted to shake her by the shoulders and somehow force her to understand that she is the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on!! …But I can’t do that. I swallowed hard and focused on controlling my facial expression to invite her into conversation rather than push her away by suggesting she did something wrong. All I could say was, “Honey, that’s not true.”

She was nonchalant. “Oh yeah?” she replied, slapping her thigh. “Just look at how fat my legs are!” I looked. My heart sunk even more. Her toned, muscular leg barely shook when she hit it. I thought, Those are gymnast thighs. You could be an Olympian with legs like that. Oh, Princess, you are so perfect!! Instead, I said, “Your legs are wonderful. Did you see how high you were able to jump off the diving board with those legs? Remember how fast your legs can run when you play soccer? Your legs allow you to dance and kick, and when you bend your legs, you can help a friend who has fallen down. Your legs are amazing!”

She smiled. “What about my arms?” she asked. We went through all the amazing things her arms can do, then her hands, her head, and her tummy. We talked about creation, and how God made her in his own image, and he is so proud of what a good creation she is! I reminded her that we honor God by respecting his creation, so she should not say rude things about her body, because he loves her body.

And he loves yours too. When was the last time you took a personal inventory of all the cool things your body can do? Whatever your shape, size, age, gender, disability, or whatever else you are tempted to criticize about yourself, you are capable of some pretty incredible things!

Even the things you don’t like can be amazing. My kids have this funny game of playing with the excess skin/flab on my stomach. I have lots of it after having 3 children in 3 1/2 years, and I don’t anticipate it going away anytime soon, if ever. I’ll lay on my back, and the kids will push and pull and grab my skin, pretending to knead bread dough, or they’ll slap it to make waves. The boys recently discovered that blowing raspberries on my stomach is louder than on theirs because it’s so much looser. They find all this hysterical, and I must admit, it’s hard not to laugh! Sometimes the oldest will snuggle her face into the soft skin dimpled with stretch marks and coo, “My home! This was my very first home!” That’s right! My smooshy, flabby, wobbly belly grew, housed, and protected 3 beautiful, perfect, full-term babies. A pretty spectacular feat for a lump of flabby skin, don’t you think??

I don’t know where my daughter picked up on calling herself fat. Being a youth pastor’s kid, she is often in the company of teenage girls from whom she could have heard this phrase. She could have heard it at school. But she most definitely did NOT hear it at home. I struggled with my weight and self-confidence for 20+ years. I have been “obese,” and I have called myself fat. But a few years ago I realized a truth that changed my life forever: no matter what I look like, how much I weigh, or what my pants size is, my body is INCREDIBLE. Your body is incredible! My daughter’s body is incredible. I am on a mission to make sure she never thinks of it in any other way.

I challenge you to stop saying negative things about your body, both aloud and to yourself. Rather than looking at the things you dislike, think about what you can do. Even the simplest things are miracles to those who cannot do them due to injury or illness. You are amazing!! And your Creator is proud of his work.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

Psalm 139:14

Here's my daughter using those amazing legs to fearlessly leap into the deep end when she was 2 1/2 years old.

Here’s my daughter using those amazing legs to fearlessly leap into the deep end when she was just 2 1/2 years old.

Decisions, decisions

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows I am horrible at making simple decisions. Big things are not so difficult — buying a house, choosing a job, Jiffy or Peter Pan (uh, Peter Pan, OF COURSE) — but give me 50 cents and a vending machine, and I’ll stand there sweating for 15 minutes.

On our recent youth trip to the beach, my husband and I did the grocery shopping for 18 people for a week. I literally spent (wasted) 10 WHOLE MINUTES picking up different jellies for the PB&J. Last night we went to a restaurant, and after reading the entire menu, I told the waitress to bring me whatever she likes to eat because I can’t handle the self-disappointment of not really liking what I order. I have had a gift card for a massage sitting on my dresser for months because the therapist I like retired, and I just can’t decide if I want to risk the gift card getting a massage from someone I don’t know. Who freaking cares, Mary Beth!! You always fall asleep on the table anyway! Seriously, though.

Recently my mom became addicted to one of my favorite shows, Extreme Weight Loss. She suggested that we both do a 30-day fitness challenge in August. Due to some health and family situations the last few months, I have been very inconsistent at the gym lately, so I accepted the challenge as a means of motivating myself back to good habits.

So I actually made a decision: go big or go home.

I set a pretty ambitious workout schedule of 2 hours per day, 5 days per week. Yeeeeaaaahhh that’s a lot of gym time. Truthfully, I want to reach a certain weight by the end of the month, which is 5-9 lbs. from where I have been weighing, depending on what time it is, what I have done that day, the relative barometric pressure in the atmosphere, whether or not a butterfly flapped its wings over the plains of Africa, etc. etc.

I am telling you this because I heard that helps people follow through. I actually planned to start this routine last week, but I didn’t tell very many people the plan. Guess who only made it to the gym twice last week for an hour each time? Better than nothing, you say? Thanks for the encouragement, but it’s not better when you use gym time to validate eating Mexican food and cookie dough and Jamocha Almond Fudge iced coffees from Dunkin Donuts.

Currently my life is very uncertain. My kids are getting ready to go back to school, my church is going through a big transition, my husband’s job is changing, and I’m still recovering from the crazy things my body has been through the last few months, rounded out at the end with my current medical-textbook-worthy, head-to-toe psoriasis outbreak.

One friend actually walked up to my husband, pulled him in for a bro-hug, and whispered, “Dude, what’s up with MB’s face?” *le sigh*

In the midst of change around me, I need routine to give me a sense of normal. I want to make that my 2-a-day gym habit, and your encouragement to follow through would be great.

But, I dunno, maybe not. What do you think?