As a mom in recovery from an eating disorder, I am very aware of the way I speak. Not only for my own needs to stay grounded, but for the well-being of my children. Even so, I did not expect what happened when my child asked me about her tummy.
There is no body/food shaming, restricting, diet talk, or exercise for manipulation in our household.
Yet somehow- the stereotypical world views on food and body come through every now and again. And I wanted to share how I deal with it as a mom of two littles.
“My tummy is fat”
One night, I was getting my sweet, newly 4-year-old little girl out of the bathtub. As I was drying her off she was rubbing her precious belly. Then she proclaimed with a matter-of-fact tone,
My tummy is fat.
Shocked, and not entirely sure I heard her correctly, I asked, “Anna Blue, what did you say?”
Less confident this time, knowing I have always discouraged the use of that word in any negative connotation in our household, she restated,
I said, my tummy is fat.
My heart sank. I felt sick.
All the positive talk, all the affirmations, all the safety of our four walls cannot hold out the reality of the world’s body shaming and negative self-talk. Even for my sweet 4-year-old little girl.
How I wanted to react? “Who told you that that your tummy is fat? Tell Mama who speaks this way around you – I’ll give them a piece of my mind! What the hell is wrong with the world!”
But, her sweet green eyes were calling for love, not anger. So, I wrapped her in the towel, sat her in my lap and told her the following:
I explained to her that fat is not a bad thing; it is a part of our body’s composition that keeps us warm. It protects our most important organs that makes our bodies function!
This was a little over her head, but I continued…
I told her that her beauty was nowhere near her tummy, but deep inside her heart…
Beauty is in her amazing free spirit and kind soul…
It’s is in her smart brain and ability to connect with everyone around her…
Beauty is in her giving heart and her since of humor…
And beauty is in her ability to laugh at herself and light up the room wherever she goes…
An unexpected reaction
And her reaction to being told these things surprised me.
She cried. Huge, weeping, soul wrenching, crocodile tears as she buried her face into my chest and held me tighter than she ever had.
This broke my heart and filled my soul at the same time. Even at four, she was having the human reaction and emotion that emerges when someone puts value in characteristics outside of body, superficial, and societal norms…
That’s the power of speaking words of truth rather than words of fear and shame.
As I laid her in her bed and tucked her in, the anger settled back into my Mama heart… not only anger for my little girl but the little girl that I once. I was angry for that little girl who didn’t get the lessons of internal beauty poured into me as consistently as I needed them.
4 Takeaways for All of Us
There are a few things that I want to address to help validate the Anna Blue in all of us…
1. Tell your children ALL the reasons they are beautiful that have NOTHING to do with their looks
Societal pressures are overwhelming enough- cultivate confidence in their character. Not their appearance.
2. Quit throwing around the word fat around like it is a death sentence or the worst thing a person could ever be.
I can think of a million things more important to focus on rather than my child’s body type.
3. Please quit talking about your body insecurities in front of your children
How you see yourself is how they will cultivate a relationship with their own body and self. Conversations can be had, but in controlled and supported settings where questions can be elaborated and reinforced.
4.Finally, take 1-3 and apply them to yourself…
Regardless if you have children or not, you were, have been, or are much like Anna Blue… Treat yourself with kindness. Focus on your character traits that make you beautiful, not your physical attributes that will change over time.
I want to end with this- I am far from perfect. We all are.
But if you try to become the voice that you needed as that child reaching out for love and acceptance, the world will benefit from your rebellion of diet culture.
The world will benefit from your embracing of change, and your acceptance of self.
Be kind to you. And if it is hard to be kind to you, think of what you would say to my Anna Blue – because you are worthy of love, too.