Monday, March 30, 2015
My bright, hilarious, inquisitive, soulful, beautiful eight-year-old daughter says she is fat.
And she's not just saying she's fat. Tonight, she tried to stop eating her dinner, for fear of getting "fatter." She was poking at her "fat" belly as she got into the shower. She told me her skin is "wobbly."
She called herself ugly.
And it was then that I felt my heart crack a little.
Right down the middle.
I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to link arms with Gloria Steinem and set fire to every single "women's fashion" magazine that has ever been printed. I want to take a Sharpie to every magazine cover at the check out at the supermarket and redact all the CRAP on display. I want to RAGE against the bullshit standards that we women are held to EVERY FUCKING DAY OF OUR LIVES.
Because you and I both know what those standards are.
Actually, there's just one standard that really matters: PERFECTION.
And you know what the worst part is? The most horrible part of it all?
We do it to ourselves.
She's not getting this from the men or the boys in her life. She's getting it from the WOMEN -- and the girls. And they're getting it from their mothers and their sisters. And from the magazines they read and the insipid television shows they watch.
And do you know where else she is getting it from?
She is also getting it from me. I know she is, because she told me so.
But how the hell...?
I don't talk about "fat people" or "skinny people." She doesn't hear me asking my husband if I "look fat in these jeans." I made a deliberate choice, as soon as I knew that I was going to have a girl, that I would not allow her to hear me speak about myself in ways that degrade me -- for my appearance or otherwise. A conscious fucking choice.
She does not hear me say, "Oh, I couldn't possibly eat that" or, "how many calories are in that?" In fact, she watched me take down an entire, fantastic bacon cheeseburger at one of our favorite local burger joints this weekend. Complete with half an order of garlic parmesan fries.
But then, when we were finished eating, as the server cleared our plates, my daughter heard me say, "I won't eat for a week after that meal."
She heard that.
She also hears the incidental chatter between friends and family: "Did you lose weight? You look great!" Or, "I haven't worked out in a while, and it shows. I need to get back to the gym."
There was also that time at the beach, when my daughter was just five or so, and she told me that my skin was wobbly as we walked back together from the water toward our blanket, and she saw my reaction to that honest observation. I'm sure that made an impression. I know it did, because she told me that, too, tonight.
And that's the problem. The insidious, creeping-vine-like nature of it. Little comments. Little reactions. The implicit understanding of what it is that we value as a culture. Whether it's in my subtle reaction, or when it's on gratuitous display, in all it's glossy, cover-story glory, as we wait patiently in line to purchase some toilet paper and a bag carrots.
It's in our daily lives, there for all of us to measure ourselves against, and to always come up short.
It's the Perfection Infection.
I was in a meeting recently, with half a dozen or so accomplished, intelligent people. What were we talking about? The potato chips on the table, and how we shouldn't be eating them. A woman whom I respect and admire for her professional accomplishments and strategic mind, brought up that awful quote, attributed to Kate Moss, as she opted not to reach for a handful of chips: "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."
It's as damning and demoralizing to hear at 40 as it was at 20.
This garbage we seem to be so invested in, compounded over time, in the porous mind of a young girl, aware of the world around her and curious about her place in it, watching, always watching, for clues and cues about how and who to be -- it's suffocating. And it fucking stinks. It stinks to high heaven like the pile of shit that it is.
This perfection thing? It's a prison for girls and for women.
But here's the rub: we are both the prisoners and the prison guards.
We imprison ourselves with this idea of perfection: of mind, of body, of career, of home and hearth, of motherhood, of fucking shoes and kitchen countertops and selfies and yoga practice and on and on and on and on -- and then we drag the baton across the bars and taunt ourselves. Not enough, we whisper about ourselves and to each other. Not good enough. Not skinny enough. Not fabulous enough. Never, ever enough.
And I'm struggling -- honestly struggling -- with how to address it. How to manage it. How to stop it.
She's a good girl, my Not-So-Little One. I pretty much feel like she's smarter than anyone else in my house.
But this Perfection Infection has taken hold. Tonight, she told me as much. She told me that she is: fat, ugly, big, and stupid.
The one whom I refer to regularly as "beauty" and "smarty pants" and "angel" has now, somehow, at age eight, begun to devalue herself.
It is our imperative as mothers to change the conversation.
But before we can change it for our daughters, we must change it for ourselves.
We have the keys.
It's time to set ourselves -- and our daughters -- free.