While shopping yesterday, avoiding adulting and trying on all Target’s clearance had to offer, I heard in the dressing room next to me two girls’ voices. They were no older than 14.
At first, I heard them laughing and talking about some boy. Then, the tone flipped quickly, and I heard one say, “I’d look so much better if I was as skinny as you. You suck. I just won’t eat tonight.” Her friend didn’t object. They just kept on talking as if saying not eating to fit into clothes is an acceptable conversation. Maybe it’s possible it was so normal in their lives, it wasn’t even second-guessed. It was as easy as saying, “I’ll have fries with that.”
My heart sunk. I used to be that girl. Some days, I still am that girl. All of a sudden as I stood half naked, mom bod in all it’s glory, I was overcome by sorrow. It was like I was 14 again. Back then, I would stand in front of a similar mirror, pinching and wishing away all my perceived imperfections. All I wanted was to be as “skinny” as someone else, my sister, my best friend, Kelly Kapowski (I also wanted her boyfriend), anyone else but me.
Skinny became my obsession. Eventually, that goal led to my struggles with disordered eating. I spent most of those precious years, meant for first dates and driver’s licenses, consumed in depression, hating my body and deflecting all my shortcomings onto others. I didn’t care about myself. So I destroyed others. I’d do anything it took at the expense of anyone or anything to be one pound lighter. This angry girl was actually dying inside, literally and figuratively, hiding behind a charade of angst and “behavioral problems.” I was slowly self-destructing, one uneaten calorie or one binge at a time.
When I realized people could probably hear me blubbering in the dressing room and were bound to bust down the door to the sight of my bare ass and last night’s mascara running down my face, I got my shit together. Me, being the fixer I have grown to be, quickly planned a powerful, life-changing intervention. I imagined it saving her. Maybe, just maybe, she’d eat that night. Maybe she would not succumb to the pressures we all feel to be and look a certain way. Maybe this hot mess express could be the catalyst to propel her away from the rabbit hole of self-hatred. I wanted to be the person I needed back then.
I wanted to tell her how unimportant skinny is. Skinny doesn’t get you into college. It doesn’t make you friendships (not the kind you want, anyway). It doesn’t make you a better person. It doesn’t make you more lovable or liked. It just makes you skinny. That’s it.
I wanted to go into that dressing room and point out anything beautiful about her other than her size. I wanted to drive to her house and throw out her scale. I wanted to take her to lunch without all the numbers, counting, and planning of how to rid your body of it immediately after. I wanted to tell her to just eat, talk, and learn all the things that make her beautiful, none of them having to do with whether her pants fit or the number on the scale.
I said nothing. I froze. Whether it was from my own sadness or something else, I do not know. I ugly cried on the way home, regretting it and wishing I could have just grabbed her hand and looked in her eyes. Maybe more for me, than her. Maybe for my daughter, whom I worry I will pass on my old habits to.
I thought about how just the other day, I walked in and saw my 2-year-old doing the scale dance. Get on. Get back off. Get back on. The guilt set in. Shit. That was taught. She’s doing what she sees me do. Without even knowing it, I was setting her up to disapprove of herself. You can’t just preach it. You can’t just say it. It’s not enough. You have to show them how to love themselves. The best way to do that is to be an example of what it looks like.
She’s counting on me. Right then, I vowed to work on breaking the self-hatred cycle. I will be an example of what loving my body truly is. Some days, I may be faking it. I will still fight the mirror, the scale, the bitch of a voice inside my head that creeps in and tells me I am not good enough. I worry it will always be there, but I will not let my daughter grow up believing her worth is determined by whether or not she fits into a pair of Target jeggings.
When I got home, I hugged my daughter so tight and thought about the girl at Target. I may not have been able to help her, but this girl in my arms is all on me. I picked her up, and we sat at my mirror. We had a fake tea party and ate real biscuits. We planned adventures. We danced. As she caught her reflection, she exclaimed, “Meme pretty like Momma. Pretty, happy Mommy.”
I was, and that’s who I will be for her. Always.