I need some help brainstorming.

The Little Helper, between Little Miss Naughty and The Little ChatterboxThe thing that I was hoping to avoid happened yesterday.  The Little Helper came to me and announced that she was going to Fitness Friday* to exercise to get rid of her belly.  “I have 3 weeks** to get rid of this,” she said, grabbing the puppy fat she has around her belly.

I was horrified.

I had really hoped that my change in attitude would prevent something like this, but I guess it’s unrealistic of me to think that I can prevent outside influences from affecting her.

I tried talking with her, and asking her why she felt she had to do something so drastic.  She told me that she gets “called” at school (meaning teased/bullied) about her puppy fat, and she already hates herself.  This is an 11-year old girl*** who has already had more boyfriends than I can count.  She has tons of friends – even more so now, since we moved last year.  She still has friends from her old school, and she has friends in her new school.  She’ll be going to secondary school in September (think: high school) and she can’t wait, because she’ll have almost all of her friends around her at the same time; most of her friends from her old school will be going to the same school she is.

So I told her that trying to lose weight that quickly isn’t just stupid, it’s dangerous.  I explained to her that doing so could really screw up her body.  I told her there wasn’t anything wrong with her body the way it is – yes, she does have a little bit of extra weight, but it’s all in her belly, and I suspect that it’s just a pattern of her growing.  Number One Daughter did the same thing – she’d gain weight before a growth spurt, and kind of “grow into” her belly.  The Little Helper is only 11 – she’s got a lot of growing years left in her, and I highly doubt that what she looks like now is going to be what she looks like in another 7 or 8 years.

I explained to her that her “ideals” of beauty are so out of whack it’s not even funny – even the models in the fashion magazines don’t look like that!  I went so far as to do a google search on photoshop so I could show her the way that they re-touch and change the photos to make the models look even more “ideal” than they already do.

I don’t think it’s enough, though.  It’s hard to explain, but the look on her face and her attitude told me that she just thinks I’m being “mom.”  And yes, that’s part of it, but I see her slowly turning into me, and I can’t have that.  I cannot have my daughter hating herself simply because of the way she looks.  I can’t.  Can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t!

So… what I’m wondering is, do any of you have any bright ideas for me?  I’m not by any means going to let the subject drop and think that I’ve done enough, but at the same time, I don’t want it to seem like I’m lecturing her.  I need to find a happy medium in there somewhere, but I need to be armed.  Help me build my arsenal.  I need weapons, people!  Big sub-machine-gun type weapons.  I need to blow those thoughts and unrealistic ideals right out of her head.

And right now, I’m just in a panic.  I have always told my children that I think they are beautiful just the way they are – partly because I never heard that… like… EVER… – and to hear her talk that way has me frozen in panic.  I just want to shake her until those thoughts come leaking out of her ears from her brain.

* – Fitness Friday is an event run by the local leisure centre, where the whole place is open to the kids.  They can work out, go swimming, dance, even get their makeup/nails done.  She used to go a lot, before she had some trouble with one of the local girls and they started threatening to beat her ass if she went.  We thought that maybe enough time had passed that she could safely go, but we were wrong – she came back within 10 minutes, having been run off by some of the local hoodlums.

** – In 3 weeks, her entire grade is going to Wet N Wild, a water theme park.  She’s getting swimming lessons between now and then, because she doesn’t know how to swim (and neither do her dad or I, so we’re not much help).  She’s worried that walking around in a bathing suit is going to make people tease her mercilessly.

*** – She’s also already hit puberty.  She’s had her period for about a year now, she’s got big enough breasts that she wears bras, and while she might have a bit of a belly, she’s also got a very womanly figure for someone her age.  She reminds me a lot of myself, really, in the way she’s built.  Which could easily change as she grows some more, but since I do see so much of myself in her, I can really empathize with how she’s feeling.  And that feeds my panic, to be honest.

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16 Responses

  1. Sometimes I wonder, is it possible for a girl to get through early teens without having a few crazies along the way? With all the hormonal and body changes, if it’s not one thing, it’s another…

    I remember stressing myself sick over a friend’s birthday (swimming) party set for the summer I was eleven. Not because of my weight (dieting never occurred to me, I think I felt there was no way I was going to get thin anyway) but because of body hair. Were the other girls shaving? WHAT were they shaving? If I did it, would it hurt? Would they all laugh at me? Would they laugh worse if I tried and did it wrong? OHNO! Despite all my mother’s attempts at reassurance I think I’d pretty much talked myself into faking stomach flu to get out of having to go swimming. Luckily the weather turned foul, it rained all week, and the party was changed to be skating instead!

    The best guess I have is to explain that during those hormone-cycle years, EVERYONE feels like that. No matter how pretty, how thin, how tall, how short, how popular, how busty-or-not, I’m pretty sure every single 9-14 yo girl is crying in the bathroom at some point.

    Good luck!

  2. Reading Em’s comment I agree with her that everyone does seem to feel like this at some stage, but it occurred to me that it might have helped me when I was that age just to know that. I honestly thought I was the only one worrying about my weight/my clothes/my toilet habits etc. I wonder if it’s worth telling your daughter that all her friends and nonfriends at school – the ones she’s scared will make comments – are almost certainly worried themselves about the acceptability of their own bodies, and that may be what pushes them to pick on other people’s. And (this is kind of implicit in the previous sentence) that even if she did drastically change the shape of her body by the time of the trip, that probably wouldn’t make her feel any more secure – because the worries fundamentally aren’t about your body but about something else – if it’s not your belly it’ll be your hairy legs or your sad swimsuit or not knowing how to do the perfect front crawl.

    So maybe you could talk to her about what she’s scared of – asking her, that is, to go beyond the OMG I’m FAT to what she’s actually worrying about might happen, and talk about ways of dealing with that, and the resources she has to deal with it regardless of her body shape/other things we tend to project our worries on to.

    Just some random thoughts really. HTH.

  3. Sorry, Em totally already said that first bit!

  4. I don’t envy you. I started having body issues around that age (teasing from other kids was a big part of it). I have to say–I know she probably rolls her eyes at the mom stuff but it is so important to hear positive things. While my dad definitely reinforced the crappy things kids said but my mom was always pretty supportive (maybe not as much as I would have liked but she did try) and it did help. I would say encourage her to be active and find things she loves like swimming or tennis or whatever. I had an awkward body–I was a tomboy and muscular and so on–but doing sports definitely made me feel less conscious. So even going with her on bike rides or walks or whatever–NOT to lose weight but just to help her do things that are fun for what her body can do and not what it looks like. And it might help to expose her to a wide range of body images. It sounds like you’re a good job in helping her learn to read the images she sees.

    It’s so heartbreaking to think of a girl not enjoying life because of something like body image. Sigh. Is that a picture of your daughters? They’re adorable.

  5. Kids nowadays are terrible. When I’ve been in England, I have found loads of ASBOs in the streets dressed like Vicky Pollard and pissing on the walls of cathedrals, shouting random things at people. The same in Japan. The same in Mexico. It’s like they are all spoiled and evil, and they make me don’t want to have any kids myself. If they are about five or ten years younger than me and they’re already this apocalyptic, I don’t want to imagine how they will be in 15 or 20 years. It looks like bullying is too over the top now, and I am sort of thankful I grew up in the 90s. Otherwise, I’d be a YouTube star now.
    She should not worry about what these little attempts of human beings do to her. They are not only terrible at her, but terrible at everyone. She should continue with her life, not putting deadlines on herself, and go back to sports and other recreational things just for empowerment and fun. I also suggest she takes self-defense lessons. She may need them sooner or later.
    Being a teenage, as I can remember, sucks big time. You are doing your best to make it suck less, and you should keep going. Today she may just roll her eyes and say “yes, mum, whatever”, but tomorrow she will be extremely thankful that you helped her to be a diamond amongst the coal.

    And show her some Joy Nash. 🙂

  6. I never had to go through the teasing, myself, but I still remember what it was like to have a body that was bigger than everyone else’s around me. I’d say that you’re doing as much as you can, and I only wish that I’d had a mother as supportive as you when going through my puberty years instead of receiving the conflicting messages from my parents of “you’re beautiful but…” So my advice would be that continue on what you’re doing, and possibly, are there any body-positive books out there for young misses? If so, I’d say scour your local library/bookstore and suggest them to your daughter as a “good read”. Though since I’m not a parent, I can’t say that anything I’d suggest would be effective. xD

  7. I would take the opportunity to focus AWAY from weight loss and TOWARDS proper nutrition (not starvation) and fitness as a path to health, instead of potentially resorting to extreme calorie restriction that may develop into eating disorders in the future.

    You can also cook together, and she can learn to develop a palate towards healthy food. I know I did that kinda late into my adolescence (and often struggle to this day) and the baby fat took longer going away than most of my peers, which subjected me to my share of getting teased.

    Good luck to you and your little helper. 🙂

  8. There seem to be a lot of substances in our diets that slow the thyroid down, and biochemical issues as well that affect metabolism and what gets stored. It is a tragedy that “fat” people are criticized for having no will power when I believe there is a lot involved that is beyond anyone’s control, unless they were to turn to diets richer in more traditional, whole foods and minimizing additives.

    I think we need to stop looking at overweight people as if they have done something wrong, and “if only they could control themselves”. I believe they really are starving, and there are chemicals like MSG that may tell the body it is still hungry, or create crave factors, when in fact it has simply not received the nutrients that it requires. So a person finds themselves still hungry after 1/2 a bag of chips and eats the other 1/2 and no matter if it’s lowfat. The soy or corn syrup or whatever other things may slow the thyroid slow down the metabolism, and the sugar spikes the insulin and the body chemistry is just f**ked up at a core level.

  9. em – Honestly, I wouldn’t know about the thin/popular/whatever girls and what they did or didn’t go through at that age. I was the school’s whipping girl, and can only speak from that experience. It’s good food for thought, though.

    Emily – actually, I did ask her along those lines, and it’s not so much what she looks like that bothers her, but the POTENTIAL that somebody might say something. The fear that she might get made fun of. She was pretty much ostracized in her old school, so I understand where this is coming from.

    pennylane – oh, yeah, I hear you on the abuse from peers and family. Only I didn’t have any kind of support from home – my grandmother raised me on her own and never had a nice word to say about anything. That’s why, as I said in the post, I try to go out of my way to make sure I DO say those supportive things to my kids, because I don’t want them to have to go through what I went through (it’s bad enough when you’re getting abuse from peers, but to come home and STILL not be good enough?? Sheesh. I don’t want that for them). And yes, that’s them. The Little Helper is in the middle, Little Miss Naughty (whose birthday it was) is on the left, and The Little Chatterbox is on the right. 🙂

    Cyn – I SO totally agree with you there. And I might be a little bit biased, but the bullying seems so much worse here than it is in the US. Not that it’s all sweetness and light there, of course, but I don’t remember ever having the kinds of problems with young people in the US as I have had here. Funny thing is, I didn’t notice how bad kids had become until well after I’d had my own (or I might have reassessed my thinking about having them in the first place, to be honest). I guess starting my family right out of high school probably has something to do with that. 😉 I like the idea of the self-defense lessons, my problem is finding somewhere for her to take them at. I was actually looking for something like that when she first started getting bullied at school, because the school was doing FUCK ALL about it.

    integgy – you know, I have absolutely no idea if there are any body-positive books out here. But it’s definitely something I should look into. We have a library right on the corner, so it’s not like it would be a problem! 🙂

    99ppp – actually, I think that’s what frustrates her so much: she actually does eat quite healthily, especially compared to most of the kids her age. I don’t give my kids “pocket money” because I know they’re going to do nothing but buy junk food with it. And while I see nothing wrong with junk food in general, I don’t want them eating it all the time. But we’re very big on vegetables and fruit and I try as much as possible (we live on a tight budget, so my options are somewhat limited) to cook healthy meals. Shoot, one of our family favorites is my vegetarian Indian. So I’d be willing to bet that feeds into her frustration – you know, she’s eating so much healthier than her peers, and yet she doesn’t look like them. Which, of course, proves the argument that fat (of varying amounts) is a hell of a lot more than lifestyle choices, but that’s not going to make her feel any better at this point.

    As for her activity level, I’ll admit that it’s gone down a little bit since she started having problems with one particular girl (because said girl pushed her way into my house past my 7-year old and stole TLH’s phone). She’s afraid to step out the door, for fear of getting beat up just for existing. She’s had nothing to do with this girl since I called the police, but this girl won’t leave her alone. So she stays in the house most of the time, afraid. Like I wrote above, she thought it might be safe, because it’s been nearly 3 months since this whole debacle with this other kid, but as soon as she got there, there was a whole group of kids that went after her. But, up until all this started, she was VERY active. She would go to this Fitness Friday EVERY Friday – often with friends or the boyfriend of the month – and she was constantly out with X person or Y person.

    But, she started to get a bit of a belly a while ago. Her activity level didn’t seem to matter one way or the other when it came down to it.

    And while I totally agree that her health is more important than any number (scale OR clothing size), I really want to help with the way she FEELS. Her emotional and psychological health is just as important as – if not more than – her physical health.

  10. Actually, Diane, you bring up a good point. I think it’s entirely possible that all these chemicals they’ve added to foods in the last 50 years or so (guesstimating here) has a lot to do with a NUMBER of bodily changes – not LIMITED to weight. Why, for example, are so many girls going through puberty so early now? My grandmother didn’t start until she was 15, my mother was 13, I was 11, and The Little Helper started just 3 months after her 10th birthday. Assuming I have any, are my granddaughters going to start when they’re 8? (That’s a frightening thought, actually!)

    And now that I think about it, having her thyroid checked out wouldn’t be such a bad idea. My thyroid was always on the borderline as a teen, so it’s entirely possible that she might be having a problem. And I don’t know much about her biological father’s natural family, as he was adopted, so there’s a distinct possibility that she might have inherited some sort of medical problem from him. Maybe not, but since I have no way of knowing, I’m kinda stuck.

  11. She may be reaching a point where an adolescent begins to seek more independence and establish his/her own identity, and I find it admirable that you mention you don’t wish to lecture. You can ask her how she thinks you can help, and you’ll be giving her a great boost to her self-confidence by giving importance to her opinion in how to deal with her situation. Together you may brainstorm some new approaches. Good luck.

  12. Can you present it to her in a way where she has a big big challenge to meet: society is, will, and already has been trying to make her feel bad about her body. These “thou shalt be thin” messages of body hate are ubiquitous and she has to realise that this is what is going on, and resist it. How dare soceity try and make her unhappy with her OWN BODY??!?!

    This is what she’s got to realise. With the automatic dismissal of mom’s views this may be kind of difficult, but maybe the “don’t be so gullible” route is a way that will work. After all, you do have proof that these messages have got to her already – look at what she is saying about her perfectly lovely body!

  13. Your daughter might be a bit young for the approach I’m going to suggest, but it might work as she gets older. I used it when I was a youth mentor, for issues from body image to smoking and everything in between.

    The fashion/beauty industry is about money. The people who run it are (mostly) men who have a vested interest in making money by keeping women enslaved and insecure. The more enslaved and insecure women are, the more things they’ll buy to make themselves conform to unrealistic ideals.

    This simple truth may appeal more to a teenager, but she’ll be one soon. Beauty is an industry, and an oppressive one, at that.

    However, if she continues to really suffer about her appearance, I would strongly suggest finding a counselor for her. A minimal investment of time and money now, with someone who knows how to communicate with kids about these issues, might save a lot of suffering for your daughter later.

    Additionally, I’d recommend praising other people’s healthy behavior/appearance, but not necessarily seeming critical of models, actresses, etc. who embody the “too thin” ideal. You know how kids are … if you say something’s wrong, they’ll want to prove that it’s right. I think it’s more effective to praise what you admire, in this arena, and stay more quiet about what you don’t admire.

  14. First, what Em and Emily said. I don’t think – especially if one develops early (is she me?) – that it’s possible to get through adolescence without some craziness.

    I’m wondering whether she’s sporty at all. I looked and felt best when I could get a lot of exercise as a kid; because I had an overprotective mom and a dad who didn’t give much of a damn as long as I did what I said and stayed out of his way, I didn’t get enough. But when I did get enough (like camp away from home!) I felt great.

    Do any of her friends go to Fitness Friday? Maybe she can go and do what they do, so when the gang wars start at least she has an even number on her side.

    Is there something her friends do for fitness (you notice I didn’t say weight loss) outside of FF? Perhaps she could join them.

    Are lesson for an individual sport – gymnastics, race walking, tennis, golf, yoga, dance, Pilates (if someone had told me about that when I was a teen …) – in the family budget?

  15. “tons of boyfriends” ??? at 11 years old???

    being totally judgmental here: that is just wrong! she’s just a child! it doesn’t matter if it’s puppy middle-school boyfriends, that’s just a wrong message to send a child of that age. no wonder she’s thinking of dieting, she has already experienced grown-up people dilemmas.

    sad

  16. Different cultures, Jamie.

    Girls out here stop thinking of themselves as “children” at 8-9 years old. Shit, my daughter is about to enter the British equivalent of high school. Would you tell a high school freshman that she’s not allowed to have boyfriends? I highly doubt it.

    You might think it’s sad, but then you’ll have to apply that to every. single. girl. in. Britain.

    My daughter is not an extreme case – she is one of the “norm” for this culture.

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