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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In which I might get a bit rambly…

I’ve been kind of… “out of it”… mentally the last couple of days.  I’ve been reading, but I’m having a hard time really gathering my thoughts in a coherent manner.  I’m going to give it a shot, though.  But be warned: I might go off on a tangent.  It happens.

I keep going back and re-reading Kate’s latest thinky piece.  For a lot of reasons, really.

The biggest reason, probably, being that I have four children of my own.  And they do stuff like that.  I remember when The Little Helper was about 3 or 4, and I’d taken her to the supermarket with me.  We were in one aisle, and a large woman walked across the end of the aisle.  If I had to guess, I’d say she was probably about the age I am now (early 30’s) and roughly a size 26/28.  I’m not even going to try and guess how much she weighs, because as we well know, nobody knows what a certain weight looks like.  Suffice it to say that she was definitely larger than I was.  Anyway, The Little Helper sees her and yells – and I mean YELLS – “Mommy, that lady is FAT!!”  She said it so loudly that people in the other aisles came into ours to see who she was talking about.

Needless to say, I was mortified.  I told her “shh!  You shouldn’t talk about people like that!”

Now what I really wanted to say was that she shouldn’t be pointing out any specifics about anybody’s body – that’s just plain rude.  But like I said… she was only 3 or 4 at that point.  She wouldn’t have understood what I was talking about.

I sometimes wonder if I might have had something to do with her outburst, though.  I’d just had The Little Chatterbox not too long before hand, and I was desperate to lose weight.  (Never mind the fact that I actually weighed less at that point than I had when Hubby and I first married, I was just SOOO Fat.  [Excuse me while I go barf at myself.])  But I know that, at that point, I was very vocal about wanting to lose weight and how disgusting I was.  So sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t just a little kid making a (very loud) observation, but her clumsy way of saying “but Mommy, you’re so much smaller than she is”.  (That’s the kind of kid she is and always has been – she always wants to help people, whether that’s physical help or emotional.  Hence why she gets the nickname The Little Helper.)

But children are curious creatures – and they will point out any differences they see, usually without malicious intent.  I remember when my youngest cousin Eric was little – about 4 or 5, I’d say – and I had gone over to his house (I was there a LOT back then… a couple of times a week, easy).  I was about 12 or so at the time, and when I walked in, he looked up at me and said “You’ve got some BIG boobies!”  I was already a D cup at that point, so what he was saying was simply true.  D cup boobies on a 12 year old ARE big boobies!  My aunt and then-uncle (they divorced about 2 or 3 years later) gave him hell for saying it, and I’ll admit I was feeling really uncomfortable at the time.  But now?  I can look back on it and realize that he wasn’t trying to be naughty or anything… he just couldn’t help but notice how I was built (few people could) and remarked on it.

So on the subject of children remarking on the differences in people… be that fat or something else… I have to say that the way we REACT to those remarks has a lot more to do with teaching them whether they’re right or wrong.  If a little child comes up to me and says “you’re fat,” the way I react to it is going to tell her whether it’s an okay thing to say or not.  That’s part of where my re-educating my children comes in.  When they were younger and would say something like that, my response would usually be a resigned “yes, I know.”  But now that I’m trying to view fat in a different light, my responses are so much different.  We tend to talk a lot about physical differences in our family – partly because we have a blended family and we don’t all look alike.  (My oldest 2 both have brown hair and brown eyes while the rest of us have blond hair and blue eyes.)  So the subject comes up a little more often than it does in most families, I think.

But that’s where we first learn this whole fat=bad dichotomy.  From other people.  It’s not something we’re born with – it’s something we learn from listening to and watching other people.  Now in older children… yeah, I think the “we shouldn’t remark on other people’s bodies, PERIOD, because that’s just rude” talk needs to be had.  But when you’re talking about young children who are just expressing their curiosity about the world around them… then really, it’s your own reaction that’s the most telling.

But this quote:

actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.)

really got to me.  Because that’s essentially what I did.  It was part of my Fantasy of Being Thin – this wasn’t the “real” me, because the “real” me was thin, sexy, and beautiful.  The “real me” was obscured by all of my fat.  Um… no.  The REAL me is and always has been RIGHT HERE.  She isn’t THIN, sexy, and beautiful… she’s FAT, sexy, and beautiful.  She already is almost everything I’ve ever wanted her to be.  And those things she hasn’t achieved yet… well, she’s only 32.  Chances are, she has a lot of time to grow and change.  But the more I really LIVE in my body (as opposed to EXISTING in it, like before), the more my perception of myself has changed.  Do you know… in the last 8 months (since I found the Fatosphere), my eyes have lost a good 30 or 40 pounds?  What do I mean by that?  Well, it’s like this: my BODY hasn’t changed much at all in those 8 months.  My hair is shorter and has been a couple of different colors since then, and I’ve developed some ROCKING thigh muscles, but my weight?  Hasn’t budged.  Nor did I expect it to.  But when I see myself, I see someone that looks a good 30 or 40 lbs. less than what I saw before October of last year.  I say this fairly often, but I really think it’s true: I think I have/had undiagnosed body dysmorphia.  Because when I saw someone who was easily 100+ heavier than me, or 10+ dress sizes larger than myself, I thought I looked like that.  My EYES were fatter than my body.  I have always seen myself as larger than I am.  Until recently, that is.

It’s like finding the Fatosphere and actively taking steps to try and accept (and eventually love) myself has pulled the wool from my eyes and I’m really and truly seeing myself for the first time.  What’s really there, not just what *I* think is there.

And honestly?  Trying to become more comfortable with the word “fat” and developing different ways of responding to that word has had a lot to do with that.  And since the topic seems to come up so often in my house, it’s actually helped to speed it along a little.  Each time the topic comes up, I take a few more steps down the road to full self-love.

A couple of the comments on Kate’s post really got to me though.  For example:

Not that anyone here has done it, but I do have to say that some folks who are on the smaller side of plus piss me off, because they talk about their experiences of “being fat” as if catcalls and a lack of dates is all that we have to go through. They talk about all the cute clothes that finally come in large sizes and don’t realize that even plus-size shops don’t carry things in my size (hint: if your clothing line stops at size 28, you’re still cutting off millions of potential customers.) When you’ve lived several years of your life not even being able to fit in restaurant booths or airplane seats, you start to realize that the “problems” of being a size 20 or so really aren’t problems at all, and you really start to wish that people that size would stfu about how bad they have it.

That one shocked the hell out of me.  Not that I’m trying to play “one-uppance” or anything… but it just really surprised me that someone larger than I would actually think those things.  And honestly?  She has a right to her feelings.  But for most of my life I have thought of myself as insanely huge (for the record, I’m a UK 20/US 16-18), so to read something like that is just like…. whoah.  It just never occurred to me that someone would think that I, at that size, wouldn’t know what it’s like to “really” be fat.  It’s a learning tool, though.  Now that I know that there are people out there that think that way, I can be a little more aware of my language and the effects of said language on people.

And I have to give props… A Sarah wrote a couple of very well-written responses from a parent’s perspective.  I couldn’t have said it much better than she did.

The whole “queer” and “Aspie” sidetrack made me cringe just a little bit.  One of the last responses on that said something to the effect of “THEY’RE allowed to use that word, but *I’M* not.”  Yup, pretty much my take on it, too.  If People With Unconventional Sexualities feel comfortable calling themselves “queer,” then good on them!  Seriously.  But I could never bring myself to use the word.  I guess it’s because I was growing up in the 80’s – and People With Unconventional Sexualities were just beginning to have the opportunities to reclaim the rights they deserved all along.  And “queer” was still seen as an insult then.  I couldn’t bring myself to say that word to someone without having flashbacks of when people would use it as a slur.  And I don’t want to be slurring anybody.  Ya know?  Like the n****r word.  NO WAY IN HELL am I ever going to use that word.  But if they want to use it?  Who the hell am I to tell them they can’t reclaim that word for themselves?

Okay, I think I’m done rambling for now.

… but you never know! 😛

Sometimes kids can be great for your self-image

Note from The Little Helper

I went into the kitchen earlier to make some toast, and this is what I found stuck to the fridge.

Need I say more? 🙂

Edit: I just found out it wasn’t just The Little Helper.  It was The Little Chatterbox’s idea to make the sign, and The Little Helper did it.  That actually makes it even nicer.  Not just one of my kids decided to be sweet to me today, but two of them.  *tear* 😉

About… face!

I’m confusing my child.

I know it, and I can’t help it, and I wish I wasn’t doing it… but I am.

You see, I’m talking about The Little Helper, who is 10.  Well… 10 going on about 14 or so.  She’s way too mature for her age, although I have to admit that her peers are just as much to blame as anything.  Kids here in the UK mature way faster than kids back in the US do, I think.  I remember when I was 10, I was still playing with my Barbies and playing dress-up.  TLH, she really WANTS to still be playing with toys, but she recognizes that if any of her friends found out that she was, she would be absolutely vilified at school.  So while she really wants to stay a kid, part of her thinks that she has to grow up this fast, because “everybody else” is, too.

The problem is that she’s gained some weight in the last couple of years.  It’s been a gradual thing, not overnight.  And it all seems to have settled in her belly.  Her butt and legs don’t seem to have gotten much bigger at all, but her stomach has swollen so that she almost looks pregnant.  (I should also point out here that she has physically matured earlier than I thought she would: she’s been having her period for a few months now, it started back in June, I think.)  This presents a problem, because she wants to be all stylish and shit, just like the other girls, but having gained all her weight in her belly, it becomes hard for us to find things that not only fit but look good on her body shape.

What’s confusing for her is that for the first 10 years of her life, she’s heard me say nothing but negative things about my own body and my own fat, and now all of a sudden I’m telling her that it’s okay for her to be a few pounds overweight.  That there’s nothing wrong with the way she looks, and that if she wants to dress nicely we’re just going to have to experiment and find out what looks good on her body’s shape.

But I honestly think that even if I hadn’t discovered Fat Acceptance, I would be telling her something similar.  Because I don’t want my children to grow up with the same body-hatred and self-hatred that I grew up with.  I try my very damnedest to make sure that I don’t say a negative thing about the way they look, because I don’t want to do to them what was done to me.  (Body-hatred, like charity, begins at home.)  And I know it’s got to be confusing for them, but honestly, I just never thought that my hating my own body would affect my children at all.  In my self-absorbed view of my own world, my saying that *I* was fat and *I* was disgusting had absolutely nothing to do with my children at all, because I wasn’t talking about them.  I was talking about myself, and therefore nothing I said would affect them one iota.  Right?

Wrong.  I didn’t think about how children hear everything that goes on around them and internalize a lot of it (case in point: shortly after my husband confessed his affair, my then-4 year old looked at me and said: “are you happy now, Mommy?  You’ve been sad for a long time.”  Both of us had gone to great lengths to try and not let on that anything was going on, but even at 4 years old, The Little Chatterbox still knew something was wrong.  She might not have known what, but she knew it was something).  And now I’m hearing the self-hateful things coming out of The Little Helper’s mouth and I realize that I’ve done this to her.  I never meant to.  I didn’t think I was.  But I did.  And now I’m trying to undo the damage I’ve done, and I know I’m confusing her.

But I cannot – and will not – let her grow up with the same self-hate and body image issues that I grew up with.  It nearly killed me (literally; seven suicide attempts didn’t come from nowhere).  I will not allow the same thing to happen to my daughter.