THINGS THAT HAPPENED WHEN MY 8 YEAR OLD ASKED "AM I FAT?"
It was out of the blue and right before bed.
- •I had a few seconds of panic.Shit. Sometimes feminist parenting instincts have to be mobilized at a moment's notice.
- •I looked her in the eye and said, "No."Which is the objective truth. When what was going through my mind was so much more complicated and convoluted and emotional.
- •Then I struggled to find the right words.To tell her that I love her no matter what and she's beautiful no matter what. And that bodies don't have to look a certain way to be healthy or beautiful. I said a lot of things. I hope I said things that reassured her, and that worked against dangerous ideas about bodies and worth.
- •I asked, "Do kids at school talk about this stuff?"
- •She did some kidsplaining.It's always kind of amusing when kids assume you're completely ignorant of stuff that's new to them but has been around forever. In this instance it was Yo Mama jokes: "So, there are these jokes. And they're kind of not nice and they're called "Yo Mama" jokes [she even did the air quotes] and (a kid at school) is always telling them and a lot of them are about how yo mama is so fat." The jokes obviously set some gears turning.
- •I felt a little relieved.At least this didn't stem from friends agonizing over their weight or appearance or from a rude comment someone made to her.
- •But also felt not at all relieved.Because I remember elementary school birthday parties when all of us girls took turns weighing ourselves and comparing (and that makes me so sad to remember and write). And the fact that my daughter is hearing jokes that are not about her (definitely not anyone's mama) but is somehow personalizing and internalizing them. She's connecting the dots.
- •We finished our bedtime routine, I gave her a kiss, and said good night.You play the long game as a parent, but it's these discrete little poignant moments that shake you down and make you anxious and doubtful. I think I did okay, but life in real time is a lot messier than the speeches we write in our minds after the fact. I'm grateful for the long game.