This post has been sitting in my draft folder for over a month. I’ve written it. I’ve deleted it. I’ve written it again. I’ve edited it. I’ve cried. I’ve yelled. I’ve been sad. I’ve been protective. I’ve been angry. I’ve tried to forget that I even started this post.
After I let it sit again – and by “it” I mean the encounter as well as my heart, I almost decided just to walk away and let this go. But I think that maybe it’s something that people should hear.
So I’m hitting publish right now. And I’m vowing not to walk away from this issue and be silent. I’m doing this for our daughters.
Dear Mom At The Gap,
She noticed you too. She did. My daughter did. My child. She heard you. She heard every word that you said. She saw the look on your face as you said it. And you hurt her.
And instead of being excited about a new jacket that I offered to buy for her for her birthday, she told me that she didn’t want it and asked if she could just wait for me outside of the store while I finished with my return. I asked to go with her, but she told me to just stay in the store and finish as she was fine.
I watched her through the store window. Her head down as she sat holding hands with her little sister. I kept my eyes closely on her as I stood in line. Wanting to be near her and explain what just happened. Because she’s a child. A child.
I thought about grabbing the jacket she loved again and buying it for her anyway as a surprise. But would it always remind her of what she heard. What you said.
Let me tell you a little bit about my child. My child that I’ve known for nearly 12 years. The child that you hurt – with your 10-second observation and shaming words.
My beautiful child was born a preemie. Weeks early in an emergency delivery, she was born tiny yet perfect in every single way to me. Her limbs were thin – without time in the womb to develop the beautiful baby-squish we all expect. She instead was angular, fragile, and fine. And even as she grew as a toddler and into grade school, her frame was always slight with beautiful and almost magical wispy limbs. Yet she grew tall.
You don’t have to look much further than her dad or me to see where her body structure came from – we both have thinner frames, small bones if you will, and are tall.
My child is an incredible student. She is grades ahead in math, was reading at a tenth grade level by first grade, and always finishes in the top during the school spelling bee. She also loves music and is a gifted pianist though you would never know as she only plays for herself (or for us, if she thinks we aren’t listening).
My child cares deeply for others – watching her sisters, insisting on taking turns, never going first, and volunteering on the school community service club.
My child is quiet and doesn’t like to be the center of attention. She encourages others to take the spotlight and is an incredible cheerleader.
And my child is a beautiful dancer. She’s been taking dance for nearly eight years at a studio that embraces all children who truly love the sport.
Yet sometimes my child comes home from dance sad. Because she feels different. Looks different. She’s turning 12 soon – hormones raging, middle school angst starting, uncertain about life as she starts to define who she is, what she loves, etc. You remember the time of uncertainty, right? Sometimes she comes home from dance in tears because her legs look different or she can’t make them do what she should be able to do. Her legs are so long and thin that they truly do not come together. Do not touch. Do not work in many ballet positions. She is frustrated, yet doesn’t give up.
And I have those talks with her that all mothers do – that she’s beautiful and perfect and brilliant just the way she is. That her body is just the way it’s supposed to be. I tell her stories about my own adolescence and my thin legs, and about her grandmother getting teased in middle school when she was told it looked like she was “walking on toothpicks.” We giggle at how absurd life can be. And for a while she forgets that she feels she looks different or “wrong” compared to others.
You see, my child is 11 – almost 12 – with no signs of puberty anywhere except for the fact that she’s grown about seven inches in the past year while barely gaining an ounce of weight. She’s become almost as tall as I am – yet with the waist of a five year old, no fat cells to speak of, no hips, no breasts, and no other indication that she’s becoming a woman soon.
And I can give you the benefit of the doubt with your statement that – perhaps because of her height – you mistook her for someone maybe 16 or 17. But that doesn’t excuse what you said. What you thought. What she heard.
Because she is not you. She is not even me. She is an individual who deserves better. To not be “skinny shamed,” if you must, when you said to your daughter, “My god, look at how skinny that girl is – she’s obviously sick and anorexic and needs help.”
You have no right to judge another person. A child. How dare you decide you have the right to shame anyone because of their body or mind or by how they look. Why as a society do we continue to belittle and judge other women because of their looks and their shapes? Why do we continue to feed this industry that is intent on making us all want to be perfect – whatever that means? And as mothers, I expect better of all of us.
So my daughter, my child, fled the store with her baby sister to get away from you, when just moments ago she was happy and looking in the mirror at her reflection – wearing a jacket that she fell in love with. She’s gotten so tall this year that she can now wear ladies tops, and this was our first trip into a store to try something on in that department. She’s had a hard year – growing tall so quickly – do you remember that weird stage when clothing didn’t fit right? Everything was either too short or too long or too small or too big – that year or so as you transitioned from the girls department to juniors? Yeah, that’s where she is. And this is happening while she already feels somewhat uncomfortable with her thin legs and height. It’s a hard road to travel with these pre-adolescent girls. How we find these moments of joy between the moments of uncertainty. And you, you just made it a little tougher for her.
After my child walked out of the store, I approached you and told you that I heard you and that SHE heard you and that you had no right to do that my child nor to your child. I told you that my daughter was 11 – and about the inches she’s grown, and the puberty not starting. But I shouldn’t have to do all of that explaining, because you should never body shame a child, or anyone. And you kind of apologized with a quick “I had no idea she was not a teen” – but I need you to know that it’s no excuse. I need you to know that when I walked out of the store and took my child in my arms and talked about what happened, and that she’s incredible, and I explained what anorexic means – that even though she smiled when I suggested a Starbucks so we could just move on with her day – that this encounter will most likely stick in her mind forever. You still remember things like this from middle school, right?
Somehow dammit, as mothers we need to stop the vicious circle of judging and shaming and start figuring out how to better send messages of health and self-acceptance and love. And I know that’s hard to do with increased societal pressures and plastic surgery Groupons in our inbox daily. But I truly believe it can be done and if we all just take a simple first step as mothers and women and just stop being so damn hard on one another.
CONTINUE READING ON THE FRONT PORCH
This post was syndicated with permission.