I don’t blog about my opinions very often. There’s a reason I write fiction and not non-fiction and that is that, as my husband will attest, I can get a bit … bolshy about the things I’m passionate about. Equal marriage rights, refugee rights, indigenous rights, the right of an animal to a life of kindness, free of abuse … All those things fire me up big time. Trouble is, they also make me emotional. And when I get emotional I don’t articulate my opinions clearly or cogently. I tend to get fired up, babble, get confused, get up upset and then cry.
Hence the fiction-writing. Hence the lack of blogs about things I really care about (writing excepted).
But maybe today the mother-hormones are doing funny things, because I feel compelled to write this blog. I might babble a bit. I might end up crying (I’ll try not to as I’m hugging a sleeping baby and I don’t want to get her wet). I just have to do this.
So what is it that’s got me so fired up?
It’s this article, from Mamamia.
I’ll repost just a little bit of it:
It feels like some shameful secret I’m supposed to hide – my joy that my children have strong, lithe, healthy bodies.
When I enter my local aquatic centre, I shudder at the size of some of the kids in their cossies. I murmur a prayer of thanks that mine aren’t carrying all those spare tyres.
Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t love my children less if they were large. They will always be my sweethearts, no matter what. And I will always foster their self-esteem, no matter what. But I really hope – for their sakes – that they stay thin.
The article has already generated nearly a hundred comments on Mamamia.com.au, some agreeing with the author’s stance, others vehemently arguing that her preoccupation with her children being “thin” is, in fact, a much more damaging example to set them than her self-confessed few extra kilograms.
I fall into the latter group.
As someone who’s had issues with her body image her entire life (Too skinny! Nose too wonky! Feet too big! Flat bum! Too many moles! Legs a funny shape!), it is so very crucial to me that I foster a positive body image in my daughter. Not that I imagine for one second that this will be an easy task – I’m sure my mother tried with me and I still ended up this way. And the reasons I’m like this are complicated. I guess I’m the classic eldest child in many ways. I strive to be perfect, for attention, for approval, “so people will keep loving me and not leave me”.
Yes. At thirty. Pathetic, I know.
And that’s not my parents’ fault. Not at all. My insecurity is my own monster.
So what am I trying to say here? I guess my goal as a mum will not be to “tell her she’s beautiful”. On the other hand, I know I’ll say it. Because she is. She always will be, to me. But my aim will always be to make her feel like she’s enough. Just as she is. She doesn’t need to be a certain way, behave a certain way, look a certain way, to be loved. Whatever she is – that’s enough. If she does well at school – great. If she gets a kick-arse job or marries the “perfect man” – awesome. But, you know what? If she wants nothing more than to work in a job-that’s-just-a-job and concentrate instead on baking fantastic cakes; if she marries a man without a penny to his name, as long as she’s happy I’ll be ecstatic.
And, if she isn’t happy, sometimes, that’s fine too. I’ll be there for her no matter what. Because insisting on constant happiness is also damaging and …
Gah! See, what did I tell you? I’m babbling.
To get back to the topic of the article, it’s been worrying me lately that people have started to describe my girl as “chubby”. As if it’s a bad thing that my daughter – born at 2.1 kilos and down to 1.7 a couple of days after birth – is now thriving. Has our obsession with avoiding obesity become so acute that a very normal-sized (in fact, she’s still slightly small for her age), baby is now something to be feared? I’m proud Tiger’s got a bit of weight in reserve. If she ever (heavens forbid) gets sick, she’ll need it.
And, when she’s older, I’ll do my level best to ensure she stays healthy. But the reality is, she might be healthy and bigger. It’s unlikely, considering her genes, but my girl might not be thin. And far out, that’s bloody okay with me. Because you can be healthy and not thin. You can be thin and very sick. Health is not a number on a scale.
My girl will eat vegetables aplenty, and lean meat (no, despite my own choices, I will not raise her vegetarian), and grains and eggs and cheese and all the good things but she will occasionally eat pizza too. And fish and chips and sausage rolls and jelly slices and gosh-darn fairy bread because I remember eating all those things as a kid with such joy.
My girl will experience joy.
Because, unlike what the author of this article contends, food doesn’t always have to be just about sustenance. It can be about fun, too.
In my writing, I am proud that I examine issues of body acceptance. I’m proud that I present strong, healthy women as main characters. I know I have a lot of work to do in feeling that way about myself but I’m determined to, to set a good role model for Tiger. But what I weigh won’t be her example. How I act and what I say and believe will be.
I’m working on that.
I’m working on it so, when she’s older, she never feels like the children of this author will feel when they read this article – that what they weigh is more important to their mother than the joy they feel.
There. Done. Sorry for babbling and, if it sounds as if I’m on a high horse here, I’m not. I’m a work in progress when it comes to this stuff, with a long way to go, but I’ll do it for my little girl. Because she’s worth it.