I Was a Body Image Positive Mom — Until I Wasn’t
By Janice Quirt
Mar 6, 2018
For three years of my childhood, I was overweight – a fat kid. Chubby. Big boned. I have not been overweight since then, but I remember very well what it felt like. And it didn’t feel good.
Because of that experience, I’ve always tried extra hard to be positive and inclusive about all different body types. I strive to look for unique traits to highlight that have nothing to do with physical appearance. In our house we try not to talk about weight, or size, but rather about how we feel. Usually I think I do an OK job of balancing the extreme focus society has on looks, bodies and the unrealistic attainment of perfection.
Lately, though, I have failed on both ends of the body image spectrum.
Relevant Reading: Why We Don't Talk About Weight in Our House
I am a stepmom to teenage girls, and it isn’t always easy for us to connect. I’m not a girly girl, and have little interest in makeup, Kardashians or Snapchats. But the other day we were having a good, light-hearted conversation and I made a silly observation about my butt being too big to fit into the dining room chair (it’s not). It was a comment I would have made in my teens or twenties, designed to provoke a flurry of denial from gal pals – which it did, from the teenagers. But at what cost? I felt like a sellout. I felt like I had let them down. I felt like a pretty horrible role model. I vowed to be more aware of my words and their effect.
Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better. All of our combined kids are slender. My daughter is downright skinny. She reminds me of how the younger sister in Flowers in the Attic is described: pale, blonde and with toothpick arms and legs. More because I am concerned for her health than anything else, I have started to talk to her about the importance of eating more food – specifically proteins, healthy fats – and that she doesn’t need to worry about limiting her food. In fact, from time to time, she can have a chocolate milkshake to get a bit more meat on her bones.
I felt like a sellout. I felt like I had let them down. I felt like a pretty horrible role model. I vowed to be more aware of my words and their effect.
Now that got her attention. She looked at me with big eyes and said, “Mom, am I too skinny?”
In the past I have always said that no, she was just the right size and shape for her body. But I was tired. And yes, I worry that she is too skinny. Sometimes I don’t even know how her legs carry the weight of her body. So I told her that I wanted her to try to gain a bit more weight in a healthy way, and that it was possible to be a bit too skinny. The message must have stuck, because she came home from school telling me that her friend had called her skinny, thinking it was a compliment. My daughter let her friend know that being skinny wasn’t necessarily a good thing and didn’t make her feel good about herself.
Sigh. Fast forward to one hectic night, with all the kids buzzing in and out of the kitchen. My daughter and stepdaughter were doing homework together at the island. My stepdaughter, herself a tall, slender type, asked my daughter in a quiet voice, “Do people say you’re skinny?” My daughter agreed. My stepdaughter, said confidingly, “They say that about me too. But do you like your body?” My daughter shyly nodded in agreement. “Then that’s all that matters,” said the wise teenager.
Relevant Reading: What Motherhood Has Taught Me About My Plus-Size Body
Somebody here is the positive role model for my daughter. It isn’t always me. I fall down and make mistakes. But I learn from my daughter’s reactions. I learn from my reactions. I definitely learn from positive role models all around me, like my teenage stepdaughter. And I will keep remembering to champion that bodies come in all shapes and sizes.