For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with my weight. I can't remember the color of my first backpack, can't really remember what type of bedsheets I had when I was little, and I can't remember what my 2nd grade teacher looked like. But, I can remember exactly what my first bathroom scale looked like. Actually it wasn't mine. It was the bathroom scale in my parent's room. The scale was oval, dark brown, and had large black numbers in the transparent screen at the top. It had a textured top, too - kind of like little triangles scattered in a geometric pattern. At every chance I could get, I used to sneak into my parent's bathroom and step on the scale.
Weight was always an issue in my family. Not sure if it was cultural or just something that occured in my own extended family, but the phrase "Hello! My, you look so fat!" was the said in place of "Hello! How are you?" Everyone commented on how fat someone had gotten.
I know I was a pudgy kid. For a little Asian girl, I had a butt that protruded out. Standing up straight, the natural arch in my back accentuated my 6-year old bum more than any other kid I knew. And, because I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, went to an all-white school, every other kid I saw had a stick straight figure. I stood out in lots of ways.
I went on my first "diet" at age 11. By the time I was 13, I started skipping school (sorry, Mom and Dad!) just so that I could spend the day working out. But, I always did indoor aerobics so that none of the neighbors saw me running around the block and call my parents. By the time I was 16, I was doing 300 sit ups every morning. But, it was when I was 18 that my obsession with weight hit an all time high. I counted every calorie that went into my body, and every calorie that was burned off. Four years of college, and being surrounded by wealthy, skinny classmates didn't make it any easier. I did this all while writing my Honor's Thesis on "Eating Disorders." How ironic.
I knew I wanted to be a young mom, but I feared being pregnant. My husband and I talked about what it would mean for my body to change, for my stomach to get bigger and, more importantly to me, for the numbers on the scale to get higher and higher. Through some preventative measures, I ended up being just fine with the weight gain. And, for the first time in my life, I embraced my growing body.
Being pregnant, seeing the beauty that grew inside my body, was very healing for me. I gave birth to the most beautiful and precious little girl. And, on the day she was born, I looked her in the eyes and promised that "weight" would never be something that I taught her to fear. Who would have known that, two years later, those same eyes would betray her with cancer.
For years, I fought having a scale in our bathroom. But, with additional pregnancies, I wanted to make sure I was gaining a healthy amount of weight. Six months after the birth of my son, the scale is still in there.
The other day, I stepped onto the scale just as my daughter walked in the door. "Oh, Mommy! I want to weigh myself too!" I froze. I didn't want her to weigh herself. At 6-years old, she is at the same age as when I started my first diet. My daughter is built similar to me. She has a little bottom that arches out. She also has legs that are twice as long as her body, and she is in the 90% percentile for her height. "50 pounds" said the scale. How do I react? Do I say "Ooh! Cool! 50 pounds!"?? Do I say "Yes, 50 pounds."? Or do I not say anything at all. As I thought of repercussions of each statement, I realized the growing silence was also sending a message. "50 pounds, Mommy! Is that good?"
Is. That. Good.
Those words hung in the air. I began to feel my tears come to the surface. I wanted to say, "it is what it is", but she wouldn't have understood that. Instead, I heard the words, "50 pounds. 5-0 is fifty. Okay, let's go get dressed," and I took her out of the bathroom.
How do we do this? How do we raise body positive kids? I wasn't one. I'm still not one. I'm in my 30s, and while weight is something I've grown to embrace, it's hard to shake the 20+ years of being cruel to my body. And, more importantly, cruel to my mind.
How do I teach my girls to embrace their bodies? How do I teach them that their body structure - as a reflection of their culture - may be different from others? How do we teach children to loosen their interpretations of what is acceptable, what is beautiful, and what is criticized?