These exact words came out of my daughter, Sophia’s, mouth the other night while eating dinner. “I’m not a green bean, Mom.” I said, “Do you mean a string bean?” At first I giggled, and then I stopped, knowing exactly where this conversation was heading. And hating that we were about to have it. She said, “Yeah, I don’t look like my friends.” I asked her what she meant by that. She told me that she was “bigger” than all of them. She said that they all had skinny legs and skinny tummies. They were skinny. And she wasn’t, she said.
I wonder if my resounding sigh could be heard across the world. It held so much weight and meaning that I could not express to her. How do I respond to this? What are the right words?
I looked in her eyes, and I said what I believe, “Sophia, you are beautiful, just as you are.” She said, “But why I am I bigger than all of my friends?” Then she hit me with something I never wanted to hear. She said, “Mom, you are skinny. And you want to be that way. I don’t look like you either.”
Wow. Again, could my heart breaking be heard across the world?
I sat and quickly collected my thoughts. I had to say something that mattered. That made sense to my beautiful daughter who didn’t think she was good enough, all of a sudden. I tried to explain to her that I wasn’t “skinny,” I was “fit.” Big difference, I clarified.
I tried to put it in plain words. Being “fit” didn’t mean being the perfect size. It meant having a strong, healthy body. A body that can run fast, jump high, lift heavy things. It enables us to enjoy our lives to the fullest. We can’t compare ourselves to others, because everyone’s body is different. I told her we need to fill our bodies with healthy foods to nourish it properly. I explained the importance of exercise, using myself as an example. I tried to make her understand that I eat well and work out to keep my body “healthy” not “skinny.” I tried to say everything right.
Unfortunately, I could see that this line of conversation wasn’t registering exactly. Sophia is 10 ½ and sees girls on Disney channel that she wants to look like. Period. She doesn’t care about being “fit.” Or she doesn’t make the connection between her body, fitness and healthy eating, rather. How can I fail to make my words sink in? I can’t fail.
One thing I never wanted for my children was to worry about their weight -- for the simple reason that it has tormented me for a good portion of my life. You may think that “tormented” is a rather strong, descriptive word to use, but just ask my own Mother. She will explain that it fits just right when describing my battle with “perfection.” I should add that I was never overweight. I just thought I was. I compared myself to women in magazines, or girls I knew with twiggy legs -- just as my daughter is doing now.
I despise that our society has dictated what our bodies should look like. What is beautiful and what is not? What is the perfect size and what isn’t? But what I hate even more is that I bought in to these misconceptions wholeheartedly for most of my life. This doesn’t make me unique -- either does the fact that I can still fall victim to negative self talk and wishing that I could be just “a little bit better.” But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t pray, realistic or not, that my daughters would bypass feelings of insecurity, or low self esteem, or buy in to the same mistaken beliefs that I did.
Here’s the thing. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to feel like you’re not “perfect.” It’s not easy to make your children believe that they are. It’s especially not easy in a world where beauty and flawlessness is exalted above seemingly all else. There are no simple answers here.
So what do I do? I guess I will continue to do what I have been. Be the best example I can for my children. Encourage healthy habits. Lead them in the right direction -- towards fitness. Provide realistic pictures of strong, healthy, CrossFit women and women athletes of all types. I will support them. Tell them they are wonderful. Explain that they couldn’t be more perfect in my eyes. That they are perfect in God’s eyes. And that they were made in His glory. I will try to do my best to accomplish this, make them believe this. I will love them. Then love them more.
And maybe try to convince them that “green beans” are overrated.