Only two years and five pounds separates them, but they couldn’t be more different in every other way. Phaedra is long and lean: on the tall side for her age, yet rarely carrying a spare pound anywhere.
Bella is also tall for her age, but unlike Phaedra’ almost waif-like build, she’s sturdy — a solid girl who never misses a meal, and is strong enough to pick up anything blocking her way (including her baby sister and the dog).
Phaedra’s bathing suit hangs on her like a curtain, while Bella fills out every last inch of hers. Phaedra will probably have an extended awkward, lanky, gawky phase when she gets older. Bella will probably careen upwards in terms of height, and have the kind of curves most girls dream about having. Ironically, each girl will probably have the type of body the other girl would kill to have, because that’s how life works.
Once, my mom took the older girls to the park. She was pushing Bella on the swings when a little boy approached, followed by his grandfather. “I want to swing! Grandpa, can I swing?”
“You can swing once that little fat girl leaves.”
When my mom told me this story, I was shocked. Partly because she was telling me this story in my living room instead of through the bars of a jail cell after beating the fuck out of that old man (I’m sure it was close, though), but mostly because of that one word: fat.
To start, let’s be honest here: I’ve seen fat kids her age. Bella is not fat, or even remotely overweight. She’s not rail-thin like Phaedra, but how many kids are? Bella is at a healthy weight for her body and her age. To think someone could look a child her age and judge her to be overweight is unnerving.
Secondly, seriously, old man? You’re going to pin a (then) two-year-old with that word? You feel okay with yourself calling a toddler “fat” to her face? You, sir, are a terrible human being.
I’m raising future women. The older my girls get, the more I realize that this, in fact, is the world I’m raising them to live in as women. They are quickly approaching the age where they’ll live entire days without me, spending the majority of their day in potential contact with assholes who will pass their own stupid judgment on the beautiful
girls women I helped raise. Assholes who will utter a comment about her that they may forget about in thirty seconds, but just might stick in that girl’s head for the rest of her life. Did Bella notice that word, or even hear what he said? Probably not, but what if she had been five instead of two? What if she had been twelve instead of five?
I’m raising future teenage girls. Girls who will hopefully have a healthy amount of self-esteem, but realistically will probably judge their own beauty based on the opinions of boys, other girls, and what they see on TV and in magazines. Do I think they’re beautiful? Yes, and not in a blind “my baby is beautiful” way. They are each gorgeous in their own unique way, and I regularly tell them so in genuine, situation-appropriate ways. But I know that, at a certain point, my words will become meaningless. It will be up to them to decide whether or not they believe in their own beauty, to love their own body.
In the meantime, I wish a motherfucker would call my daughter fat within earshot of me.