“Mama, why can’t I be skinny?” Gulp. BREATHE. Don’t panic.
But, I can feel the heat rising up in my chest. Here we go again. She’s not even nine year’s old! Which “skinny” girl at school said something this time? I want to know! Because I will sit on that mean little bitch with my big fat ass and make her appreciate the importance of kindness and diversity! Uh… I, uh… didn’t just shout that out inside my head and write it down on paper, did I? No. No, I didn’t. Phew! “Payback Mama” appears to have left the building.
“Did someone say something to you today at school? Was it Bella again?”
“No, not really. But, why can’t my stomach be like hers?”
Hadn’t she overcome this nonsense yet? Have I not given her enough love, enough pep talks, enough support to push out all that crap on the playground, the toxic put-downs that eat away at a girl’s self-confidence throughout the day? I thought I had made a dent in my daughter’s fragile psyche with my last speech just a few months ago. That speech was stellar, jeweled with every adjective I could think of at the time: smart, beautiful, unique, loving, talented, gifted, funny, creative, determined, strong, generous, gullible. Okay, I left that last one out, but now, I almost wish I hadn’t.
“Honey, you are gorgeous exactly as you are. And you can’t keep believing what other people tell you about yourself.”
“She says I'm chubby and that my pants are too tight.”
Teaching your child to stand up to a popular girl with bedazzled clothes from a wannabe-Disney-set store at the mall is much harder than it appears on Wizards of Waverly Place. I don’t recommend that you try it the way it’s written on that show or on iCarly, because the episode usually ends with everyone hugging it out, agreeing to go shopping together, and then the whole thing starts up all over again.
Our last serious talk about body types came after another startling accident on the turnpike to pre-adolescence, an expressway I didn’t think we’d be driving down until age ten or eleven. I was minding my own business, picking up dirty socks from the hallway carpet, when I looked up and crashed right into my eight year old daughter posing in the bathroom mirror, sucking in her stomach so hard that all I could see was her rib cage sticking out.
What happened to my last textbook heart-to-heart homily about celebrating your body and its unique shape, loving every inch of yourself? It seems to have disappeared into the optical illusion that a parental pep talk can completely erase a child’s self-doubt and the outside influences that surround our children. Because here we are again back at square one, and I’ve read all the books. This time, I want a speedy fix to get through yet another learning curve about how to raise a self-confident daughter. If only there was a Raising Happy, Healthy Girls for Dummies. But dummies can and do carry consealed weapons.
“Bella’s Italian too.”
“We’re Curvy-Italian. And you’re half Brazilian, don’t forget, so that makes you a gorgeous combination of curves and, well… curves.”
“But, I don’t want curves! I want to be skinny!”
It’s down and dirty time now. I am rolling out the big guns and pointing them directly at “skinny” with all the ammo I’ve got. My regular “good news/bad news” speech ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I was saving it for my poker face puberty speech, but pre-adolescent body trumps poker face puberty every time.
“Honey, I have some good news and some great news for you. Which do you want first?”
“What do you mean great news?”
“You heard what I said… “
“I want the great news first then.”
“You have curves!”
“What? Then, what’s the good news?”
“There is no bad news.”
“Don’t Mama Mia, me. No one -- not a girl like Bella or anyone else -- is going to make you believe that you can’t be curvy and healthy, strong and beautiful.”
“You really think so?”
“I really, really, really think so. But, do you?”
I think I just married my daughter to herself… Curvy Italians aren’t that dumb after all, it seems -- for now, for today. I will need to find a tutor, though, to help me rewrite that poker face puberty speech. Clearly, it will require many aces up my sleeve. Hopefully, I still have a few more years to work on it. Either that or I’ll have to take a job in Vegas.