My daughter is perfect. She is smart, clever, funny, and kind, with a touch of sarcasm and naughty mixed in. She is beautiful, with an eclectic sense of fashion and big blue/gray/green eyes. I’ve never looked at her and saw anything except my intrepid little girl with mismatched clothes and a mischievous glint in her eyes.
At least, not until a few weeks ago, when we had her six-year well-child appointment.
The appointment was fairly standard: height and weight measurements, vision check, hearing check, spine check, and lots of questions. Is she in a booster seat? Yes. Does she wear a helmet? Yes. How long does she sleep? 10 hours. Did she have a flu shot? Yes. Does she exercise? Plenty. Hours of screen time? Probably more than she needs. Dairy… juice… fruits and vegetables… The questions went on.
“Looking at her growth chart, it appears that she is at the very top of her healthy BMI. We need to keep an eye on it.”
It took me a moment to register what the doctor was saying: that my daughter, my perfect little girl, is almost overweight.
And before I knew what was happening, in the span of just a moment, I betrayed my daughter.
I looked at her body, not to see her pink cheeks, blue eyes, sticky little hands, or round little belly, but to find fault. To see what was wrong. To discover her failings. With the utterance of just two sentences from her doctor, my perceptions of my daughter, and myself as her mother, altered drastically.
That made me angry – and so utterly ashamed.
I am angry that I was expected to look at my daughter’s body with judgment. More than that, though, I am so incredibly angry and ashamed with myself for actually looking at my daughter’s body with judgment.
When I learned that I was having a girl, I vowed to do everything in my power to raise her to be confident, to be proud, and to love herself inside and out. I vowed to teach her that beauty is skin deep. It’s just a socially constructed idea that imposes limits on our worth. I vowed to teach her that healthy is not synonymous with thin. I vowed to teach her that our bodies are meant to be admired and respected, never criticized or shamed. Most importantly, I vowed to teach her that no one – absolutely no one – has the right to make her feel inferior.
Including her mother. Especially her mother.
My job as her mother is to be a positive role model. My goal is to be a model of the person I want her to become. I’ve always been careful to say only positive things about myself in her presence. (If only I could take that one step further and only say positive things about myself, period.) I don’t body shame myself or talk about diets or weight in front of her. When I wear makeup, I make sure she knows I am wearing it for myself and no one else. But despite my vows and everything I’ve tried to do and be as a positive female role model in her life, in one fleeting moment I betrayed her.
For this, I feel overwhelming shame and guilt.
I feel shame for looking upon her with anything but love and adoration. Guilt piles up when I tally my failings as a mother: for not loving to cook, for being busy and not meal planning healthy recipes, for using treats as a reward system, for not taking her outside every night to walk or ride her bike, and for being too tired most mornings to pack her a healthy home lunch for school.
Because moms don’t already feel enough guilt for a plethora of other reasons, right?
This guilt is something I’ve put on myself. Her doctor did not stare at me with accusatory eyes and chastise me for doing anything wrong. I know that children go through periods of crazy growth spurts and then nothing at all. Her check-up was in January, which I realize is smack in the middle of the coldest month of the year and post-holiday fun. I understand that people tend to carry more weight in winter; our biology is wired that way, and there is, you know, holiday pie.
The shame, unfortunately, runs a little deeper. I need to forgive myself. I get to be her mother for the rest of my life (and I plan to live a long time) so I know there are going to be more moments of shame in my future. There is no perfection in motherhood, and I am going to make mistakes. I cannot let those mistakes derail my plans for raising the confident girl I hope she becomes. I need to be kinder to myself and I need to be better at forgiving myself.
It all comes down to this: if I am not a positive role model in my own life, how can I possibly be one in hers?