When I was a little girl, my dad would yell at me for grabbing extra snacks or cookies. He thought he was being a good parent by preventing me from becoming overweight, like he was. He battled with his weight his entire life, and, understandably, he wanted to alleviate that struggle for his daughter. Unfortunately, all he taught me was that my weight is what defines me. I know the "Big is Beautiful" campaign is about body empowerment, but I won't teach my daughter that "Big is Beautiful." In fact, I refuse, because I don't want her to ever concern herself with her body. I don't want to empower her by focusing on her body, I want to empower her by focusing on all of her.
I was an average kid in terms of weight. I didn't concentrate too much on how I looked, and I was way more concerned in beating the boys in the neighborhood in swimming or running competitions. I was a relatively active kid and I spent most of my days running around the neighborhood playing and giggling with my friends. I used my body as I saw fit, and considered it to be a tool and not a thing for admiration or ridicule. But as a teenager, I became more aware of how my body was perceived by others. While I was not overly concerned about gaining weight, I suddenly cared about what size my jeans were. I wore a size zero, but that wasn't good enough anymore. I started concentrating on my stomach, too. I was thin, but I didn't have a six-pack, and the girls in the magazines had six-packs. I was thin, but I didn't have toned arms, and the gorgeous models had toned arms. I was thin, but suddenly my "thin" wasn't good enough. The size of my jeans mattered more than anything else.
In college, I gained a significant amount of weight and, as a result, I was no longer thin. I was borderline obese, in fact. I forgot all about the six-pack, all about the toned arms, and all about my version of thin that failed to meet the standards I continued to see in magazine. Instead, I started to focus my education. I earned a high GPA in most of my classes, I learned critical thinking skills, and I honed my talents. I met a boy and fell in love. I did all of those things, even though I was no longer thin. I was a big girl and I was fine. Still, I won't teach my daughter that "Big is Beautiful." Why? Well, because my husband didn't fall in love with my body or because he believes "big is beautiful." Instead, he fell in love with me. He adored my humor, my wit, and my personality. He fell in love with my drive to help others and with my ability to comfort those who need it most. My body was secondary to literally everything else about me. But I couldn't see it, because I was told my body meant more than my anything else. I couldn't see it, because I was always blinded by what I felt I was "supposed" to look like.
Just like I won't tell her "Big is Beautiful," I will not tell her "Thin is beautiful," "White is beautiful," "Blond and blue-eyed is beautiful."
As a big girl, I couldn't run. I couldn't chase my kid through the playground. I herniated my back. My knees hurt. I was constantly out of breath and covered in sweat. I didn't feel beautiful because I didn't feel well. I felt sick. I definitely didn't feel beautiful, and while I don't speak for everyone, nor do I want to, I don't think telling my my daughter "Big is Beautiful" is going to help her in any way. I refuse to draw constant attention to her body. So just like I won't tell her "Big is Beautiful," I will not tell her "Thin is beautiful," "White is beautiful," "Blond and blue-eyed is beautiful." I will never make her feel that her body is more important than anything else about her. I will never teach her that her appearance is somehow a life-changing, defining characteristic about her. I will not allow my daughter to feel as though being "beautiful" is the most important part of her existence.
I will, however, tell her she is a beautiful person. I will commend her every time she is kind and every time she makes the right choice. I will compliment her style, her temperament, and her inner-self. I will tell her confidence is beautiful, strength is beautiful, healthy is beautiful, and empathy is beautiful. I will tell her determination, wit, and humor are beautiful. I will teach her that the word "beautiful" has been misused to the point that it now focuses only on outward appearance, but beauty isn't about your body, big or small. Instead, it's about your entire self. It's about the whole package. It's about makes you uniquely you.
So, no. I will never tell my daughter "Big is Beautiful" because I wish I didn't place so much of my self-worth on the number on the scale. I wish I had the opportunity to grow up without a constant nagging feeling that my body defines my beauty. But while it's too late for me, it's not too late for my girl.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.