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Guest Post: “On Having a Girl”

February 9, 2011

When I decided to do the Symposium on Body Image, I asked one of my favorite bloggers, Scary Mommy, the Blog Queen, to participate. I don’t think I’ve ever read a post of hers I didn’t like. (And I’m picky.) Fortunately for me, she graciously agreed, and here is a post of hers about what it’s like to have body issues and a daughter who you hope won’t inherit them.

Enjoy, comment, and click on over to Scary Mommy to read more fabulous writing.

On Having a Girl

by Jill Smokler (Scary Mommy)

Having a girl is hard. I mean, mine isn’t even six yet; she’s years away from puberty, and it’s still hard…

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I have issues with food. I am beginning a diet for the 397th time on Monday. The Monday after Thanksgiving, as I have every year that I can recall. I aspire to again fit into my skinny-ish jeans. Not the skinny jeans that I wore in college or the even skinnier ones I wore the months leading up to my wedding, but the skinny-ish ones I wore after I had Evan. Before that, I was at my smallest weight ever months during the months after Ben was born. His hospital fridge was stocked with Enfmail and Slimfast. I was motivated. I was ready. And I got there, but just couldn’t maintain it. It’s actually the reason I went off of birth control pills; the notion of being able to eat again over-rod my fears of having another child. A year before that, I intentionally got pregnant with Ben to be pregnant during my college roommate’s wedding. Being the knocked up bridesmaid was far preferable to being the heaviest one.

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Lily refuses to wear flowy clothes. She claims they make her look “flat” and by “flat” she means “fat” and it’s tragic and funny all at once. She’s not even six years old for crying out loud.

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When I was about ten, I stole a candy bar from a supermarket. I clumsily shoved it in my pocket while an off duty security guard watched and reported it my parents who were mere feet away. I know they were concerned: What deep-seeded issues did I have? Did I need therapy? Have an eating disorder? What should they do? Nothing, I thought. I just wanted a fucking candy bar.

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Lily has been sneaking food from home. I find wrappers under the bed and smell chocolate on her breath. I see myself in her and it scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to be like my parents and limit junk food so rigidly that it becomes an obsession, but I feel like she needs strong boundaries. She’s built like a dancer and probably will never have the issues with weight that I do, but I want to do right by her. I am determining a life-long relationship with food for her, and the responsibility overwhelms me.

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Being a girl is hard.

Having a girl is even harder.

Thanks, Jill, for your honesty and wit, and for participating in the Maladjusted Symposium. I’d give you a candybar anytime.

How do we change the world for our girls? How do we help them love their bodies?

Image: “Young Girl” by venturout via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.
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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

LZ @ My Messy Paradise February 9, 2011 at 8:15 am

I worry so much about this, too. I have 2 girls, and grew up doing gymnastics. I worried about every pound and how a slight gain or loss made me look. I remember sneaking Double Stuff Oreos every morning and denying when my mom asked who ate them all :-)
I think I’m going the a bit extreme with my kids, though. I don’t impose many limits on snacks, hoping that they don’t see junk food as taboo and, thus, more desirable. We’ll see what happens. I’ve heard young kids complain about being fat or needing to lose weight and I really worry about that day…
Good luck to both of you with your girls!

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Jana February 9, 2011 at 10:41 am

Aw. But Double Stuff Oreos are so good. Good enough that they can leave off the “ed” and I don’t even care.

It’s funny that you mention the Oreos thing. Way back when I was a teacher at a girls’ high school, I remember hearing a girl behind me tell her friend that her mother wouldn’t allow Oreos in the house. I thought that was crazy. Because you can be sure that if I wasn’t allowed Oreos, I’d find a way to get them. So I think you’re doing the right thing, LZ. It’s obvious that her mother was projecting some sort of fear onto what her kids could have. I think it’s a good idea to have healthy snacks be the dominant snacks in one’s house, but occasionally, you gotta give a kid a cookie. And in my house, my skinny boy wants LOTS of cookies. I have to treat my girl the same way, with the same rules of “treats” when she is old enough to request them.

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TheKitchenWitch February 9, 2011 at 9:23 am

Jill, I love you. I love you even when you’re not writing so honestly and thoughtfully about an issue that tears my heart apart, too. I know exactly the panic you’re feeling. My 9 year old said the other day, “You know what’s great about me, Mama? I can eat a ton of food and not get fat.” I HIT THE FUCKING ROOF. “Who said something like that to you? Where did you hear that? When did somebody talk to you about this?” I grilled her like an FBI investigator.

Her eyes got wide and she didn’t have an answer for me and she looked at me like I was crazy. And I realized I was. I will always be.

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Scary Mommy February 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I had the same exact reaction when my daughter used the word for the first time. Sigh. I’m with you in the crazy club.

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Mrs.Mayhem February 9, 2011 at 9:43 am

This post gave me chills. I have two daughters — one is naturally stick thin and the other is not. My husband has commented (to me) about limiting the heavier daughter’s food intake, and I freaked out on him. I try to teach and enforce good eating habits, but I am not about to tell my child that she can’t eat when she is hungry. I will steer her in the direction of raw veggies or fruit. My husband’s mother and sister are anorexic and another sister is bulimic. I would rather have my daughter be a few pounds overweight than have an eating disorder.

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KQ February 9, 2011 at 10:03 am

I am the heavier sister. I remember not knowing that there was a difference until I saw my mom reading “How to Fat Proof Your Child.” I still remember that is had a watermelon on the front. I think it is really important that if there are limits or lessons on food, both children get it. Even if the thinner one can risk the extra snacks, it still isn’t healthy. The kids will notice the difference, quickly. Also something I remember, and still notice to this day, is that my sister’s compliments are more about being pretty and thin and mine are more about being smart and funny. My sister is smart and funny too. I am pretty and really not that fat. There is no reason why we can’t both be all four things. I am sure if we talked about it, she’d have feeling of resentment for not being seen as smart and funny too.

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Jana February 9, 2011 at 10:42 am

I think your instincts are right on this one. You have to treat them the same. And I couldn’t agree more–a few pounds and a feeling of self-worth is so much better than starving oneself.

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Scary Mommy February 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm

100% agreed. But, ugh. So hard.

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Justine February 9, 2011 at 10:39 am

I’ve battled with food issues for a long time until I gave birth to my daughter, and since then, by not having it consume me, I’ve had a healthier relationship with it, and hope that my daughter will too.

You’re right, having a daughter IS so hard because you feel like they’re watching your every move, emulating your every good and bad habit, so it becomes at once a burden and a privilege to show them the “right path”. However, if we’re lost ourselves, how would they ever get there? Besides, the older they get, the battle is no longer just with our own demons, but that of the world and its influences on our little ones. OY!

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Jana February 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

I wonder if my reaction to this will be any different because I had a boy first? If I’m being super-positive, I can hope that having a boy first has enabled me to relax about certain things that I was always very worked up about (women’s issues and neuroses, etc.), and maybe be calmer for my daughter.

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KQ @ Roots and Wings February 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

I think you are lucky in this case to have a boy first and perhaps your daughter is lucky to have a brother and not a sister. I love my sister, I can’t imagine a world with out her, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a brother too. Would I have been more confident about myself when it came to boys growing up? Would my size be good enough and pretty enough because there is no other female to compare to? Are girls with brothers thinner because they try to keep up with the unlimited energy little boys seem to have? Does it really matter? Probably not. But, there is an interesting balance in a family of four, with one boy and one girl.

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Kate February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm

We see ourselves in our daughters in ways that I imagine would be impossible with sons. Our struggles are seen in theirs. I know my mother added a ton of her baggage to me because she saw us as similar.

Every day, every day, I ask myself am I reacting to this based on her experience or on mine? Am I adding my baggage to my five and a half year old? When my emotional response to something is huge (like comments about fat vs thin), I have to reel myself in. This is her experience, not mine.

I think it’s important to teach our children reasonable portions, but saying you cannot have something always makes it more desirable. We don’t have dessert every day. We don’t have candy around. But, we do have it. My oldest can still throw out a half cone of ice cream when she’s done. Damn, I wish I had that skill.

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Scary Mommy February 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm

My son can do that, too. He eats what he feels like and tosses the rest, even if it’s the most delicious thing ever. I am so envious of that.

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KQ @ Roots and Wings February 11, 2011 at 10:42 am

I think the ability to throw out a delicious, ‘bad’ food item comes from the belief that it won’t be the last one we will be allowed to have, ever. We have given our adult selves such rules on what we can and can’t put in our mouths that when we have the “forbidden fruit” we don’t want to stop. One of my forbidden fruits is mac and cheese. The other day I bought two boxes instead of just one. I think knowing that there was another box on the shelf made me eat less rather than more. The second box still sits on the shelf. If your kids don’t have these “food rules” in their heads, more power to them.

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Elizabeth@newmomagain08.wordpress.com February 24, 2011 at 8:50 am

My husband can do it too. He can toss a half a bag of popcorn too. He’s portion control personified. Not me.

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Vanessa February 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Unfortunately, this time around I did not read the book club picks but I have been keeping up with the Symposium on Body Image. This topic really hits home, as for the others who have previously commented, because I too have a young daughter and worry about her own self esteem.

I wanted to share a book I just finished reading yesterday, The Family Dinner by Laurie Davis, because studies have shown how “eating meals together helps reduce obesity, increase healthy eating, and immune kids against some behavior problems (Davis viii).” Not to mention the self-confidence it instills in our children.

In her book, Davis quotes Mary Hartzell, a child development specialist and author, who states “Eating is your child’s job. Your job is to provide healthy, tasty food. What and how much they are eating is not a worthy topic of your dinner conversation (16).” If I follow this easy guideline then my dinnertime is a lot less stressful for everyone. If I am providing my daughter with healthy food, why should I care how much of it she eats? Life is a balancing act and so should be our eating habits.

Perhaps my comments seem a little off topic but I feel, like Laurie Davis, passionately about the benefits and need for family dinners. I know this may not be the cure for all dysfunctional eating behaviors but it is a good preventative. It definitely goes in line with most of the guidelines (2, 3, 5, 6, &7 specifically) for eating as laid out by Roth. Us, rebels, may not do well with guidelines but family traditions we are more apt to follow…why not start a new family tradition tonight that may help our daughters build their self esteem.

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Jana February 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I agree that dinner is really important. I actually remember when I was self-conscious in high school, fascinated by eating disorders. I couldn’t understand them but was also in awe of the will they exhibited. I thought that there was no way I could even try, though, because my mother would know if I wasn’t eating. We had dinner every night together.

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Vanessa February 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I am glad your mother insisted on dinner every night for many reasons, especially if it kept you from struggling with an eating disorder. Your comment brought back a memory of an exchange student we had, not for very long, that had an eating disorder. The reason we knew this was because we had dinner together every night and watching her eating habits and bathroom usage so quickly after eating gave us a clue. Just two more examples to fuel my fight for more family dinners across the globe.

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Gale @ Ten Dollar Thoughts February 10, 2011 at 10:34 am

When I was pregnant with my son (we didn’t know he was a boy) in moments of real honesty I would admit to myself that I wanted a girl. As one of two sisters the existence of a girl was most familiar to me. But in the months after he was born I was so grateful to have a boy. As I learned more about the pitfalls of raising girls I began to feel like I dodged a bullet. I battled eating disorders off and on throughout high school and college, so I know how slippery that slope can be. Perhaps strangely there’s still a part of me that would like, at some point, to have a girl. But it scares me all the same.

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Kath February 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I once stole a candy bar too. I recognize now, as an adult, where that bad behavior came from. In my house growing up there was never any dessert, or candy, or snacking. Well, maybe not never, but rarely.

When I was overweight in high school, I was taken to an LA Weight Loss center, and weighed in front of my mother and a few strangers while I cried. Then I was signed up to meet with a personal trainer 3 days a week. When that didn’t produce the results my mother wanted (because I rebelled and didn’t really change my habits) I was taken to therapy. Family therapy. Luckily, the therapist spent most of the time trying to diagnose my mothers issues with my weight, not mine. Again, this didn’t produce the desired results.

In college I finally took control of my body and started to lose weight. Over a break I told my mother that I would not discuss my weight with her at all anymore, and asked that she keep all of her comments about my body, good and bad, to herself. Luckily, she obliged, but the scars from our past are deep, and I still struggle to accept myself and my body because for so long I was taught that there was something wrong with me.

I know I rambled a bit there – but Mothers – tread lightly when it comes to your daughter’s weight, your actions and words will affect her relationship with her body for a very, very long time.

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Elizabeth@newmomagain08.wordpress.com February 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, I freaked. I had always thought I’d wanted a daughter, but the reality of the situation hit it as soon as I heard the word “girl.” As the mom of two boys, I’d never really had to worry much about body image and issues such as eating disorders. I adore my daughter. I can’t stand to think about her judging herself (or others) based on her weight or any other external factor. Even worse, I can’t stand to think of her feeling bad about herself based on anything I say or do because of my own body image issues. Ugh. Parenting is such a huge responsibility anyway; somehow it seems even huger with a girl.

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