Saturday, May 19, 2007

Body Image at Age Six

I was wondering if I would come up with a blog topic today, and then my daughter dropped one in my lap.

She mentioned something about being too fat.

"You are not fat, darling," I reassured her. "You are perfect, and you have a perfect six-year-old body."

"Well, my teacher thinks I'm fat," she said.

"Well, she can kiss my shiny pink ass," I refrained from saying. Instead I asked her to clarify. "Why do you think she thinks you're fat?" I asked her.

"My tummy was sticking out when we were in ballet class, and she told me to suck it in during the recital," said M. Peevie innocently.

I was thinking, "She did NOT say that!" but I held my instantaneous rage in check and kept going. "Are you sure that's what she said?" I asked her. She was sure.

This brought back every microgram of shame I felt as a child who felt fat during my growing up years. I never remember a time that I did not feel fat, and I look back on photographs of myself, and I was far from fat. In some of my school pictures I was even pretty slender, and in most of them I was average height and weight. I don't think I was actually overweight until I was in high school, and even then, I think that my self-image was actually far worse than my actual appearance.

I remember being maybe 10 or 12 years old, and as I was buttering my bread at dinner my dad said to me, "Don't put so much butter on your bread--that's why you're so fat!" I left the dinner table crying and ran up to my room. To his credit, my dad knew he'd screwed up. He followed me upstairs and came into the room where I was belly-flopped on my bed. I think he apologized, but honestly, I can't remember. I guess the damage was done.

Maybe you're thinking, wah, wah, wah, it was a long time ago, get over it already. I am over it, but the takeaway from that tiny little episode of pain and neurosis is that I never, ever want to cause my kids to feel shame about themselves. (I probably have, and/or will, and someday the world will read about it in a blog!) And the other takeaway is that I am ready to kick some toned ballet teacher ass over this event.

I was relating this conversation to Mr. Peevie, and C. Peevie (age: not quite 12) was listening in. Being the voice of reason and maturity, he--C.P., that is--reminded me that it was possible that M. Peevie didn't quite get the story right, and that I should give the ballet teacher the benefit of the doubt. Crap. I rilly, rilly just want to go in there this week and rip her a new one, and relate the conversation to the ballet school owner as well. But C.P. is right, darn it all--I must first hear her side of the story.

But I swear, I am prepared to go off on her--in a controlled and mature manner, of course--if she did say something like that to my daughter. There is just no excuse.

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