I remember all too well, my dear daughter, the day the world first told me that I was fat.
It was the sort of moment that burns itself into your heart in an irrevocable way, and I have lived it over again so many times since then.
I was nine years old, and I had recently “broken up” with my fourth-grade “boyfriend.” As elementary school romances tend to go, he had given me a Valentine’s Day card which wasn’t nearly creative enough, and I politely told him to step up his game. And then the whole darned thing was in shambles before I could even give him the friendship bracelet I had braided for him. WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS. As I was walking through the cafeteria at lunch, holding my tray of pizza and chocolate cake (hey, Friday), I slid my shoulders back and held my chin up as I braced myself to walk past the table where he was sitting with all of his friends. I deliberately averted my eyes, and then I felt something cold hit my arm and heard an eruption of laughter at their table. “Why don’t you eat that, you moo-moo?” he sneered, and then I looked down and saw the Blue Bell “Mooo” Bar on the ground.
It took a few seconds and an entire lifetime for me to understand that he was basically calling me a cow. (Again, zero points for creativity.)
Oh, daughter. I would stand in a thousand Wal-Mart checkout lines with screaming triplets in tow if it would mean that you’d never have to endure the crushing humiliation I felt in that moment and in the years that followed.
The thing was, until that day, I never really knew I was overweight. Sure, my Limited Too jeans were generally a size or two bigger than my friends’. And I usually wanted two packages of Gushers, while they were satisfied with one. But that was just me; I was the quirky kid who overused the word “obviously” and liked to sing. In that cafeteria, though, I became the “big” girl. The one who constantly crossed her arms in front of her stomach. The one who never wore a two-piece swimsuit to a swim party.
I wore the shame of my weight for so long. Thankfully, athletics slimmed me down during middle and high school, when kids are the cruelest, but I have battled the scale my entire adult life. And I look down at you, sweet girl, with my DNA and my very own face, and know how important it is that I get this right.
So come close, and hear me well.
You are beautiful. You are. You have a lovely smile, a head full of wild, curly hair, and your Daddy’s eyes. And you’ll be beautiful no matter what any boy in any cafeteria says to you in a moment of rejection and disappointment.
But you are not your beauty.
You are not your body.
You are your heart and your soul and your brain. You are your voice. You are your kindness and your friendship. You are your courage in the scary. And your perseverance in the hard. You are your falling down and getting back up again.
These things will define you. They will be the measure of your mark on this world.
Today you are blessedly oblivious of all of this, but you will undoubtedly feel pressure, someday, to look a certain way. To wear your hair down or up or blonde or brown. To wear these jeans or carry that backpack. When you find yourself faltering in a sea of everyone else’s expectations, kick yourself up to the surface and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that who you are will never depend upon what you see in the mirror. And if others condition their love or friendship on your appearance, they were never really yours to begin with.
So be bold, my love. Laugh loudly. Uncross your arms and walk tall.
Because, while here are many reasons to be good to our bodies, other peoples’ opinions should never be one of them. And I have found that people will love you for who you are and not what you look like. Those are the people you want to lean into and stand with because they know the truth:
You are beautiful. And you are so much more.