Last night, after drinking gallons of watered down apple juice and milk, LE pushed her small belly against the fabric of her nightgown. It rounded out and sloshed.
“Mama,” she said, with true sadness, “I look fat.”
It had the effect of a starting pistol, cleaving the uneasy anticipation and sending me on a marathon run that will last at least the next 20 years. The race is on. The next thing I say matters, oh it matters.
“Nah, your belly is just full cuz you drank so much. And besides, so what if you did look fat? You’d still be the cutest girl in town.”
She looks unconvinced and confused. I push on, thinking of my own mother’s constant, quiet disgust with herself throughout my childhood. And her even quieter, sadder disappointment that I turned out fat, too.
“Mama’s fat!” I say, rubbing my belly in an affectionate manner. “And I’m still really pretty.”
“You’re not fat Mama,” she says, because she is a gentle sweet girl and doesn’t ever want to hurt or disappoint me.
“Sure I am!” I smile at her. “But so what? I wear pretty clothes, kiss a handsome man, and have lots of friends! It’s ok for people to be fat.”
In the next second she is distracted and wanders away, and I am left, my mind bent over at the knees, panting for air. Did I do it right? Are her little synapses processing like I want them to? Is the connection between fat and disgust dissolving while her confidence calcifies, gaining strength to support whatever body flaws she will invariably have?
When I tell her being fat doesn’t matter, I know I’m lying. It doesn’t matter to me, safely tucked into my 30’s, with true love, sex, and popularity secured. But when she’s 13 it will matter. When she’s 20 it will matter. It will always be in her mind, even if she never actually gets fat.
I don’t pretend that my body love indoctrination will be much competition for the world she’s going to face. But god it’s something, a tiny bit of comfort to clutch when the assault begins. No, when the assault continues. It’s already started.