I have a happy story to tell.
If you’re like me, you’re tired of women and girls feeling ashamed of their bodies. What they look like. What they do. How they change. So you’re raising your kids of all genders to love, respect, appreciate bodies of all kinds—theirs and others—and the changes those bodies go through.
Like I’ve said before, “I’ve been called fat, skinny, curvy, thin, big and small all while at the exact same weights/sizes. People’s opinions vary. What matters is our own. My opinion is that if we own an opinion that we look great, period, we are on our way to being the healthiest and most beautiful we can possibly be because we believe we are beautiful exactly as we are.”
So we do the work.
We talk to our kids about what is and has been going on in the world, we give them books to read that reinforce the idea that differences are lovely, we share our own stories, we wear affirming t-shirts, we refuse to show shame in our own bodies as they change.
I believe doing this is the best way to make our kids grow up with an immunity to the attacks that will come their way about how they look, the skin they are in. I also believe it’s an effective way to make them the kind of people who don’t attack others.
Parenting isn’t easy because we do out best and then just kind of have to wait to see if what we’re doing, saying, teaching, modeling, hoping for comes to fruition.
Are they listening?
Do they believe us?
Do they agree?
So it’s kind of nice when we get the good news.
But let me back up a little.
Like, to 2012.
(This part might sound familiar, but stay with me—there’s more.)
I had been sitting on a toilet, feeling surprised and kind of insulted, when I realized I had an opportunity before me like no other.
It began with the need to pee: first my five-year-old daughter, then me.
As I was sitting on the toilet and she was washing her hands, still without pants, she declared, “Mama you have fat legs! Not like mine—look at mine.” She ran her hand along her twiggy little leg, like Vanna White showing off prizes on Wheel of Fortune.
I looked down at my lumpy pale thighs in comparison, squashed against the porcelain throne’s seat like bread dough that refused to rise.
In a flash I was back in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, talking to my own mom.
My mother said some disgusted comment or another about what I was eating, and how one day I’d know what it was like to have hips like hers.
I was befuddled. Already well into my teen years, my hip bones simply protruded from my body at sharp angles. I poked at them, feeling nothing but skin and bone.
I replied, “I don’t get it. How can bones get fat on them?” I was genuinely curious. I looked to her for an answer.
My mom got all flustered and her voice shook. “You wait and see.” Then she ran from the kitchen, locking herself in her bedroom.
That scene was twenty-five years ago, before I truly understood how much my mom hated how her hips looked.
If I had been a more sensitive, easily influenced girl back then, her reaction to my thinness and her desire to be thinner could have made me fear weight gain. Made me think it was normal to be disgusted by my own changing body. Made me believe in one ideal physique, which was not genetically in the cards for me.
I refused to let this conversation in the bathroom end as badly as that one in my mom’s kitchen could have.
I took my eyes off my blubbery thighs and looked at my daughter.
I said, ”Good job, you’re right! There is more fat on my legs than yours. When you become a grown up, you get all sorts of beautiful curves like this. Isn’t that exciting?”
She looked at her little legs, then mine, then back to hers. Then she smiled. “I’m gonna look like you when I’m a growned-up?”
“Yep. And I looked like you when I was five. It’s kind of fun getting to look different when you get older, dontcha think?”
She started hopping excitedly, and replied, “Yeah! And I get bigger and older every day, Mama!”
With a smile on her face, she dashed out of the bathroom feeling confident in her current skinny legs, and looking forward to what the meat of motherhood might do to her hips twenty years from now, leaving her pants and a hopeful mom in her wake.
Now fast-forward six years, to November 2018.
I was sitting on the couch in the dark with my now 11-year-old daughter watching a movie.
Caught up in the story, I don’t think she realized she had slipped into an old habit and crept her hand onto my stomach to rest.
You see, we love bagels. Have you ever noticed that when you make an “O” with your hands around your belly button and press in, it looks like a bagel?
So in my family it is a totally normal thing to pretend you’re stealing someone’s bagel—which includes tickling and belly poking, because families are weird and silliness is our favorite.
However, I had some health issues last year that put a stop to this.
They caused terrible pains in my abdomen, made it almost impossible to eat, and resulted in surgery. This all left me sore, scarred, and down about 40 pounds.
Immediately after that, I had a breast cancer scare that required a biopsy that added yet another scar (now we’re up to five!), more soreness, more flinching when people came anywhere near the front of my body.
I wasn’t myself for a long time. I was weak, tired, sick. Not the soft, cuddly, playful mom my kids loved.
I knew I had to be patient while recovery took its time, so I didn’t dwell on that. I also didn’t dwell too much on how my being unwell had affected my kids.
Okay, fine: I couldn’t let myself think about that.
And then many months later, I found myself in the dark on the couch with my daughter.
After a few minutes, her hand scooted up my shirt’s hem and kind of…smooshed me. Squeezed a little. And she gasped, bolting upright to face me.
“Mom! Your belly fat!” Her eyes twinkled in the flashing light of the TV, a huge smile plastered across her face. “It’s BACK!”
This from a middle schooler. A girl who is now often surrounded by peers and messaging that insist stomachs should be flat, thinner is better.
I laughed. “You’re right! It is! Isn’t that awesome?”
She replied with a gleeful, “Yeah!” as we both looked down at my exposed belly and she squeezed one more time with my full permission, knowing what this meant: I was myself again.
I was healthier and happier than I’d been in a very long time. We both breathed easier, understanding that the swell of my belly was exactly what we had been waiting for.
As our attention turned back to the movie, I felt two distinct things.
First, that the pantless little girl who skipped out of the bathroom six years ago was, as I had hoped, listening to me all this time, so was growing up able to see just as much beauty in soft, squishy bodies as her own.
Second, that she was totally trying to steal my bagel, and I loved every minute of it.
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I bought my tee at Eryn Amel’s shop.
Kim Bongiorno is an author, full time freelance writer, and the blogger behind Let Me Start By Saying. Her latest publication is the essay “This One is for the Ghost Girls” in YOU DO YOU, an anthology about the female experience written by authors ages 12-65 for readers of all genders, ages 12 and up. Learn more by connecting with her: Facebook · Twitter · Instagram · Goodreads · Amazon.com · BookBub · Newsletter · Book Announcement Mailing List