On Body Image

Pete Wilgoren is out-numbed by a wife, two little girls and a dog named Cupcake.  He doesn’t stand a chance.  When he’s not scraping crayons and crusty food remnants from the seats of the car, he’s Managing Editor at KCBS KCAL in Los Angeles.  You can find him on Facebook at Dadmissions The Book.
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We were in Old Navy the other day.  Alicia and Andreya were trying on clothes, looking at dresses, shirts, skirts, pants and more.  It was our normal Old Navy trip.  Take a bunch of clothes.  Pile into the dressing room area.  And then prepare for the girls to come out one by one like they are walking the the world’s top fashion runways.  Each time in the past, time and time again, I could give an ooh or an ahh at the little girl outfits.  Each time in the past, time and time again, I loved seeing the smiles on their faces as they did the twirl in front of the mirror.  Each time in the past, we’d grab the clothes head for the register, and head out the door.  Only this time was different.  And it will never be the same again.

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Alicia is seven years old.  She is bright, tall, strong, and beautiful.  She is also becoming increasingly aware of the world around her no matter how much her mom and I sometimes try to shield her.  On this day, Alicia came out of the dressing room and did the twirl.  But there was no smile.  On this day, there was no ooh and ahh from dad right away.  On this day, Alicia looked in the mirror and said with a pout, “This dress makes me look F-A-T”.  She didn’t say the word, she just quietly spelled it out as she stared in the mirror.  ”F-A-T” she said.  It became obvious to me in that moment, that Alicia would never again look in the mirror without weighing her body image staring in the mirror back at her.
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On this day, she and I talked about why the dress didn’t fit as nicely as she wanted.  We talked about wearing a belt around her waist, and the Old Navy dressing room clerk who had witnessed this exchange, offered to go get us a couple of belts to try on with the clothes.  Alicia’s mom picked out a few new outfits with her and they tried on several more in the dressing room.  In the end, Alicia found a couple she liked, super-cute dresses like the ones you’d expect an adorable little 7 year old to be wearing.
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But the trip marked so much more than some silly dress at Old Navy.  Seven years of instilling in her that she’s beautiful inside and out, no matter what other folks will ever say or think, may have taken a major hit in one dressing room mirror on one Saturday for one little girl.   With the steady bombardment of TV images, magazines, music videos, unattainable shapes, and at least one parent who has always struggled with his weight, it’s no wonder, and I guess no surprise, that one little girl finally started taking notice of hers.
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But it doesn’t make it right.