I tried to imagine it away. Maybe it wasn’t really there, and when I double-check in the morning, I’ll realize that tonight’s moments of crazed panic were all for naught. I mean, really now, an armpit hair on my 8-year-old? STOP THE TRAIN, y’all. I’m not ready for this ride yet.
No, I do not live under a rock. Yes, I am perfectly aware that puberty is a thing. In fact, I have been holding my breath and aware that my time as the mother of a not-growing-up little girl was coming to a close for quite some time now. I’m sporting DDDs that started out at B-cups when I was my daughter’s age because training bras are for pansies, people. In fact, these babies used to be GGGs until my breast reduction when I was 24. So, really, I kinda saw this coming. I was just hoping for an extension on my little staycation from reality.
It’s not that I’m in denial. It’s more that, as a woman with a history of body image issues and eating disorders, I was happy to ignore the signs of maturing. If I am right and that single little hair—the potential game-changer—is still there in the morning, I’ll be consulting Dr. Google regarding time travel and YouTube tutorials for building my own Tardis.
It’s not that I’m afraid of my little girl growing up on me. I’m just not sure how to explain to her that so much bullshit comes with the gig. As a self-described life-long recovering bulimic, here are the top five reasons body-image-related reasons puberty has me running scared:
1. As her body begins to change and her awareness expands as she grows older, she will learn that she is supposed to hate what she sees in the mirror. Her friends will diet and say things like “OMG, I’m so fat,” and start packing SlimFast in their lunch boxes. They will begin to take pride in denying themselves the nutrients they need to grow just to feel the satisfaction of starving themselves down 5 pounds they couldn’t afford to lose.
2. Little girls might stop being best friends for an afternoon because of silly and adorable reasons forgotten about before school the next day, but Big Girls (and grown women, for that matter), can be downright mean and vindictive. She might, by the grace of God, grow up never giving a damn what anyone else ever thinks about her body, her clothes and her hair. How do I protect her from the hurt if the bullshit turns out to matter?
3. She eats when she is hungry. She pats her belly happily when she is finished with a good meal. She is active to be healthy for body and have good energy. These are all positive ways in which I reframed the status quo in our home because of my own history. But her world will expand, and the world happens to be full of assholes.
4. We don’t own a scale. One day, she will watch a friend stand on one, look down, and process their reaction. Celebratory or not, she will learn the power of The Number and decide for herself if she’s buying into the bullshit ideal that the scale is the gatekeeper to self-worth and happiness.
5. She got her father’s legs. What if she inherited my emotional baggage? What if, no matter how hard I’ve tried to raise her strong and self-assured, I missed something?
Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing even if there is a single hair signaling the start of puberty. Maybe she is and always will be the self-assured little powerhouse who likes to blurt out little bits of wisdom like, “Yourself is Yourself, and who can argue with that?” and never gives a single fuck what other kids think or say.
Maybe. But just in case, I’m getting on this train and going for the ride with my daughter. I might be scared to let go. I might be scared of what may come. But I’m smart enough to know this isn’t my journey.