Fat talk has been my vernacular since before I got my braces off. Though, somehow I deluded myself into thinking I would break the habit once I became a mother. For years, it was not unusual for me to stand in front of the mirror and say things like:
I feel so fat right now.
Does this outfit make me look huge?
I just ate so much cake. I’m gross.
Is my stomach sticking out?
I didn’t used to have cellulite. Here, see? Look at the cellulite. LOOK AT IT.
My friends would one up me, claiming their cellulite was seriously gross, that they could never get away with wearing skinny jeans, or that their thighs were absolutely ginormous. One friend even told me she hated her knees.
We treated fat talk as a competitive sport. How could we not? We had been fed the same lessons from the Manual of Womanhood:
1) Never simply say “thank you” to a compliment on your appearance. Instead, you must make a disparaging remark about yourself e.g. “Oh you like my shirt? I love the long style because it hides my ass.”
2) The correct response to your friend’s despair over her hair/face/body is to exclaim about how much worse you have it.
My husband could barely stand to listen to me. Sometimes he would indulge me, assuring me that I was beautiful. Other times, he refused to dignify my complaints with a response. And sometimes he would shake his head and ask, “You’re not going to talk like this in front of our kid are you? Indignant, I would exclaim, “Of course not!”
And then our baby was born. And I realized that quitting fat talk was not the cakewalk I had anticipated. It didn’t matter how much I wanted my daughter to develop a healthy body image. I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
So I made excuses. She’s too young to understand what I’m saying. Even if she understands, she can’t talk yet, so I have a few months till I really have to quit. I’ll quit soon. Anyway, I always tell her I love her little body. I find her chubby tummy especially delicious and she knows that. And her pudgy thighs! I adore the thighs. She’ll be fine. She’s not really watching me.
Except that’s not true. It never has been.
When my daughter only was a few weeks old, I would lay her down on her back on the bathroom floor while I scrunched product in my hair and applied my makeup. I’d glance down intermittently and catch sight of her eyes darting around, following my every move.
When my daughter was eight months old, I noticed her holding a stray piece of fabric up to her face and blowing hard through her nose. It took me a second to realize she was imitating me. I’m quite sure no one else has ever cared to watch me blow my nose with a handkerchief, much less mimic it.
When my daughter was 12 months old, she would root around in my clutch whenever I paid for something. She would go straight for my lip gloss. Once she had it in her chubby fingers, she would “apply” it to her lips. (That she lacked the dexterity to unscrew the cap was a detail of no concern to her).
By the time she was 15 months old, my daughter would go to the closet, grab the broom and the dustpan and drag them around the house. (Though if she were really paying attention she’d have focused on the 2 foot radius surrounding her high chair).
Now, at 18 months old, she’s trying on my shoes and my clothes. She helps me wipe the table with her bib and she scrubs the floor using my bath brush . She walks around the house randomly saying “Okay….” Which is something I never realized I had a habit of doing up until now.
My daughter’s eyes are on me. And I’m still making disparaging statements about my body, albeit not as often as I used to. I would be lying if I said that was because my self-awareness and body acceptance have blossomed since I became a mother. It’s probably because I weigh less than I’ve ever weighed as an adult. But that doesn’t mean I won’t complain about the half full water balloon shape my breasts have taken on now that I’ve weaned.
I want to believe that my body is beautiful, every single day- even if my belly is bloated, despite my butt sagging a little, regardless of the deepening lines around my eyes. And I want desperately for my daughter to think it’s normal for a woman to consider herself beautiful.
I try to limit my Fat Talk to times when she is not around. But just like animals smell fear, I think young children sense shame. I fooled myself into believing it would be easy to fully accept my body once my daughter was born. But I am not fooling myself anymore.
Body image is still an issue for me, and I know the answer isn’t to hide it. The answer is to deal with it. I’m not sure how to do this, but I am making it up as I go along. For now it means avoiding fat talk in my daughter’s presence. It means letting her explore my belly (as long as she’s not poking her fingers into my belly button). It means wearing a bikini when we go to the pool or the beach, even if it’s a little outside of my comfort zone.
If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s the importance of allowing yourself to make it up as you go along. Because none of it is as simple as you thought it would be.