I have a 15 year old daughter. Ever since she was born, I have been vigilant about the messages she gets from me and other members of the family. It’s really hard to know how to raise a daughter in a world that is doing it’s very best to squeeze her into a size 0 frame of reference.
Mostly, I’ve been lucky. She never developed a Princess obsession. I don’t for one second believe it was solely because I said things like “Princess isn’t a job” at every opportunity. It just wasn’t her thing. Cute animals have been her thing ever since she could string together a sentence. She used to look out the back window of our Toronto home and say “I want something what’s furry and lives in a cage”. Basically, she wanted a pet squirrel. Over the years, we have gone through 8 pet rats (they die every 2.5 years or so). We have Shelby the wonder dog and she rides horses with me at a lovely school barn near our house. We have spent many many hours discussing cute animals of various types and I have encouraged every second of this focus. Why? Well, mostly because it’s where she was at and children need to be met and acknowledged in that way to stay connected. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of my enthusiastic participation in the constant cute animal discussion of her pre-teen years was to keep her focus on the things that made her happy and to avoid or ignore all the gross media about girls and young women.
Adorable pet rat in a teacup. Who wouldn’t talk about this all day?
She is by no means an isolated teen. She has Snap Chat and texts and Kick. She has no interest in Instagram or Facebook (Yay) and I attribute this to her general good attitude about herself and this really cool self protection she has developed regarding all the things I worry and worry and worry about.
She eats what she wants and she is relatively physically active. When you ask her why she is active, she will say it’s because it’s fun. What she doesn’t reference is anything to do with what she looks like and nothing about taking up any less space in the world.
I’m telling you all this as background to a moment today that epitomizes the kind of moments women endure over and over again. If you aren’t thinking about it, it’s meaningless background noise. But I think about it all the time and it made me sad.
We were buying a new pair of snow pants because the ones we bought last year were too small. The women asked her size and brought her a few pairs. She came by after a few minutes and asked if the size was correct. My daughter said in her casual way “Not this pair that’s for sure” and flung them over the door. The sales woman went into crisis control mode. “Don’t worry hun, they fit small. Just don’t you worry. “ She then prattled on about how we all get “a little bigger over the holidays” but that she shouldn’t be worried at all. She also told a story about a girl who was “crying in the change room” last week but she assured her these pants “fit small”. It was a panic, for the sales woman anyway.
Later, I asked my daughter if she noticed the woman’s freak out when the pants she brought didn’t fit. She had noticed but she laughed and said it was bizarre. I wanted to know if the small pair of pants had, in fact, bugged my daughter at all. I wanted to give her the opportunity to talk about that and to check in if she was still as intact as I perceive her in this realm. I think she still is. We compared it to shoes. If the sales person brings you a 9.5 and they are too small, they bring you a 10. They don’t apologize and tell you not to cry over your size 10 feet.
So I just keep hoping and worrying and talking. I keep making myself an example of a person who tries to enjoy movement, eat what they want and normalize the variety of human bodies we inhabit. So far, it’s working. . .I think.
Shelby in action on our show shoe hike today. She sets a good example too.