There is a little girl who comes into Curves [Editor’s note: now closed] whom I adore. She is chubby. Her roly-poly body parts squash together the way our bodies do before we lose our baby fat.
She has bright, intelligent brown eyes and a beautiful smile. She has a way of getting the giggles in the middle of the room, surrounded by women at least 50 to 60 years her senior, and suddenly everyone is laughing and smiling. She is fearless. Often I turn around and she is dancing and singing loudly to the music, eyes closed in front of everyone. She has a way of asking me the most amazing questions, ones that simply remind me how beautiful and funny childhood really is.
Not long ago she said, “Isn’t it great the way your boobies swing everywhere you go?”
She is just hitting puberty and is just getting her first bras. She also asked if it was possible for her to get a hysterectomy now, because getting your period sounds gross. (Amen).
Lately she has been more self conscious, a little worried. Someone who loves her told her she needs to lose weight. Someone who is an authority in her world told her she is fat. She has to start thinking about what she eats. She is too tomboyish and not girlish enough.
So her food is restricted, avoiding snacks and fats, sugars, or maybe carbs. She is already learning that she is too much and not enough. She is not allowed to do things with the boys anymore. Not manly activities allowed, no fishing or playing rough or just being a child anymore.
I think this is dangerous ground.
She is only 9.
I have no children. I am not an authority on parenting, nor do I pretend to be. But I get scared whenever anyone talks to young girls about weight. I get scared when anyone starts to teach young girls to be afraid of food. How to diet is a lesson you need not learn as a child.
In fact, I see women binge, restrict or stop eating altogether because of their complexes about food and dieting they learned in their youth.
I hate to see this girl struggle against something she does not need to understand; struggle against something I learned too early, before my body had a fair chance to see how it would mold itself.
Maybe I am quick to judge, but I see myself in that round little face. I see myself wanting to be pleasing, I remember yo-yo dieting forever, not eating sugar, and then not eating bread for months at a time. I remember succeeding and failing, in turn, feeling my worth judged solely by the number on the scale, the size on the clothing label and the amount of space I took up in the room.
My character was secondary to my physical appearance, to the amount of weight I shed, or had shed, or worse – gained.
I could be wrong, but I think people talk to young girls differently than they do young boys. My brothers came through adolescence unscathed, and with a general acceptance and personal comfort in their bodies. I don’t remember them ever dieting. (Well, my older brother was on Weight Watchers recently, but never as we grew up.) We never talked about their diets, their weight or their weigh-ins. I feel like we talked about mine for the entirety of my life. Not just in my home, but everyone, everywhere, had something to say.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. What they do not tell you is that everyone in the village is not equipped to give advice or to criticize, because each villager is carrying his or her own baggage, ready to transfer it to the next person.
Eating disorders and issues with food surround me in my family. Cousins and aunts have been anorexic or bulimic. I think they have passed that simple self-hate women can know so well onto the next generation.
I wonder if people realize what they pass on in their lives. Outside of good books and priceless heirlooms, family stories and hopefully, good sense, we can pass on our basic dislike of ourselves and our bodies, our disorders and/or addictions.
I spend 90 percent of my time with the women of my club. My favorites are all the ones who love themselves now — in this moment. That’s my hope for my little friend. I hope she knows she is enough the way she is. I hope she learns that it all gets better as she grows.
And no, I do not like the way my boobies swing across the room with me. That will come, too. It is called gravity.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, you can find information online at the National Eating Disorder Association website nationaleatingdisorders.org, or you can call toll free at 206-382-3587. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time.
Editor’s note: This a best-of column that was originally published November 26, 2008.
Caitlin Moore will always want to play third base for the Giants, but until then she spends her time dancing in the living room and hoping she can make childhood last a little longer.