“You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me…? She..is ..nine..”
I could hear the words coming out of my mouth – a hissing sound, quiet, but filled with anger. If I hadn’t have been in a busy shop with Mini-Me, who had come out of the changing cubicle to show me the clothes she was trying on, I would have let rip at the woman standing nearby. Her presumably innocently intended comment directed at my daughter had instantly ignited a fuse and I was furious.
“That looks lovely – you’re tall, though, like your mum! You’ll have to make sure that when you grow up, you are as skinny as her!”
How dare she make a comment like that? I didn’t know whether I wanted more to punch her, or put my arms around my daughter, block her ears and protect her from the utter madness and irresponsibility of this woman.
I am increasingly alarmed by how we approach the subject of body weight with children and how, at such young ages, they have a perception of what physique is deemed as desirable. Of course, promoting healthy food and lifestyles is extremely important – I’m not for an instant criticising that – but projecting our insecurities and unrealistic expectations onto a child is so very wrong. I know mothers who encourage their eight -year -old daughters to go to the gym to get ‘swim suit ready’. Yes, children need to be switched on to exercise, yes they need to realize that their weight is directly related to their health, but they absolutely do not need to be doing the ‘Insanity’ workout with their obsessive mothers at home.
I have to be extra careful with Mini-Me. To put it mildly, I’m pretty rubbish at eating properly, especially at times of anxiety, stress or sadness. Most women comfort eat when things are tough; I comfort starve. It’s my way of having control over something in my life when everything else seems out of my hands. Having left the US, I dropped 10lbs during my first two months in Vienna, and the difficulties of the following year left me very skinny indeed. I’ve slowly put the weight back on again, but I have to be extremely careful. I look back at photographs and realize how unhealthily thin I was at the time – 5’8” and weighing in at under 110 lbs. Even US size zero (UK size 4) clothes were baggy. Not a good look, that’s for sure, and certainly not a great role model for a pre-adolescent girl.
It continually baffles me why people feel they can openly comment on someone’s weight and appearance if they are thin, yet would never dream of saying something to them if they were overweight. To accuse another person of being fat is insulting. Yet somehow, passing judgment on a skinnier physique is not seen as being rude. It happens in the media all the time – Abbey Crouch, Victoria Beckham, Angelina Jolie, and many more – all beautiful, successful women, but whose thin physiques are scrutinised, and alternately criticised or held in awe by the newspapers on a daily basis. I just don’t understand it.
One night, I was in a bar in Vienna and got talking to a guy . He bought me a drink and we chatted for a while. All was going well, until he looked at me and told me I was “horrifyingly thin”. Now, this wasn’t a mistranslation in my brain (my German is good, believe me) – he really did say that. What’s more, he didn’t act as though he thought what he had said was in any way perhaps a teeny bit rude. Even though I wanted to throw my drink in his face, I laughed it off, laughing even more when he asked for my number.
The fashion industry is constantly under fire for promoting unhealthy skinniness, particularly on the catwalk. I have no bone to pick here – the truth of the matter is that clothes generally do look better on a hanger than on a body and using women who can replicate that look in order to attract buyers makes total sense to me. It’s a well-uttered notion that skinny women look better with clothes on, whilst larger women look better without.
Neither do I have an issue with the fitness industry, who some say preys on our insecurities about our bodies and gives us false expectations about what we can achieve. It is simply naïve to think that the fact we are practically drowning in exercise programs, celebrity DVDs, gyms, personal trainers and fitness or diet fads is anything other than the wheels of business grinding away. And I have no problem with people wanting to make money. I’m not stupid and I’m not forced into buying into it all – I do so, consciously.
What I do have an issue with, however, is when my daughter is drawn into an adult way of thinking about her body.
I’m sure some people will think I overreacted in the changing room – the lady meant no ill, she was being jovial and friendly, making small talk. What’s the harm in that?
The harm is that my daughter is nine years old. She is tall, slim, athletic and, most importantly, comfortable in her skin. She is a young girl, with no hang-ups about her appearance and I want that to last as long as possible. Be crazy and have your own hang ups, by all means, but don’t you dare suggest to my daughter that being skinny is somehow better, that it makes you more beautiful or that it is something to aspire to.