lessons I won't teach my daughter

Thursday, 9 May 2013

(This post is so long. Apologies. I nearly veered into rant territory. Also, having just re-read this post, I am now almost fully convinced that baby will be a boy just to make this post pointless. But I'll post it anyway). 

I’m growing.

I start to notice it more and more. My belly, containing one squirming wriggly miraculous life, is now so big that I occasionally knock things over with it. (The other day at work I cleared a shelf full of stuff because I momentarily forgot that I need more room to manoeuvre). My body has stretch marks in interesting places. I notice my ankles and feet sometimes look puffy, and my thighs and my arms are starting to get bigger.

I’m strange, though, because I actually quite like it.

I look at my body with a little bit of detached amusement. Like, ‘Hey, hey Chris! Look! I’m getting really podgy here. My body is growing. That’s interesting.’ And before you think, ‘Wow, what a balanced, well-centered individual, she must be filled with the joys and radiance of an expectant mother' – no. This doesn’t come from a place of deep inner contentment, sadly. I am a joyful expectant mother in many ways. But this strange happiness at weight gain mostly comes from many instances of being told I’m not curvy enough.

And it matters. This is not a post by a whining skinny girl with no real body issues. Not at all. I can tell you now that it hurts. It hurts when people tell you they feel the need to ‘fatten you up’ or that ‘do you not eat, why are you so skinny?’ or ‘I like my girls with a bit of meat on them’. It hurts. Because, whether you feel too fat or too thin, either way, you’re not good enough.

So now, when I see myself with curves, it makes me feel kind of good. Like, ‘Look! I’m a real woman. See?’ It’s not a good feeling to have. Because it comes from a root of feeling inadequate with the way God made me.

This is why I really intensely dislike the ‘Real Women Have Curves’ tagline that I see attached to things – clothes lines, TV shows, books, magazines. And it kind of makes me feel like a spoilsport for saying it, but I don’t find it to be a particularly helpful or useful thing to say to women, no matter what their size – I don’t even find it to be much better for women than the ridiculously tiny models we get on catwalks. This is for a few reasons:

1)      It makes femininity seem shallow. The true, deep, beautiful meaning of femininity is boiled down to: curves. If you’ve got em, you’re a ‘real woman’. If not – tough luck. You may as well be a man.
2)      The marketing behind these campaigns are horribly biased. The Dove campaign is probably the closest I’ve seen to actually having ‘real’ curvy women in them – the women modelling for plus-sized clothing ranges are all the same – toned in the stomach – slightly curvier around the boobs and hips. I.e., desirable curves. Big boobs, curvy bum. No cellulite or a soft stomach from bearing children or big thighs – because that’s not ‘sexy’ enough.
3)      It’s not particularly inclusive. What about naturally thin women? Naturally very short or tall women? Women with disabilities? Disfigurements? Nope – you’re out of the category I’m afraid.
4)      It communicates – at least to me – that the real worth of a woman is still stubbornly attached to her body. It’s not ‘real women have brains’ or ‘real women connect and nurture’ – no. It’s ‘your worth as a woman – as a person – is all to do with the way you look. If you don’t measure up, you’re going to have to spend the rest of your life trying, I’m afraid.’

I know that these marketing campaigns are made to sell clothes. To fool women into a sense of ‘I’m beautiful the way I am! I think I need this dress.’ But when I see this attitude seeping into our brains – on Facebook, forums, through conversations – it honestly hurts me. Because it’s not healthy, and it makes me feel like less of a woman.

Striving. That’s what it becomes. We strive. Working with a team of lovely girls, and having lots of lovely girl friends, I notice this. It’s actually a way of connecting with each other. We discuss the things that are not good enough about ourselves. Our hair isn’t right. Our thighs are too big. We’ve put too much weight on. We’re not tanned enough. We always want more, or less, depending on what part of the body we’re talking about.

Striving, striving, all the time, for something that we’re not.

I sit here now of an evening, stroking my belly and waiting for kicks in response, and I think about the day we had our 20 week scan. With Chris and my Mum waiting eagerly next to me, my heart hammered with nerves, initially because I wanted to know baby was growing properly. Then when we got the all clear, I was anxious to ask the question: is it a boy or a girl?

The radiographer sighed and said ‘I sort of hoped you wouldn’t ask. Baby has its legs crossed.’

She pressed into my stomach (quite hard!) and it confirmed what she thought – baby had her legs crossed, neatly at the ankles. She made me lay on my side and bounce up and down (much to the amusement of my little audience) and turn around. I prayed that baby would uncross her legs. Just at the right moment.

She smiled. ‘Nope – you’ve got a stubborn one I’m afraid.’ Then she said, ‘I didn’t see any boys bits, though. I’d give you a 70% chance of a girl, I think.’

So now, when I pray, I refer to baby as ‘she’ because I know God (and baby) will forgive me if it turns out to be a boy in there. I pray for her future, for the person she will become, for her health, happiness. I don’t pray for her future as a woman, because 70% is not exactly much more than 50. But I think about it.

Baby – as she has proved so far – is very much her own person. She will grow up and step out into a world and I will have no control over what she sees, hears, and how she interprets things. I have no way of stopping her from being influenced by the world, because the world is all around us, and it’s in our face, all the time. I can’t stop her from having body issues. She will have them. Because every woman I know does. I can’t stop advertisers from campaigning silly things (although I’m not writing off being part of a bigger group of people asking for change). I can’t stop her from seeing a beautiful, perfect, bronzed woman laying in a bikini on a giant billboard outside Sainsbury’s and I can’t stop her from wanting to be look like that too.

I can't protect her from that. And I won't pretend to her that these things don't exist. I won't pretend to her that I don't worry about these things too. But I do feel that something has to change if I want her to be able to cope with these pressures and have her integrity intact.

The only person I can change is myself.

I know I’m anxious about the way I look. I know how much time I spend checking myself in the mirror. I know how often I ask Chris the question (as a very short person) – ‘Do I look young?’ I know that I’ve been infected with this need to look a certain way. Old enough to be alluring, but still radiant with youth. Tall enough, but not too tall. Curvy, but in the right places. Clear skinned. Shiny-haired. I know how much time I spend ensuring that I fit into these categories, mostly subconsciously. I know.

I don’t want my daughter to see me looking in the mirror and tutting and criticising everything I see. I don’t want my daughter to see me anxiously checking with my husband that I am enough – even though he makes it clear that I am definitely the one for him. I don’t want her to see me like that. I don’t want my daughter to be like the little girls I saw on Jo Frost’s Parental Guidance, a group of six year olds whom, when asked ‘what don’t you like about yourself’ replied ‘I think I look fat’.

She won’t get that from the media. Not when she’s that young. She’ll get that from me.

So I’m thankful yet again for the challenge that will be parenting, and all of these things will be important to keep in check even if baby is a boy – but especially if baby is a girl. As my stomach swells and grows, I am forced to look at myself, to gaze at the state of my heart and consider whether or not I like what I see there.

I want baby to look at me as happy with myself. Not because of the way I look, or because I’m weighing the right amount, or wearing the right thing. But because I’m happy and contented with the things that God has given me. I want her to see a mother who is eager to go on this crazy, complex, interesting, challenging journey that is modern life with God.

I don’t want her to see her mother with eyes fixed on a mirror. I want her to see her mother with eyes upturned to bigger and better things, radiantly bathed in love that is impossible to describe.

Well, challenge on, baby. Challenge on.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your beautiful, open honesty!!! Love it, what a challenge to us all xxx


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