As we round out the month of June, I’d like to piggyback off this month’s Feature Story (Part 1 and Part 2) as well as Shauna’s most recent post “Body Talk”. For today’s Happy Hour post, I’d like to share my current dilemma with body image through a series of vignettes that like bullet points cannot stand alone, but as a cluster will make my point.
- For those of you who know my daughter, you know that Lucy takes after her father and has always been in the 90th percentiles for height and weight. She has stood in the back of every class picture. She has always worn a clothing size bigger than her age. And at 10 years old, I just bought a pair of shoes that I knew would fit her because they were the same size as mine.
- When I was pregnant with Lucy, my mom came to one of my doctor’s appointments to see the ultrasound. The technician commented, “This baby has long legs and big feet!” My mom thought she sneakily discovered the sex of our baby because a girl couldn’t be thus described. So, when I gave her a boy outfit and a girl outfit to take home and wash in a special laundry detergent and bring back to the hospital after we discovered the sex upon delivery, she almost just cut the tags off the boy’s outfit, washed, and brought it, that convinced she was that our baby was going to be a boy. It didn’t help matters that Lucy was born on April Fool’s Day. So, when Karl exited the hospital room to tell everyone the good news, that our baby was girl, they thought of course he must be joking.
- This week, we traveled from Seattle to Denver for our summer vacation. We were excited to get back to my hometown to see family and friends. Once, when we were all discussing the trip at dinnertime, Lucy said, “I just know everyone is going to look at me and say ‘My, you’ve gotten so big!’” And she was right. That has been the common reaction when people see her. Even a boy she and her brother met in one of the hotel swimming pools said he couldn’t believe she was the same age as him because she was so much taller than he.
I am fully aware that our appearances are often the first things people notice and therefore comment on. However, my dilemma presents when people expect, or rather demand, that someone either act or know or be what it is they look like. So, someone who is tall and beautiful should be a model. Someone who has an athletic figure should be an athlete. Someone who has the exact opposite kind of hair that you have should be grateful. Someone who is overweight shouldn’t be running marathons. Someone who is tall for her age should act older than she really is.
Oftentimes what is expected of Lucy is that she must behave more maturely than she does. I am as guilty as anyone in assuming something like because she can reach the top shelf in our kitchen, she shouldn’t need my help. Or because she is bigger than most of the people in her 4th/5th grade class, she should know more than she really does. And most importantly, there is a pressure or demand that she grow up emotionally – that she not get her feelings hurt so easily, or make such a big deal over small injuries.
Can we name that we do indeed draw conclusions that are likely stereotypical and often plaster our values on someone else’s appearances? Knowing is half the battle, right? And how do we suspend the assumptions about what it is we see long enough to allow room for curiosity, difference, mystery to fill the gap between what we think we know and what is really true of another human being?
I certainly have more questions than answers. But one thing I know to be true today. My daughter is big. She is also small. In a phrase – she is Biggie Smalls.