Last week brought unseasonably warm temperatures to New York City and everyone broke out the sundresses. Even after such an incredible non-winter as this one, I was psyched to put on some shorts and celebrate the warmer days ahead.
On our way to school, Maggie stood next to me in her own spring attire, looking at the two of us in the full-length mirror as we waited for the elevator to arrive. She decided to make a little conversation.
MAGGIE: Mom. Are everyone’s legs fat? Or just yours and mine?
ME: (feeling suddenly and incredibly horrible about myself) Maggie! Our legs aren’t fat!
Maggie hops up on the bench in front of the mirror and sits down.
MAGGIE: See Mom? When I sit down my legs get fat out to the sides. And yours do that too.
ME: Maggie, everyone’s legs do that.
MAGGIE: They do? Oh good. I thought it was just my legs that were fat. And yours too Mom.
Maggie is four years old. And she already hates her thighs.
She didn’t get this from me. Well. She got the thighs from me. “Connor thighs” run in my family, and mine are larger than one would perhaps wish. But I’ve never brought the Connor thighs up with my daugher, because truth be told, I don’t really have them. And neither does she. (My brother has them. He has trouble buying pants. Of course, he’s a guy, so on him, they look muscular and virile and terrific.)
I don’t talk about my body negatively in front of my daughter. I don’t read her US Weekly at bedtime. I eat what I want and am lucky enough to also weigh what I want and I’ve always thought I projected a positive, or at least accepting, body image.
But my four-year-old daughter thinks her legs are fat. How did this happen? What got to her?
Is it the Victoria’s Secret ads we pass on the way to the subway? Is it some other preschooler counseling her on the importance of self-abnegation as we count down to bikini season?
I knew I’d have to protect my daughter from the toxicity of a society that tells her every day how imperfect she is. I just didn’t think it would start in preschool.
Has your daughter ever expressed negative feelings about her body? What did you do about it?
(painting: Girl at the Mirror, Norman Rockwell)