Our almost five year old, she stands in front of the mirror bold and studies herself with a child’s clear-calm and she sees it too, what we’ve all been seeing, in the new level of her dress, the inching of her toes over her shoes….
‘My legs are getting longer,’ she says with glee.
It’s true. She’s tall, and skinny, with her dad’s big feet and his family’s legendary long toes; the tallest girl in her preschool class. Just recently she’s become preoccupied with her size, but in an upside-down endearing way that I want to cling to. My friends with teens and preteens tell me how soon and hard it falls, the obsession with self, and body, and size and place.
But right now she just wants to be big.
‘I’m soo big’, she says. She stands in her shadow and marvels at the size of it on a moonlit night walk. Look at how long I am mummy. Look at how big you are. There’s not a hint of irony. All amazement and awe.
We don’t have scales in our house, which is part accident, part choice. When I was in my 20’s I never needed to worry about my weight, and now, if I’m honest, no news is good news. E finds a pair of scales in the holiday house we stay in by the river, and stands on it several times a day and calls me out to read the mysterious numbers that hold playful power. ‘How big am I?’ she asks. ‘Measure my feet,’ she commands me.
I read the figure aloud into the echoey bathroom.
‘Is that big?’ She asks.
‘I’m getting sooo big,’ she sings to her daddy as she dashes out into the living room.
Her questions at mealtimes point this way too: ‘Will this make me big and strong?’ she asks of pasta, broccoli, fish and chips!
‘So big and strong’, we reply.
Of course I can’t step inside her mind, but her expectations of her body seem more than superfiscial. Rather than the window dressing she shows to the world, she wants to do things with it. Like playing soccer, she loves learning and developing new skills. Her body is not just a display piece, it’s her machinery. She wants to be big because size equals opportuniuty. She wants to be an actor in the world.
While at the holiday I stand on those same scales. My eyes closed tight, I brace for the stats, breathe short, and look down. The numbers are no worse but no better than I imagined. I try not to look at my reflection too much, but the rooms have those built-ins that are all mirror, and I catch glimpses as I dress the kids. It’s hard to miss it: I’m a larger me.
Three kids in four years. Too many sleepless nights. A decidely non ‘I quit sugar diet.’ It keeps me going, I say. Breastfeeding, hormonal changes, all of it makes for more of me. The juxtaposition couldn’t be plainer: my daughter wants more, and I, if I’m totally honest, find myself wishing for less.
Less to move around, perhaps. This larger new me even feels different, walking around in the world.
I’m one of those people whose weight fluctuates. A skinny, tallish kid, I morphed around age fourteen into a chubby teen, and then, after some major changes in my life, I became a slim 20-something. I hate to admit it even to my older self now (older self sighs and humphs and scolds) I used to be able to eat camembert and cake for afternoon tea and not gain an inch.
I was, once upon a time, the skinny person I now look wistfully sideways at and want to be….
But do I?
I’m reminded of other mirror-confrontations. The time I stood in front of that reflective judge in a period of anxiety. I breathed in tremulously and saw my rib bones splayed exposed across my chest like a bridge of sorrow. I felt light, but also almost transparent, worried I might float away, like there wasn’t enough of me to stand down the storms.
Skinny isn’t happy, any more than weighty.
I’m not saying I don’t want to be healthy, loose some weight, but if I’m putting my trust and hope in it, well, I’m setting myself up for a sour experience.
Then there was the time there was this discussion on Facebook in one of the many buy and sell groups I’m a part of. A woman jokingly put up a WTB (want to buy) with this message: ‘I’d like a new body, ideally my old size 10.’ The stream of comments following was hilarious, and, as comedy often is, exposing. ‘I’d take size 12,’ someone else said. ’16 would do me.’ The post had clearly hit a chord. My babies stole my body, was the resounding message.
Then came this one quiet voice that turned the discussion.
‘I’m a size 8. I’d gladly give it away, or take any of those other sizes, if it just meant I could have a baby.’
Comedy swiftly turned to comaraderie of the best kind: empathy. ‘I’ve been there too…hang in there,’ someone said. ‘Things may change,’ said another, ‘they did for me.’
Skinny or large, medium or fluctuating, measuring ourselves will never make us happy. I’m certain of that. And all that time I stand in front of the mirror, well, what am I looking for. Approval, acceptance? One thing’s for sure, l’m not going to find it in the hard reply of my own reflection.
My daughter’s view of her body, as a childs viewpoint often is, sees it more accurately. She longs to do with it what it’s designed to do, to use the creator’s gift to her of health, for mobility and possibility.
Sadly, I’m sure oneday this perspective will change. Now as a parent I feel it already, the effervescence of life. I want to cling to these wonders that will too soon pass, like my daughter’s unselfconscious acceptance of herself.
What will I say to her then?
What do I say to myself now?
Sure, we can definitely work on making our bodies healthier – indeed we should –but we can’t guarantee anything. I will be smaller, larger, stronger, weaker, at different points in my life. Sickness and age will no doubt come, and then, there must be a better measuring stick than the scales, a clearer reflective surface than the mirror.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30
They echo through time and generations, these ancient words of wisdom, these words to all us women, us mirror-watchers and scale-scalers.
The fleeting things cannot be caught, grasped, attained, not totally, no matter how long and hard we wish for them, want them, chase after them.
But the immortal things, well, they are there for the taking, the holding, the grasping. Now. And always.
In the gospel we are granted both the weightlessness of absolved guilt, and the weighty substance of a new beginning.
Now that’s worth reflecting. That’s worth staring into.