The battlefield.
April 03, 2012

“Should I wear this, Momma?  This shirt with the kissing fishes?” she asks me.  She turns back to her drawer.  “Or should I wear this shirt?  It is green and has stripes.  Can I wear this, Momma?”

—-

We’re at the grocery and the clerk laughs when she sees my hands.  I have the hands of an old woman.  My fingers are small – so slender that jewelry stores must special order rings in my size – and my knuckles are pronounced.  My hands are bony and my skin is dry.

I do not think about my hands very often, but sometimes my hands elicit comments from strangers.  “I have old hands too,” the grocery clerk says laughing and she holds her hands out to show me.  Charlotte is obsessed with my hands for days afterwards.  “Are your hands too old?” she asks.

“No,” I tell her.  “My hands have held you every day of your life.  That makes them perfect.”

—-

A dinner guest looks at Charlotte and says “she’s getting a little chubby, isn’t she?”  Our guest isn’t trying to be rude and it’s a term we use ourselves to compliment our daughter’s cheeks.  But this time Charlotte is listening and Iooks bewildered.  She isn’t accustomed to hearing people talk about her.  She’s curious.

I politely disagree and change the subject, but the next day Charlotte hears a friend of mine bemoaning her muffin top on the grounds that it makes her “feel fat” and a few days later when I serve her strawberries, Charlotte looks distressed.  “Do these strawberries make me chubby?” she asks.  “Do these make me fat?”

“No,” I tell her.  “You are SUPPOSED to have a little fat on your bones.  What happens is that you store up a little bit of fat and then when you have a growth spurt, you burn it up.  All that really matters is that your body is healthy and the way to make sure that your body is healthy is to treat it with respect: eat nutritious foods, play outside, make safe choices, and do what makes you happy.”

“Do you have fat?” she asks.  “Of course I do!” I say.  “You need a healthy amount of fat on your body to live.  Fat is an important part of life!  It keeps you warm and it helps your brain work and DID YOU KNOW WHAT?  Breasts have a lot of fat and they make milk, right?  That must mean fat is important, don’t you think?”

About a week later, she starts a growth spurt.  She adds an extra two hours to her naps, her cheeks thin out, and her pants run short.  I pull her over to the kitchen and measure her against the doorway.  When she sees how much she grew, she smiles.  “That is because I had enough fat to grow tall!“ she says proudly.

—-

When I look at her with the shirts, I can’t help but think that it’s the little moments like this that matter the most.  She is two years old and already aware that people pass judgments based on physical traits.  This seems unfair to me.  I do my best to counter-act this, and to focus on the importance of other traits, but the messages are everywhere and I wonder how long I have before she starts to doubt what I tell her.  I wonder how many years we have left before she stops asking us questions, stops feeling reassured when I do something so simple as tell her I like my hands.

“Wear the shirt that makes you happy, darling.  You can wear whatever you want.”

She wears the shirt with the kissing fishes.  She calls it perfect.  It makes her happy all day long.

** Charlotte is two years and eight months old.


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  1. By Haley on April 03, 2012

    I have so many more worries about raising my baby girl than my 3-year-old boy! She’s 5 months and I’ve been trying to be very aware of my own negative thought patterns about body image because I know that if she grows up hearing me complain about my body, she will think about hers negatively as well. I want her to love her body and know that she is absolutely perfect and I must model that behavior for her. Sounds like you’re doing such a lovely job nurturing positive body image in Charlotte!

  2. By on April 03, 2012

    I think that’s one of my biggest fears: for my kids to judge themselves and others based on physical appearance. This is something I learned from my mother, and unfortunately it’s ingrained in my psyche. I can’t control those thoughts, I can’t control what I look at (what I focus on) and how it makes me feel.

    Anytime I hear my husband complain about his weight, I panic. I ask him to stop saying things like that around James, because that’s where it’s learned.

    Unfortunately, with all the media and advertising, it makes it that much more difficult for us to fight the war on body image. What a lovely story about fat making Charlotte grow. I’ll try to remember that one…

  3. By on April 03, 2012

    My daughter goes to a daycare and spends more time there during the weekday than with us. I got her hair cut short almost 2 months ago but she still talks about how she wishes her hair was long like her friends..she’s not yet 3. I worry a ton that she will place too much importance on her outward appearance as she grows. She was all about superheroes until late last year. She moved into a new class and is all about princesses now. I asked her why she likes princesses and she said “I like them because I’m a girl”. Gender stereotypes is another beast I tell you..

  4. By CrysHouse on April 03, 2012

    It makes me worry about my niece who is concerned about the way she looks.  We only see her half the time, and I’m afraid the time she spends away from us she is encouraged to focus on the way she looks.

    *sigh*  Thanks for drawing attention to that issue, and I wish more people would watch what they say around little kids.  Or at all for that matter.

  5. By Amber on April 03, 2012

    You handled this PERFECTLY, Sarah <3

  6. By on April 03, 2012

    i think you need to have a lil side discussion with your guest who called your child chubby, just let her know that it stuck with charlotte and that it was something that you had to reassure her about, she needs to realize that children, even toddlers, completely understand certain things, maybe she wont make that mistake in the future!

    you are such a good mama, charlotte is lucky! <3

  7. By Sarah@CrazyLoveGambleStyle on April 03, 2012

    What a great message.  I love this.  Thank you for the reminder of helpful things to say to our little impressionable ears!  : )

  8. By Norah on April 03, 2012

    It breaks my heart that someone would call C. chubby, especially in front of her.  She’s perfect.

  9. By Sarah Christensen on April 03, 2012

    To clarify, the person who called Charlotte chubby did not say so maliciously - and in fact, I personally use the word “chubby” in a positive way periodically.  This person adores Charlotte and is not the only person to use that term with her - and because it was done with good intentions, I probably won’t talk to them about it unless it turns into a trend.  I did, on the other hand, have a talk with my friend about not discussing her body in a negative light around Charlotte.  I felt that the discussion about not liking her body for a specific reason was more detrimental than someone who is just making an observation - and a well-intentioned one that I’m guilty of myself at that!

  10. By on April 03, 2012

    Oh, how I would’ve loved my own Mum to say half the things you tell Charlotte. She is blessed to have such a grounded and positive role model :o)

  11. By on April 04, 2012

    Oh my dear Lord! I can not believe that Charlotte already knows how evil people are. Protecting my little ones from those comments and ways of thinking is the bane of my existence.

    Awesome you for keeping your cool in front of the person calling Charlotte chubby, especially with Charlotte listening. I would have lost it. Who makes a comment like that about a TODDLER!? Oh my goodness.

    I’m so happy I don’t have to deal with this yet. Fortunately for us, no one has found any physical flaws in Isla or our family that just had to be vocalized.

  12. By Sarah Christensen on April 04, 2012

    Again, the person calling Charlotte “chubby” didn’t really bother me.  I don’t think she’s unhealthy and I don’t think the person was trying to make a statement about her being too heavy or anything like that, I think she was just trying to make an observation about Charlotte’s cheeks.  The problem was, in my mind, that a word Charlotte is familiar with in a positive context was used in conjunction with the word “fat” in a negative context by someone else the following day.  That made her think “chubby” was a problem…which is a problem for us because we use the term “chubby” in a positive light to discuss her cheeks or friends’ babies, etc.

  13. By tara pollard pakosta on April 04, 2012

    that is just sooooooo sad, people are soooooo rude!
    a girl that age shouldn’t even be any bit aware of this! just makes me so sick to my stomach! I thought it was bad when my savannah was around 5-7 started asking if she was fat! (have you seen her pictures? she’s 12 years and 3 months old and is only 70lbs! she’s TINY! only 6th % in weight at the dr. and she thinks she’s FAT~ this society is OUT OF CONTROL!
    your daughter is PERFECT in every way and you are the perfect mommy!
    tara

  14. By Thrifty Vintage Kitten on April 05, 2012

    Such a touching post! You have such a way of yanking those heart strings!

    I totally agree with you. I do the same thing with my daughter…try to shield her from life’s negativity. There’s no reason our daughters need to be concerned about their looks at this age.

  15. By Mailis on April 05, 2012

    I think chub on a toddler is the be all and end all of cute, and have likely said something along those lines at some point or other. Never, ever in a negative light…but, after reading this post, I will be a little more careful.

    You are such an amazing mother, Sarah.

    Jude gets remarks about how tiny, skinny and small he is all the time. It doesn’t tend to bother either of us. Jude IS tiny and skinny and small. He likes it because he can still sit in a shoebox. :) Oh, the simple things. I tell him he is a perfect, growing, strong little boy…and that is what he believes. He has not yet learned negativity, I guess. I wish it could stay that way.


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