Claire is sitting at her white wooden table in her playroom. A small chair is pulled up to its edge, her light-pink teapot and matching cups are lined up in front of her. She wears a pastel striped T-shirt with a ruffled edge on each shoulder and nothing else but a diaper. The curls at the back of her head are still wet from her bath earlier that morning and her bangs are pinned back with a purple bow hair clip.
I wish she knew how perfect she is.
I sit in a chair opposite her and marvel at her complete unawareness of her body and the things she might someday think about it. The things someone else might someday think about it.
Her small, dimpled legs hang over the side of the chair and her rounded belly pokes out from under her shirt. I think about my 15-year-old self standing in the bathroom mirror, lamenting my too-soft tummy. I chipped away at my flaws with an eating disorder that left me counting calories on a small piece of paper I hid inside my dresser drawer. One day, my cousin put his hand around my wrist. “You’re so skinny!” He had no idea that what he meant as an insult felt like validation.
I lean forward and kiss Claire’s cheek. “I love you so much,” I tell her. I think about each and every picture I discarded from my 20s because of my “fat face” or “chubby cheeks.”
A couple of months after I had Claire, I called my mom and told her I was sorry for ever criticizing my body. “I would just never, ever want Claire to feel the way I did about my body,” I said through tears. “That had to hurt you so much… you thought I was perfect, didn’t you?”
I find myself constantly saying to Claire, “I love your little body.”
I love the way she takes a bite of food and says, “Mmmmmmm,” while rubbing her belly. “More” she says, over and over again.
I adore the way she sits in the bath and the rolls on her inner thighs meet. The way she pulls her “piggies” in toward her face and kisses them, hugs them close. The way she walks up to me and kisses my leg, wraps her arms around it and says, “Ooooh!” which is the sound she makes when she really, really loves something.
I want her to always see food as nourishment and her body as something to be valued and other people’s bodies as something to be loved. For herself, not me. Not the boy she someday crushes on. Not the girlfriends whose golden hair or athletic legs she might someday covet. Not the beautiful women in magazines. Not the people who write things on the internet about women.
To Twitter user Angry Hippy, who wrote, “Y’all find this attractive? lmaaoo,” in response to a photo of three United States Olympic female gymnasts in bikinis at the beach: I hope my daughter is one of the people who looks at that photo and aspires to achieve her goals as they have theirs.
To Reed Emerson, who tweeted, “Selena Gomez is trash and fat”: I hope my daughter shakes her head in disgust.
To model Dani Mathers, who posted an Instagram photo of an unsuspecting woman in the shower at the gym. “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either!” she wrote. I hope Claire reads that and mourns for the everyday woman who was simply trying to rinse off after a workout.
And to Nathan, who during the Super Bowl on Sunday tweeted to all 35 of his followers, “Tried to enjoy @LadyGaga’s performance, was distracted by the flab on her stomach swinging around”: I hope my daughter feels a stirring in her belly as if he had written it about her.
Because he has. That’s the thing about these women –– we are all these women. My 13-year-old self is Selena Gomez. It is Christmas Day and I stand in my bedroom crying. Every single pair of pants my parents bought me wouldn’t button. Fat, fat, fat.
My sister is the athlete in the photograph, strong and confident. Unwavering. A lean muscle runs down the side of her leg as she hits her running stride around the track. Y’all find this attractive?
My mother is the woman at the gym, trying to find fitness again after she had a hysterectomy and slipped into early menopause, her body shifting in a way that left it feeling heavy and borrowed. I can’t unsee this.
And my daughter? As I watch her, now standing at her play kitchen and making me some broccoli, I see her belly peeking out over her dinosaur-print diaper with “RAWR!” splashed between T-Rex graphics. Flab on her stomach swinging around.
I sneak up behind her and wrap my arms around her. Knowing I only have a few seconds before she wriggles free, I squeeze hard and silently hope her response to the only person she will ever have to answer to, herself, will be exactly like Gaga’s:
Be you, and be relentlessly you.