As I was wiping off the granite counter tops from the plethora of little crumbs that always accumulate there, I methodically opened the garbage drawer to catch them when something caught my eye:
It was my daughter’s barbie resting on a pile of trash.
But not just any barbie, it was her one and only curvy barbie. You know – the slightly larger version of barbie they created in an attempt to be more body inclusive.
M:”Cambelle!” I called for her.
C:”What mama?” she asked as she strolled into the kitchen holding one of her “regular” barbies.
M:”Did you throw away this barbie?” I asked her.
C:”Ummmmmm. Yes.” She answered, knowing that it probably wasn’t the right thing to do.
M:”Okayyyy. Can you tell me why you threw away one of your perfectly good toys?”
C:”Because I don’t like her. ”
M:”What do you mean you don’t like her?”
C:”Her arms aren’t right. Her legs aren’t right. She doesn’t look like my other barbies. And she doesn’t fit into any of the clothes except this one outfit.”
I paused. I was speechless. I honestly felt some tears start welling in my eyes. I related to this inanimate object. It was as if curvy barbie’s life was a reflection of the way I felt for SO long being a plus size woman in a thin woman’s world.
I always felt like my arms weren’t right, my legs were wrong, and anywhere I went, nothing fit. For a very long time I allowed those perceptions and the constricts of society to make me feel as if I was the trash.
Curvy barbie is still living in a thin barbie world. Adding in a more curvacious barbie isn’t going to all of the sudden solve our fatphobia and make space for acceptance of all bodies.
Just like having more clothing options and “body positive brand messaging” won’t change society’s perception of women above a size 10.
M:”How do you think barbie feels now that you put her in the trash? Was that a very nice thing to do?”
C:”I think she feels sad and crying.”
M:”Just because her body is different, does that mean that she is wrong?”
C:”No, mama. Because she has more fat. And it’s okay to have fat.”
M:”And just because the clothes don’t fit her right, does that mean she shouldn’t be able to play with the other barbies?”
C:”No mama. We have to be kind to everyone.”
M:”Do you have friends that look different than you?”
C:”Yes, mama. Some have skinny legs and other girls like me have legs that touch.”
M:”Okay, we’ll leave that discussion for another time. Do you think that you could wash her off and find her something to wear?”
Phewwww! To be honest, I wasn’t ready for a conversation like that in that moment. I never am. But each time I am put in a position where I can ignore these signs of early triggers for body image issues and pass them off as “oh she’s just a kid playing with her barbies, maybe she really just doesn’t like this one, it doesn’t REALLY matter” OR I can make a conscious effort to help her dissect how she’s feeling, allow her to explain her discomfort, and give her a new perspective to work with.
I get it. It’s easier to do the former. But parenting isn’t easy. And if we want to raise a new generation of body confident children, then it STARTS AT HOME. It starts with us as parents stepping up to the plate and asking : am I being the example that I want my child to follow? Am I being aware of the things my child sees on a daily basis? Am I taking the time to explain what they are seeing or having hard conversations to help aid in a well rounded and realistic understanding of their body and other’s bodies?
Throwing away her bigger barbie because she didn’t fit in with the rest and was making her life less enjoyable to play with is hinting at the notion that she is already rejecting things that are different, and associating being bigger with being a bad and less enjoyable thing. The truth is, we will all be many different sizes throughout our lives. Growth spurts, “baby fat”, social/economical/psychological differences and the ebbs and flows that a changing body goes through in a lifetime are inevitable. There is a constant stream of very LOUD demands from the media that we should always look the same all of the time and there is only one right way to look- and it is a critical time to be an even louder voice to ensure our children that being different truly IS okay, our bodies will change, and it’s all part of life.
I hope these glimpses into conversations I have with my children help you to see how much of an influence outside factors have on our children at a very early age. Even as simple and harmless as playing with toys, children can begin developing beliefs about themselves and others. The most important thing we can do is be aware and provide a positive and teachable environment for our children to explore what it means to be human and to understand the unique differences we all have in order to develop empathy, compassion and acceptance.
Just do you babes,