I was trying on clothes in the fitting room. Stacks and stacks of shirts, jeans and dresses hung on the “Not This Time” hook, needing to go back because they didn’t fit. Didn’t look right. Didn’t make me feel good.
A mother with a young daughter entered the dressing rooms and selected a booth across the aisle from me. Happily chattering away about the rest of their day’s adventures, I could tell the mom had quite a few things she wanted to try on, and she was hoping that her little girl was in the mood to cooperate. Their sweet, sing-song voices filled the quite of the dressing room spaces and I listened to their chatter while I went on with my own trying on and discarding process.
Then I heard the mom say, “Oh I look chubby in this!”, and I froze. I could tell by the disappointment in her voice the item was something she really liked. Intertwined now in their sweet chatter would be more exclamations of frustration and disappointment over the items she’d selected. Words like “chubby” kept rolling around in the air, mixed with her daughter’s sweet giggles. You know the internal conversation we all have with ourselves while standing in a dressing room? Like that, except out loud, still in her sweet voice, and in conversation with her little girl.
Her size 14 dress was too tight.
She didn’t think daddy would like another one.
I cringed every time I heard her tear at herself, regardless of how small it might have been. Not only was she reinforcing something negative to herself, but she was teaching her daughter how to negatively speak to herself.
It made my heart hurt. Not in a, “Oh, what a bad parent” way. Just in a, “I bet your daughter sees you as fabulous so please don’t change that.” way.
I wanted desperately to say something, but I didn’t think knocking on a dressing room door was appropriate. I was finished before them, and I figured if it was meant to be, I would run in to them again in the store.
Sure enough, we ended up standing next to each other at the checkouts. We both finished at the same time, and as we were both walking out the door, I couldn’t help myself. I lightly tapped her on the shoulder, and as she turned to me, I said:
You might think I’m completely crazy, but I wanted to tell you something.
I was across the aisle from you in the dressing room.
You’re beautiful, and so is your daughter.
I heard you referring to yourself as “chubby” and putting yourself down.
I’m the mother of small daughters too, and what I’ve realized is this:
THEY ARE LISTENING.
We are teaching them to be uncomfortable with their bodies.
That there is something wrong with the way we look or the way we are built.
I decided to #ChangeTheConverstion and I’m more careful with my words.
I hope you can be too.”
She wasn’t offended. She was actually very receptive to what I was saying, and I approached her very kindly and not judgmental in any way. Because I wasn’t judging her. AT ALL. Maybe she doesn’t have someone to tell her that she shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about how she looks. That she IS Beautiful. (By the way – she was totally adorable and WAY more put together at 9:30am than I was in my leggings, sweatshirt and no makeup). It wasn’t until my friends pulled me aside last year that I realized I’d been fat shaming myself. If no one tells us we are doing it, maybe we don’t know.
If we don’t know, how can we change it?
I try to teach my girls that clothes don’t make them beautiful, they enhance the beauty that lies INSIDE of them. What they wear to express themselves is just that, an expression of WHO they are and WHAT is inside of them – the smart, amazing, thoughtful, beautiful young women that they are. If I don’t stand between my daughters and all of the bullshit that is trying to tear them down, then I’m not doing my job. I need to be a warrior in the fight against marketing, advertising, and the media that want my girls to believe in order to be beautiful, rich, loved and successful they need to be size 000 with a gap between their thighs, wear the latest IT items and start getting Botox when they turn 20. I need to be their role model. I must lead by example. To truly have a revolution, we need to change what we are saying.
To our daughters. And ourselves.
How can you #ChangeTheConversation in your circle of friends and family? What are you doing to stop the body shaming?