“I have a big fat belly!” C crows, walking around slapping her adorable round stomach.
“No you don’t, you have a sweet little belly.” I reply every time, wondering where she first heard someone talk about her body like that. Was it in jest? Was it lovingly? Was it a critique or a compliment? Her tone doesn’t clue me in. She’s delighted with her big fat belly, proud to show it off, entranced by the sound she can make by slapping her hands on it.
“Bellah! Bellah!” Little L cries as she runs into the room, shirt lifted to her chin, glorious roundness of her baby belly jutting out proudly in front of her. I react accordingly and dive at her, fingers at the ready for the tickling she’s begging for. She laughs hysterically and pleads for more “Bellah! Bellah!”
They’re in love with their bodies. They’re still at that age when being naked feels amazing, where they’re convinced that all you need to be beautiful is lots of pink and tons of sparkle. I’m in love with their bodies. I love the roundness, the plumpness, the dimples that show up in unexpected places like the crook of their elbows. I can’t get enough of their soft supple skin, their full cheeks, and yes, their full bellies.
How long do we have before those cries about bellies are no longer full of pride but rather full of despair? How long before they no longer preen in front of the mirror, but use it to isolate more flaws that they can bemoan?
My kids are young, very young, but I was a teenager once and I know that those days are looming. I remember feeling fat and awkward. I remember feeling like I’d never lose enough weight to look as pretty as I wanted to be. Today I look at pictures of myself back then and I’m blown away by how pretty I actually was. I want to reach back in time and hug that insecure girl and tell her she’s gorgeous inside and out, that anyone who can’t see that is blind and needs their head examined.
But I can’t. There’s no going back. There’s no helping the girl I was back then. Instead I’m focusing on the two little girls running around baring their bellies for all to admire. I’m telling them how gorgeous and smart they are. I’m praising their actions, their thoughts, and yes, their bodies, because it never hurts to know that someone thinks you’re beautiful.
I don’t know if that will be enough to spare them from a future eating disorder. I don’t know if I can help them love themselves no matter what. I’m doing the best I can. Aside from all the love I’m showing, I’m also teaching them to eat balanced meals and to enjoy sweets in moderation. Only time will tell if that’s enough.