Thursday, April 11, 2013

Awkward Mom vs. Body Image

I have a confession that relates to this picture:

OK, 2 confessions. The first one is that I really love Cracker Barrel. I know that I shouldn't; it is kitschy , cheesey (literally and not), and they had that whole discrimination thingie from the late 90s, which they say is totally cleared up now. I hope it really is because I have trouble resisting their food every time we are on a road trip. I know that I should sample local cuisine and patronize Mom and Pop diners when we travel, but Cracker Barrel and her siren song of hashbrown casserole on the side of biscuits and gravy keeps dragging me back. It's their cornbread that gets Awkward Dad. Super Preschooler has a thing for their pancakes, and Super Toddler finds the fact that a restaurant can have a store (and one with has remote control helicopters and monster trucks to boot) mind-blowing. For Super Baby, it is the sausage. Which brings me to confession 2:

My 17-month-old daughter eats like a trucker and I secretly love it.

I could watch her eat for hours, and she would eat for hours if we had that much food. Mountains of sausage. Whole apples. Blocks of cheese. Berries by the pint. She discovered Awkward Grandma's Clam Dip while she was in the womb and has not lost her taste for it at all. She's consumed 4 pouches of baby food in one sitting. Donuts by the dozen. Bowls of guacamole with no chips. (She finds chips just get in the way of shovelling the guac straight into her mouth.) Tuna fish sandwiches. Beans galore. Sweets of any shade and persuasion. Milk by the gallon. At age 9 months, she ate 3 tacos to celebrate the doctor's go ahead to eat solid food, which she had been doing for 3 months anyway. At Super Toddler's birthday party, she ate 2 enormous slices of deep-dish sausage pizza. (After that one, she left saucy hand prints all over the walls and I thought we were in the Shining for a full ten minutes.) We actually haven't yet found a food that she doesn't want to eat by the bushel or peck. Or pound. Or ton. Or liter. get the picture. Girl loves to eat.

She comes by it honestly. Awkward Women love to eat. I may have mentioned my mother's clam dip around here, a time or twelve. I seem to be the only one in my family who doesn't like to cook, but I always was a bit of a trail-blazer. I digress. Now, since Awkward Women also have the happy feet gene (which means we can't sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time unless in a movie theater or sending funny pictures of cats to each other on Facebook), we can afford our eating ways. For the most part. None of us are in the running for world's heaviest woman, which is up to 725 pounds or 550 pounds depending on which website you want to believe. We are all perfectly normal women; perhaps a tad more tree trunk than stick, but normal. Not according to us, however. According to us; we are slovenly blobs who need to lose about 3000 pounds collectively. And I am sure it is the same in any family where there are women who have access to any form of media and were raised in America's youth and beauty worshipping society.

But I am not here to talk about that or even take that juggernaut on. My ally, Frugal Mom, had an absolutely amazing post on it just the other day. Please go read it; I'll wait.

Back so soon? Isn't she a genius? She's a genius.

My point is....hmmm....probably should have thought of that while you were gone. You see, I watch Super Baby eat and it is delightful. Maybe because my maternal instinct is to feed my child. Maybe because both of her brothers are consistently underweight and I have to force them to eat most days. Maybe because it is an enormous validation for someone who is unsure about her own cooking abilities to have an audience that will eat absolutely anything. But mostly I think it is that the glee she exhibits while enjoying her food is infectious. Food is an f-word and some of the best words in the world are f-words. Drag your mind out of the gutter, Readers. I am talking about fun, festive, family, fortifying. Four phenomenal f-words that should describe all food. But another f-word lurks in the back of my head when I watch Super Baby eat. A word that has plagued legions of women since time began, awkward and otherwise. A teeny tiny f-word that has the potential to damage even the strongest psyche. Fat.

Super Baby is not fat. To be technical, she is in the 50% for weight and always has been. My hatred of growth chart percentiles aside, I cling to this data. I cling to it because sometimes I worry when I look at her. When I look at her arm rolls, her buddha belly, her chipmunk cheeks, her dimples, her solid legs that the lady at the library referred to as "pork chops" for some reason, her adorable plump fingers, her full baby hands, her luminous eyes gazing soulfully at me over the meatball sub sandwich she is tearing into. I look at her in all her resplendent, healthy, beautiful babyness, and instead of glorying in this magnificent 17-month-old baby girl who brings nothing but abundance and joy to my life, I mentally flash her to middle school and freak out. I royally start to freak out.

The world is mean. The world is mighty mean when it comes to a girl's body. Too thin. Too fat. Too tall. Too short. Too much. Too little. She isn't even two and all those toos are coming for her. They are coming straight for her in a way that they aren't coming for her brothers; let's be clear-eyed about this. There is a ton those boys are gonna deal with and that I am gonna fret about for them, but this fat fight is solely Super Baby's. As it was solely mine. And solely my mother's. And solely her mother's. On and on back to that magical age when  Peter Paul Rubens was painting. Of course, around then all the thin women were under fire, and I am not one to leave any of my sisters out in the cold. It all sucks and makes me want to use another f-word; telling the world to keep it's judgey paws off my beautiful daughter. But I can't. Well, I can, but it is gonna be pretty fruitless. They are coming for her whatever I do.

So, we are back to my lack of a point. I am not really sure what to do about this. Per usual, I didn't really plan this post out before I started writing it. I don't have an answer. Well, that isn't true. No, it is totally true that I didn't plan, you guys have to know that by now. But I do have some answers. Or the start of some. First of all, she isn't in middle school. She is 17-months-old and she is supposed to have pork chop legs. It means she is healthily her; filling in her short little frame like the host of Awkward Women that have gone before her. She is growing and eating to support that growth, and I could just embrace that instead of rushing her to some unpleasant adolescent experience that is gonna come faster than either of us want anyway. Secondly, every single woman in my family has survived being raised in America's beauty and youth worshipping society, and, though it certainly depends on the day and whether or not that day requires wearing shorts, we have all come to, more or less, appreciate our bodies. We have survived and grown into vibrant fascinating women who are defined less by our outward appearances and more by our curiosity and willingness to love life. Life in all it's shapes and sizes. Super Baby will get there too; in fact, given the way she is currently eating that bag of goldfish crackers and laughing at her brothers, I would hazard to say she is pretty vibrant, fascinating, and in love with life already. If anything, I should spend my worrying time thinking about how when someone takes food from her, she looks like this:

Yeah, I might wanna worry a little about that....


  1. She is the sweetest little girl. And a joy to behold. Cross all those other anticipated bridges when you come to them. Enjoy the moments now.

    1. Solid advice, Mom. Of course, I would expect nothing less. :)

  2. Now you make me blush :) I'm FAR from being a genius. But I just loved your last paragraph. I actually was on the other side of spectrum - I was too skinny, and got my fair share of teasing for being who I was. But, honestly, it was all just a little piece of puzzle to shape me into who I am today - somebody who loves life!! And your daughter is absolutely adorable. I wish she would come over and teach my Toddler who to eat and love food!! :)

    1. You are total genius!

      It is always something, isn't it? But you are right, it all shapes us into who we are and that is the important part. Plus, having support from people who love us as we go through all that personal growth. :)

      She could teach anyone to love food; let's set it up! :)

  3. There is simply nothing more gratifying as a mother than watching one's child eat. It's a tangible way of knowing your child is going to survive. Which is why, recently, I've taken to feeding Katie "kid-friendly" (read: not-so-healthy) foods way more often than I should. Watching her enjoy her food and feed herself with gusto is just too wonderful to resist.

    You made some really excellent points about the awfulness of our beauty-centric society, as well as the fact that women bear the brunt of most of it. But let's worry about body image later. Like you said, Super Baby is growing furiously right now. Pork chop legs are totally appropriate! Not to mention squeezable! :)

    1. Food is food. As long as the doctor is cool with Super Baby's size, I am gonna keep on keeping on. Love gusto eating kids, you are so right!

      Yeah, I have a feeling there will be plenty of time and worry for body image in the day ahead. For both of us, it is just a mom thing, I guess.