Laughter erupted amongst the kindergarten boys and girls as they looked at Maria – the subject of the comments. Maria stood in line waiting to march back in the school from recess. She informed her teacher. The teacher’s response: both kids who shouted the comments to Maria got “yellow” marks for the day (one below the best mark – green).
One of the kids’ mother, Angie, texted me while I facilitated a retreat that same afternoon.
“Anna needs to apologize to Maria today. Please call me when we can come over.”
After my retreat, I called Angie to get the scoop. “I cannot believe that Anna would say that to Maria – I am so sorry.” She continues to tell me how awful she feels and how she sat Anna down to talk to her about how those words could hurt her friends’ feelings. She asked Anna how she would feel if someone came up to her and said she had an ugly nose. Anna started crying immediately.
We hung up the phone. I stared into the dining room at Maria drawing a picture. I felt a mixture of emotions. Anger ranked as the overwhelming one at that moment. Anger not so much towards Anna but towards this deep-rooted ideal that girls must be skinny in order to be beautiful, and this ideal entering into kindergarten of all places. To five-year olds. This weight thing is such a struggle for most women. I have found many a day that I spend an excessive amount of time worrying about what to eat or irritated about how my jeans fit that I lose track of the big picture – living. I don’t want Maria to become pre-occupied with her weight to the detriment of living. I want her to be how she is now: ready to chow down on a piece of cake in front of her, willing to put on her ballerina outfit and dance around the room, proud of her strength, at ease with looks. However, I can already sense a bit of doubt about how she thinks she looks. She gets angry at times while putting on her jeans when they won’t button easily. She looks at her face in the mirror and scrunches up her eyes while complaining “I am not beautiful.”
Society certainly does not help with all of the magazines and tv shows flaunting 100 pound women smiling, having fun, surrounded by friends. While I was thinking of the comments to Maria, I wondered to myself whether I would have been as angry if kids called her “ugly” or “stupid.” I would have been angry because I don’t want people to be mean to MY child but I would not have been as angry. Why?
Because I struggled with my weight and listened to people call me “chunky.” I have witnessed first-hand how difficult it can be to persevere and how crappy it makes you feel. How you second guess yourself and become pre-occupied with it. I have seen my friends do the same.
But really, what I have found as I raise Maria is that a lot of the time I get so angry about something, I can look back at my life and see where I was hurt by it. And that was no different in this situation. These kids said something mean to Maria. They could have told her she was ugly, or had a huge nose, or dressed goofy. Maria would have been hurt by that, also. I think making a national event of such comments because they deal with “the weight issue” may be perpetuating the issue more than resolving it.
The mom of the other kid, Zach, called me later in the evening and asked if Zach could bring a picture over to Maria. They arrived at the door fifteen minutes later. Zach handed Maria a gerber daisy and a picture of him, Maria and Anna playing and smiling. Maria blushed. He said sorry. Maria hugged him.
Maria learned forgiveness, Zach and Anna learned compassion and humility, and I learned to take a deep breath. I do not want to project my former (and sometimes current) battle with weight and looks on my daughter. Yeah, society is ridiculous with its promotion of the skinny, the young, the white. But this incident did not need to rise to the national level. We needed a discussion about loving yourself and loving your body, your heart, and your mind. We needed some apologies and hugs and smiles. And we got just what we needed.